20 Best Exercises to Improve Deadlift Strength

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Written by Wasim Kagzi
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Key Points

  • Use these exercises to increase your deadlift strength and lift more weights.
  • Type of exercises – This list includes Back, Glute, Quad, Hamstring, Grip Strength and Core Exercises.

The deadlift is often called a “king of all exercises”.

Why?

It is a compound movement that works the entire body.

Are you looking for ways to improve you deadlift strength and add extra weight to the bar?

You are in the right place.

In this article, we will cover the most effective exercises to improve deadlift strength.

What Is The Fastest Way To Increase Your Deadlift Strength?

The fastest way to get better at something is to do it consistently.

Therefore, if you want to get better at the deadlift, the best way is by doing the deadlift more often and gradually increasing the weight.

Arnold doing exercises to improve deadlift
Arnold was a monster at deadlift

However, you get to a point where this tactic isn’t as effective anymore.

For example, certain muscle groups can be a limiting factor in your deadlift. Without fixing that first, deadlifting more often won’t do much for you.

Deadlift Accessory Exercises to Increase Strength

The part of the deadlift you fail the most can be an indicator of the muscle groups that are a limiting factor for you. Strengthening these areas through specific exercises can improve your deadlift and help you take it to next level.

If you are struggling at the top position of the deadlift, you need to work on your glutes and hamstring strength.

On the other hand, if your biggest problem is the initial part of the deadlift, strengthening the quads and your back could help. Lastly, if you have a hard time keeping the bar from rolling out of your hands, working on your grip strength should solve the issue.

Do Deadlifts Work Your Lats? Check Out How To Engage Lats In Deadlifts

Best Exercises to Increase Deadlift Strength

Back Exercises

1. Wide Grip Pull-Ups

The pull-ups work your core, biceps, back, and forearms. Pull-ups done with the wide grip, engage your lats more during the pulling motion.

This exercise has another great benefit than just working your lats. Since you are hanging from a bar, it also works your forearms and grip strength.

2. Bentover Rows

As you can guess, the barbell bent-over row is done in a bent position. The barbell bent-over row stance is very similar to the deadlift stance. As you pull the barbell, your hips rest in a hinge position with your back straight. 

The pulling motion of the barbell primarily works your biceps, upper and mid-back. However, in order to maintain a stable bent position, your hamstrings, glutes, and core work as secondary muscles too. All this can help you with your deadlift.

As you pull the barbell, focus on bringing the elbows behind your back. This way you will pull with the lats instead of the biceps.

3. Pause Deadlift

The difference between the pause deadlift and the traditional deadlift is that in the pause deadlift you are not performing the deadlift through a full range of motion. 

The pause deadlift doesn’t include full hip extension and you are going only through half of the range of motion and holding it there for a few seconds. This will improve your initial part of the deadlift and work your back and quads.

Glute Exercises

4. Barbell Hip Thrust

Barbell hip thrust is one of the most used glute isolation exercises in the gym. What makes the barbell hip thrust so effective is the horizontal body position.

The horizontal body position provides constant tension in the glutes. Also, this position allows a greater hip range of motion than the standing exercises and thus offers better glute activation.

5. Sumo Deadlift

Compared to the traditional deadlift, the sumo deadlift is done with a wider stance, with feet pointing outwards and with arms between the thighs. 

The sumo deadlift puts your torso in a more upright position and puts less stress on your lower back. Also, it activates the glutes and the quads more. Due to a more biomechanically favorable position, you can lift more weight with the sumo deadlift than with the regular deadlift.

6. Cable Pull Through

Cable pull-throughs are mostly performed on the cable machine but can be done with a resistance band too. Cable pull-throughs are a great exercise to improve your hinge strength. They work your hamstrings and glutes, and what makes them so great is the prolonged time under tension. 

The cables provide tension in the posterior leg and hip muscles during the whole movement. The prolonged time under tension in the muscles provides a better potential for strength development and hypertrophy.

7. Good Mornings

Good mornings are a hinge exercise. They include hip extension and work your glutes and hamstrings. Your erectors work as stabilizing muscles too, but they aren’t the primary movers. 

The most common mistake is extending in your back instead of from your hips. This will not only negatively affect the benefits of this exercise and work less your hamstring and glutes, but it can also put too much stress on your lower back and lead to injury. Make sure you are keeping your back straight and that you are extending only through your hips.

Quad Exercises

8. Front Squat

Compared to the back squat, the front squat often gets neglected in the gym. The reason isn’t that it is worse than the back squat.

Quite the opposite. However, the front squat is more technically demanding and requires a greater degree of mobility. This can turn off some people, so they rather stick with the back squat.

Even though the back squat and front squat share a similar movement pattern, they work your muscles differently.

The front squat anteriorly loads your body and requires a more upright torso. This body position allows you to get deeper into a squat and, compared to the back squat, it works your quads and upper back more. 

Also, the front squat works your core a lot more. The core activation and the requirement to keep your torso upright can be easily transferred into your deadlift.

9. Leg Press

The leg press is a machine exercise that simulates the movement pattern of the squat. It is great for working the legs and hitting your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. 

Since it is a machine exercise, it allows you to better control the movement and the weight. This is a great alternative for people who have a hard time with regular squats because of knee or back issues. Also, better movement control allows you to isolate the muscles better and really feel them burn.

10. Zercher Squat

The Zercher squat a squat variation with a setup similar to the front squat. It loads you anteriorly, but it doesn’t require the same degree of upper-body mobility. Mobility-wise, it makes it less demanding, but with the same benefits.

The Ultimate Guide on the Zercher Squat

In the Zercher squat, the barbel rests in the crease of your elbows. By slightly flexing your elbows, you are keeping the barbell close to your body. Having the weight closer to your center of mass allows you to squat more vertically and with higher quality.

Hamstring Exercises

11. Romanian Deadlift

The mechanics of the Romanian deadlift are similar to the mechanics of the traditional deadlift. However, the Romanian deadlift doesn’t start from the ground. It starts what would be the top position of the traditional deadlift and ends slightly below the knees.

Also, the range of motion of the Romanian deadlift is shorter than in the traditional deadlift and works your hamstring more. During the Romanian deadlift, you are keeping your legs stiff during the whole movement, which puts more emphasis on the hamstrings.

12. Leg Curl Machine

The leg curl is a machine exercise that isolates the hamstrings. It is a great exercise if your hamstrings are the weakest link in your deadlift. With this exercise, you will really feel the hamstrings burn.

It is performed on the leg curl machine. By lying on the stomach you are bringing your heels towards your butt. Your heels are hooked under the roller, which provides resistance. By contracting your hamstrings you are bringing your heels towards your butt and concentrically activating the muscles. For a greater time under tension, slowly lower your heels. 

Often one side of our body is stronger than the other. Although you can do this exercise by curling both legs at the same time, we advise you to work a single leg at a time. This way you will avoid the stronger leg doing most of the work and compensating for the weaker leg.

13. Glute Ham Raise

Glute ham raise is performed on the glute ham raise machine. It works your hamstrings, glutes, and erectors. However, the hamstrings get activated the most. 

To an untrained eye, it can look like the glute ham raise is a low back exercise. And many people fall into that trap and do the glute ham raise by extending in their low back. Although your erectors get activated to some degree as stabilizers, the extension should come from your hips only.

As you hook your heels under the glute ham machine, push your heels towards the ceiling to activate the hamstrings. Lower your torso and let it hang from the machine. By squeezing the glutes while pushing up with your heels, extend in your hips to bring your torso up until it is parallel to the ground.

14. Single-leg Romanian Deadlift

The single-leg Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for balancing the strength discrepancies in your legs while also improving stability. It follows the same mechanics as the traditional Romanian deadlift, but you are doing it on a single leg. This not only works your hamstrings and glutes harder but also engages your core a lot more. 

You can load this exercise with a barbell or dumbbells. Also, for greater core activation you can hold the dumbbell in only one hand. This will also demand more stabilization work from your hip muscles. 

Core Exercises

15. Bird Dog

The bird dog is an exercise often prescribed by Dr. Stuart McGill, a back and pain specialist. It is often used as a warm-up exercise for the deadlift to engage the core muscles and prepare your body for the load.

The bird dog position promotes a neutral spine. It is performed by being on all four and lifting your opposite arm and leg at the same time, while keeping the neutral spine. This works your core and erectors and is useful for keeping a neutral spine during a deadlift.

16. Dead Bug

The dead bug is a great way to work your core and lower abs, which are responsible for pelvic stabilization. This is an exercise that is often prescribed for people with lower back issues and chronic back pain.

To perform this exercise effectively, the key is to separate the movement of your arms and legs from the movement of your low back. The lower back is designed to be stable, not really mobile. Too much mobility in the low back puts too much stress on it and can lead to pain.

By lowering your opposite arm and leg towards the floor, make sure you are not extending your lower back and that it stays flat on the floor. This will work your core and can help you in your deadlift not to extend through your lower back and move your torso as one unit.

17. Hanging Leg Raises

The hanging leg raise is a core exercise performed by hanging from a pull-up bar. By gripping the bar with your hands, you are hanging from the bar and lifting your knees towards your chest. The more advanced variation is doing it with your legs straight.

This exercise is not only great for improving core strength but also your grip strength

The most common mistake is not using your abs, but more of your hip flexors for bringing the knees to your chest. Think about bringing your pelvis closer to your chest, instead of just your knees. This will help you flex from your abs and will work your core more.

18. Ab Wheel

You will need an ab wheel to perform this exercise. The ab wheel is a great “anti-extension” exercise to help you strengthen your abs in a non-conventional way.

This anti-extension is very useful for your deadlift. Having strong abs keeps your torso as one unit and stops your lower back from overarching. Overarching your lower back in the deadlift could put too much stress on your spine and lead to injury. This exercise helps you avoid that. 

Other than just your abs, this exercise works your shoulders, lats, and triceps as secondary muscles.

Grip Strength

19. Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk is also known as a farmer’s carry. The mechanics of this exercise are pretty simple. You just pick up the weight of the floor and carry it as long as possible. This will work your upper back, core, and your grip strength.

To most people, keeping the dumbbells in your hands during the farmer’s walk is the most challenging part. Soon your forearms will start to burn and you will have a hard time holding the weight in your hands. 

20. Rope Pull-ups

Rope pull-ups are basically pull-ups performed on a thick rope. However, this is a much harder version. 

By grabbing the hanging rope with each hand, you are doing a classic pull-up. But the biggest emphasis isn’t on your lats, biceps, and core. The greatest challenge is to hold that rope in your hands. Your hands and forearms are going to work hard in order to keep the grip on the bar. That’s why this is such an effective exercise to improve your grip strength.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is deadlift bad for your back?

No, a deadlift is not bad for your back. It can even help you if suffer from chronic back pain. However, deadlifting with poor form is bad for your back and could cause an injury. So make sure you are lifting with proper technique and with adequate weight.

Final Thoughts

The key is proper exercise selection based on your sticking points in your deadlift.

Based on the area you need to improve the most, this exercise list can help you strengthen certain muscles and improve your deadlift.

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Wasim Kagzi

Hi! I’m Wasim Kagzi and this is where my team and I write and research about everything fitness. On MuscleLead we share all the helpful tips, techniques, and advice we've learned over the years. Personally, I've dedicated my life to learning and the pursuit of strength science. I hope to eventually compete one day and become the strongest version of myself.

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