The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do in the gym. It works over 70% of the muscles in your body including your entire lower body, lower back and upper back.
Unfortunately the deadlift is also one of the hardest exercises to improve. If you want to get stronger on the deadlift then the most important thing you can do is to attack your deadlift sticking points!
- Part 1: Isometric Training
- Part 2: Supplementary Exercises
- Part 3: Accessory Exercises
In this comprehensive guide I will teach you how to use advanced training methods to destroy your deadlift sticking points and hit a huge PR on the deadlift.
Your deadlift sticking point is the part of the range of motion where you are weakest and where you normally miss the lift. Some of the most common deadlift sticking points occur right at the start of the lift with the bar on the ground, in the middle of the lift with the bar below your knees and at the end of the lift with the bar above your knees.
If you want to improve your deadlift then the fastest way to do so is to attack your deadlift sticking points. The powerlifting coach Josh Bryant is a big fan of this strategy. He says that targeting your sticking points is the key to building a bigger deadlift.
The fastest way to destroy sticking points on the deadlift is with isometric training. Josh Bryant is a big fan of powerlifting-style isometrics while Charles Poliquin really likes to use functional isometrics. Isometric training is so effective because you can target the exact part of the range of motion where you are weakest.
Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: Isometric Training
Isometric training is the single most effective way to blasting through sticking points on the deadlift. The world-class powerlifter Matt Ladewski says that isometric deadlifts were the “secret sauce” that finally took his deadlift from 700 pounds to over 800 pounds.
Here is a perfect demonstration of isometric training on the deadlift:
To perform an isometric deadlift you will need a barbell, a power rack and a set of safety pins. You set the safety pins right at the part of the range of motion where you are weakest.
If your sticking point is right below your knees then that is where you set the safety pins. You can load the bar with anywhere from 135 pounds to 50% of your 1-rep max. Then you deadlift the bar into the safety pins and pull as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds.
Your goal is to pull so hard that you break the safety pins in half!
So what’s the point of isometric deadlifts? Why would anyone train this way? Isometric deadlifts have many advantages over regular training methods. Researches shows that isometric deadlifts help you produce 7% more force and recruit 15% more muscle fibers than regular training methods.
With isometric training most of the strength gains occur right at the point in the range of motion that you are training. In other words all of the strength gains occur right where you need them most: right at your sticking point!
The only downside to isometric training on the deadlift is it has to be combined with the full range of motion deadlift.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by alternating isometric deadlifts with speed deadlifts. For example:
- Set #1: Isometric Deadlift
- Set #2: Speed Deadlift
- Set #3: Isometric Deadlift
- Set #4: Speed Deadlift
And so on. Alternating isometric deadlifts and speed deadlifts is so effective because the isometric deadlifts make your speed deadlifts faster and more explosive.
Here is an isometric deadlift workout that Matt Ladewski performed on his way to putting up an incredible 800 pound deadlift in competition. Check it out:
Matt Ladewski Isometric Deadlift Workout
- A1: Deadlift overcoming isometric (2 inches above floor)**, 4 x 1, 2 minutes rest
- A2: Speed deadlift with chains (competition stance)***, 4 x 2, 1/1/X/0, 2 minutes rest
- B1: Reverse hyperextension, 4-6 x 15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Leg extensions, 4 x 12, 1/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- C2: 45 degree back extension (holding DB), 4 x 12, 1/0/1/2, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Pulldown abs, 4 x 15, 1/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed with 65% of your 1-rep max on the bar. Pull into the safety pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds.
***Performed with 55% bar weight and 10-20% chain weight.
You can click right here for a training video of this workout.
Trust me, this workout is much harder than it looks! The isometric deadlifts really overload your central nervous system and force your body to recruit new muscle fibers that it hasn’t ever used before. By the end of this workout you may notice that your hands are twitching like you have a bad case of Parkinson’s disease!
Don’t worry, that is completely normal. It is just a sign that you trained your nervous system very hard. I recommend you do some deep breathing or light meditation following this workout to help calm down your central nervous system and to kick your body out of “fight or flight” mode.
You can expect to hit a huge deadlift PR after just a few weeks of using this isometric deadlift routine.
How To Use Functional Isometrics To Destroy Deadlift Sticking Points
Another great isometric training method is called “functional isometrics.” Functional isometrics is basically a combination of partial range of motion reps and all-out overcoming isometric contractions.
Here is a perfect video demonstration for a functional isometric deadlift workout:
In order to perform a functional isometrics workout you take your deadlift and divide it into three equal parts:
- The bottom part of the exercise
- The middle part of the exercise
- The top part of the exercise
You are going to perform 3 functional isometric sets in each part of the range of motion. So you would perform 3 sets in the bottom third of the exercise, three sets in the middle third and three sets in the top third.
For each set you perform 4-6 partial range of motion reps followed by an all-out overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins. Your goal is to pull so hard that you break the pins in half! After the isometric rep you lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.
Functional isometrics are so effective because they take the best parts of 2 different training methods: partial range of motion reps and isometric reps. Functional isometrics are so effective because they let you target three separate sticking points in one kick-ass workout.
Here is a sample functional isometrics workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Deadlift Functional Isometrics Workout
- A1: Bottom position deadlift isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- B1: Bottom position deadlift isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- C1: Bottom position deadlift isometronics, 3 x 5**, 1/1/X/1, 4 minutes rest
- D1: Deadlift (full range of motion), 1 x 5, 3/0/1/0, 4 minutes rest
**Performed as a deadlift isometronics set. Perform 5 partial range of motion reps. On your 6th pull against the top pins as hard as you can for 6-8 seconds. Then lower the weight back down and attempt 1 more partial range of motion rep.
After your last set of deadlifts you can perform some assistance work for the major deadlift muscles such as the upper back, lower back, glutes and hamstrings.
Functional isometrics are very demanding on both your muscles and your central nervous system so make sure your recovery is on-point. I recommend you stay slightly conservative with your weights the first time you do this workout.
The athlete in the above video does a great job of staying conservative with his weights. If the weights are too light then you can always bump them up for your next functional isometrics workout.
The bottom line is isometric training is the fastest and most effective way to destroy your deadlift sticking points. Of course it is not the only way! Using appropriate supplementary and accessory exercises is also a great strategy.
Part 2: Supplementary Exercises
One of the best strategies to blast through sticking points in the deadlift is to use deadlift supplementary exercises. These are exercises that are similar to the deadlift and help you strengthen specific parts of the range of motion.
One of the best strategies is to figure out if you are weak at the bottom or the top of the deadlift and then to use exercises that target that specific weak point.
Here are some of the best supplementary exercises for improving your deadlift sticking point off the floor:
- Deficit deadlifts
- Paused deadlifts
- Lightning deadlifts
- Snatch grip deadlifts
And here are some of the best supplementary exercises for improving your deadlift sticking point near lockout:
- Block deadlifts
- Band deadlifts
- Reverse band deadlifts
- Chain deadlifts
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #1: Deficit Deadlifts
The deficit deadlift is one of the best exercises you can perform to improve your deadlift sticking point off the floor. Many powerlifting coaches such as Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems use the deficit deadlift as a key exercise in their powerlifters’ training programs.
To perform a deficit deadlift you simply stand on a small 1-4 inch platform. The platform forces you to squat / bend down further to grab the barbell and increases the range of motion of the exercise.
Most powerlifters perform the deficit deadlift for sets of 3-5 reps although you can go higher or lower depending on your individual needs.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #2: Paused Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the paused deadlift.
The paused deadlift is a slightly unusual but extreme effective deadlift variation for improving your strength off the floor. The basic idea is to deadlift the weight 1-3 inches off the floor, then pause for 1-2 seconds and then complete the lift.
Many trainees have a hard time maintaining an arch in their lower back as they lift the weight off the ground. This exercise is very helpful for reinforcing the proper mechanical position of your lower back as you initiate the pull.
For safety reasons most powerlifters perform this exercise for 3-5+ reps although you can go lower than this if you really know what you are doing.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #3: Lightning Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the lightning deadlift.
Lightning deadlifts are a favorite of the world-class powerlifting coach Josh Bryant. Lightning deadlifts are used to improve your explosive strength off the floor so that you can quickly pull the barbell past any sticking points that you have.
Here is the exact procedure for a lightning deadlift:
- Step 1: Perform 1 rep of speed deadlifts with chains drooped over either side of the barbell. You should use around 40-60% of your 1-rep max plus extra weight in chains.
- Step 2: Immediately after your first rep your training partners pull the chains off the barbell and you perform 1 more speed rep with straight weight only.
Lightning deadlifts are really just speed deadlifts performed for 2 reps with chains on the first rep and no chains on the second rep.
The first rep with chains teaches your brain to pull the bar as explosively as possible all the way to lockout. After all, if you do not pull as fast as you can then the chains will pull the barbell right back down to the ground.
On the second rep your body “thinks” that the chains are still on the bar so it tells your body to continue pulling explosively. There’s just one problem: the chains are pulled off the bar prior to the 2nd rep! This means that your 2nd rep with just straight weight will be one of the fastest speed reps of your life. How cool is that?
Josh Bryant likes to use lightning deadlifts as a supplementary exercise for the last 1-3 heavy deadlift workouts before a powerlifting meet. It is a fantastic exercise if you have a sticking point right off the floor and you need to work on increasing your rate of force development.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #4: Snatch Grip Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the snatch grip deadlift.
Snatch grip deadlifts are an extremely underrated supplementary deadlift exercise. They are very similar to deficit deadlifts: the wider than normal grip forces you to squat / bend down further to grab the barbell. This means your range of motion is slightly larger than with a regular deadlift.
However, there is more to the snatch grip deadlift than the increased range of motion. The wide grip on the barbell forces all of the muscles on your upper and lower back to work much harder to stabilize the weight. Your lats, traps and rhomboids have to work extremely hard to stabilize your shoulders and upper back through the entire range of motion.
I highly recommend you give this exercise a shot if you have a sticking point off the floor. You won’t be disappointed!
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #5: Block Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the block deadlift.
Block pulls are one of the best exercises you can perform if you have a sticking point on the deadlift near lockout. Block pulls are very similar to rack pulls performed in a power rack.
The big difference with block pulls is the 45 pound plates are resting on two blocks on either end of the barbell. The block pull mimics the feel of a regular deadlift MUCH better than a rack pull. It has to do with the way the bar bends when you pull it.
Many powerlifters find that they are actually weaker with the bar just below or just above their knees than they are with the bar starting on the ground.
Chad Wesley Smith falls into this camp. He has a huge squat and gets a ton of leg drive off of the floor and he misses out on this leg drive when he performs block pulls.
If this describes you then block pulls can be a great option for strengthening your lockout and your lower back. It can be very hard to maintain the correct mechanical position for your lower back when you are starting the block pull with the bar closer to your knees.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #6: Band Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the band deadlift.
Band deadlifts are a favorite of the Westside Barbell powerlifting team. The bands act like giant rubber bands. They stretch and increase in resistance as you pull the weight off the ground. By the time the bar reaches the lockout position it feels like the bands are trying to crush you down onto the ground!
Band deadlifts have two big advantages over regular deadlifts:
- They overload the top part of the exercise
- They force you to lift the weight explosively
Many powerlifters find that band deadlifts also improve their deadlift off the ground because they have to lift the weight as explosively as possible or they will miss the lift. They are a very versatile exercise indeed.
Most powerlifters use band deadlifts as a “max effort” style exercise for 1-3 reps or as a dynamic effort exercise for multiple sets of 1 rep. This is good advice because high-rep band deadlifts are very difficult to recover from and often do more harm than good.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #7: Reverse Band Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the reverse band deadlift.
Reverse band deadlifts are very similar to regular deadlifts. The bands make the weight feel lighter at the bottom of the movement and heavier at the top. However, reverse band deadlifts have a completely different feel to them compared to regular deadlifts.
It feels like the weight is just floating in your hands as you lift it up to lockout. It’s really hard to describe actually.
Overall reverse band deadlifts are slightly easier to recover from vs regular band deadlifts. They are simply fantastic for blasting through sticking points in the lockout part of your deadlift.
The powerlifting coach Chad Wesley Smith used reverse band deadlifts as a key supplementary exercise when he trained for an 800+ pound deadlift.
Deadlift Supplementary Exercise #8: Chain Deadlifts
Note: you can click right here for a perfect demonstration of the chain deadlift.
Chain deadlifts are another great exercise for blasting through striking points in the top half of your deadlift. The chains act as another form of accommodating resistance and make the barbell heavier as you pull it up to lockout.
Chains are somewhat less popular than bands, reverse bands and block pulls as a deadlift supplementary exercise. You really don’t see too many top level powerlifters using it.
One of the challenges with chain deadlifts is they can be very difficult to set up properly. It’s very easy for the chains to get trapped underneath your 45 pound plates as you deadlift which throws everything off.
If you have an effective way of setting up the chains then they are a great supplementary exercise.
Part 3: Accessory Exercises
Another great strategy to blast through sticking points on the deadlift is to use accessory exercises to attack your weak muscle groups. It would be impossible for me to cover every single deadlift accessory exercise in this article.
Instead I want to cover 4 of the most effective and underrated accessory exercises for blasting through sticking points on the deadlift.
Here are 2 of the best accessory exercise for destroying your deadlift sticking points off the floor:
- Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings
- Barbell Dead Stop Rows
And here are 2 of the best deadlift accessory exercises for destroying your deadlift sticking points at lockout:
- 45 Degree Back Extension With Bands
- Kroc Rows
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these exercises.
Deadlift Accessory Exercise #1: Safety Squat Bar Good Mornings
Note: you can click right here for the training video for this exercise.
The good morning is a fantastic deadlift assistance exercise for improving your strength right off the ground. This exercise overloads your lower back, glutes and hamstrings but in a completely different way from a regular deadlift.
In my experience the safety squat bar good morning is the single best good morning variation for boosting your deadlift strength. The safety squat bar has a nice padding surface that surrounds your neck and shoulders which makes the exercise way more comfortable to perform.
More importantly the safety squat bar has a built-in camber which throws the center of mass further forward in front of your body. This means your lower back and the rest of your spinal erectors have to work extra hard in the bottom position of the exercise.
The safety squat bar good morning is an incredibly effective exercise for blasting through sticking points in the bottom part of the deadlift.
If you have access to this bar then you should absolutely use it. In my experience sets of 4-6 reps work awesome for this exercise.
Deadlift Accessory Exercise #2: Barbell Dead Stop Rows
You can click right here for a training video of this exercise.
The barbell dead stop row is an UNBELIEVABLY effective deadlift assistance exercise. It is easily one of the best assistance exercises you can perform for improving your starting strength in the deadlift. The starting position of this exercise is just like a regular deadlift.
First you explode the weight off the ground to around your mid-shin height or slightly higher. Then you violently pull your elbows back to row the barbell into your abdomen.
While you are rowing the weight you keep your torso hunched forward or even throw your torso forward to get a better contraction in your upper back. Then you lower the weight back down to the starting position.
Basically the first half of the movement is a speed deadlift and the second half is a very heavy barbell row.
This exercise absolutely DESTROYS your lower and upper back. Actually it is a form of eccentric training because you are repping out a weight that is much heavier than your 1-rep max.
I highly recommend you watch this video of 4x World’s Strongest Man Brian Shaw performing the barbell dead stop row and that you incorporate it into your own training program. It will drive up your starting strength on the deadlift like nothing else!
Deadlift Accessory Exercise #3: 45 Degree Back Extension With Bands
Note: you can click right here for the training video for this exercise.
If you want to improve your lockout strength on the deadlift then the 45 degree back extension with bands is a highly underrated option. I first learned about this exercise from “The Glute Guy” Brett Contreras.
The basic idea is to use bands to overload the top part of the exercise. This exercise creates a crazy amount of tension in your lower back in the top position of the exercise. Many trainees find that 2 hard sets of this exercise is all they need to really increase the strength of their lower back.
Deadlift Accessory Exercise #4: Kroc Rows
Note: you can click right here for the training video for this exercise.
The Kroc row is the brainchild of the world-champion powerlifter Matt Kroczaleski. Kroc rows are basically a high-rep 1-arm dumbbell row performed to failure with a good amount of cheating or “body English.”
For many years Matt had a serious sticking point on the deadlift right at lockout. He could lift any weight off the floor but as soon as the bar reached his knees the bar slowed down and stopped.
One day Matt realized that whenever he used 1-arm dumbbell rows in his routine his lockout strength on the deadlift improved. Matt started using heavier and heavier dumbbells and his lockout strength continued to skyrocket.
Here are some of Matt’s best lifts on the Kroc row:
- 225 pounds x 25 reps
- 250 pounds x 15 reps
- 300 pounds x 13 reps
There are two big downsides to the Kroc row. First of all they are very difficult to perform in a commercial gym. After all, most commercial gyms don’t have 200+ pound dumbbells for you to use!
The second disadvantage is they can be very difficult to recover from. Matt Kroc always performed 1 all-out set of Kroc rows per arm and called it a day. If you are more of a high-volume guy and like to perform lots of sets and exercises then Kroc rows are probably not for you.
If you are stuck at a training plateau in the deadlift then you probably have a “sticking point” holding you back. The fastest way to boost your deadlift is to figure out where this sticking point is and then use training methods to strengthen this weak point.
Isometric training is probably the fastest way to overcome a sticking point in the deadlift. One of the best isometric training strategies is to alternate sets of isometric deadlifts with speed deadlifts. This strategy makes you stronger and more explosive all at the same time.
Other options include using supplementary and accessory exercises to attack your weak points such as deficit deadlifts, block pulls, barbell dead stop rows and safety squat bar good mornings.
So what are you waiting for? Go design your next deadlift training program and attack your sticking points like you mean it!
“Failure is not an option for me. Success is all I envision.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!
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