One of the most frequent topics for questions we receive here at Gunsmith is in regards to the deadlift. Most questions fall into one of two categories: 1. How do I increase my deadlift, or 2. How do I deadlift more safely?
Today, we’re going to go over some of the most effective exercises available for increasing the amount of weight you can deadlift.
This also has the added benefit of improving your safety while deadlifting. After all, the more you practice something, the better you’ll get at it. And the more weight you can deadlift, the stronger your muscles are, meaning you’re less prone to injury.
Before we get too far into it, let’s quickly review the deadlift and some best-practices used when performing this lift.
Often called The King of the Lifts, the deadlift is arguably the most basic, simple and foundational lifts across all forms of weightlifting. It essentially mimics one of the most common moves the human body is capable of: picking up something from the floor and then putting it back down.
The deadlift is most often performed on a standard barbell, but can be done on a trap bar as well. A trap bar is similar to a barbell, except that it has a hexagonal-shaped hole in the center for you to stand in. This allows you to lift more weight by bringing the center of gravity closer to your body.
For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the standard barbell deadlift.
While performing the deadlift, keep your feet about hip-width apart with the bar over your feet about halfway between your toes and heels. This way, when you lean forward to grip the bar, your shins are just about touching the bar.
Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart, and remember to keep a neutral spine. Don’t bend at the lower back to pick up the weight, instead focusing on lowering your hips to be able to meet the bar.
Many people will exaggerate the extension phase, even going so far as to lean back when locking out. This isn’t recommended, and can actually lead to injuring your lower back.
A lot of heavy lifters prefer to use a weightlifting belt to ensure their back is protected while deadlifting. We have a number of belts to choose from, including Olympic belts, Powerlifting belts, and Custom Designed Belts.
If you think you might want a weight belt while lifting (which we highly recommend), consider picking up a belt from Gunsmith Fitness.
With that out of the way, let’s get down to some of the best exercises out there for improving your deadlift and ultimately lifting more weight.
The Farmer’s Walk
The Farmer’s Walk or Farmer’s Carry, is another one of those foundational movements that people have probably been doing since time immemorial.
You can easily imagine someone from ten thousand years ago carrying two buckets of water from the river to their village, and that’s exactly what you’re going to be doing here, except you’re going to be carrying dumb bells back and forth across the gym floor.
The farmer’s carry is simple: pick up a couple of heavy dumbbells and walk. This is a great exercise for building grip strength, but also gets the rest of your body used to holding heavy weight. Each step while carrying the dumbbells will work your legs, hip flexors, and core stabilizing muscles, which all work together during the deadlift.
Glute Ham Developers (GHD) Raises
GHD raises target the entire posterior chain of muscles, from the hamstrings and glutes to the lower, mid and upper back. GHD raises can help strengthen the muscles in your lower back and help prevent injury when deadlifting.
Try switching up the weight and reps and see what works best for you. Some people prefer using only their body weight on the GHD machine, which means they tend to work with higher reps. If you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in your hands during the exercise, you can cut the reps down and still get the same amount of volume.
With the boom in popularity of Crossfit, most gyms will have a couple of GHD machines among their arsenal. If your gym doesn’t have one, you can substitute out for Supermans.
A Superman lift isn’t technically a lift, as you’re not moving any weight. Instead, it’s done entirely with your own bodyweight.
Supermans have been a staple of many athletics training programs for decades, including wrestling and boxing, since they help to develop strong core, back and neck muscles.
To perform the Superman, lay flat on your stomach in a neutral position with your arms straight over your head. Keep your neck neutral.
With your arms and legs still straight, lift your feet and shoulders off the ground. You want your entire bodyweight supported by your lower abdomen and hips, while your body looks like an elongated “U” from the side.
Hold the concentric phase of the lift for 2-5 seconds, and then relax. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps to really work the muscles in your posterior chain.
The shrug is another basic move that can help improve your deadlift, primarily by increasing the strength of your traps. The traps, or trapezius muscle, is a large muscle in your mid to upper back and neck used to move the neck, arms and stabilize the upper body.
When performing shrugs, usually the heavier the weight, the better. Just make sure you’re not rocking too much, which can happen if the weight is too heavy for you.
*Pro-Tip: superset your Farmer’s Walk with Shrugs to increase effectiveness and save time.
Hamstrings get a lot of neglect from many lifters, because the hamstring is one of the hardest muscles to see, even in a mirror. As a result, there’s a good chance your hamstrings are under developed, and could be limiting your progress in your deadlift.
Get on the hamstring curl machine, either seated or laying down, and blast out some heavy sets of curls. This isolation exercise is a great way to finish off leg day, and will be guaranteed to boost your leg strength and up your deadlift.
While this list is by no means absolute, it includes some of the best exercises around for improving your deadlift.
Give these a shot the next time you’re in the gym and consider adding a few to your weekly routine. By mixing up the variety in your lifts, you’ll further stimulate your muscles and challenge your body, which leads to better performance.
Staying safe is also a big part of training, so check out our line of weight lifting belts here to help keep a tight core and protect your lower back.