Why is the sky blue? Are you my mom? Is it in yet? How do I get a bigger deadlift? These are questions we have been asking since we were picking gnats off each other's back hair in ancient cave times. Luckily for you, I will attempt to answer one of those questions right now: Lets improve your deadlift. Here are three ways that I have found work best for improving all sticking points of the lift.
1: "Deadlift" More Often
I know this one may go against what some of you may have been told by certain Powerlifting gentlemen who lift in exoskeleton suits but honestly, if you are bad at something, the best way to improve it is to do it more often. Deadlifting once every few weeks, or every week for 3x5 is really not a great way to improve the brute strength required for a deadlift, ESPECIALLY for newer athletes. "But what about over training, won't I fry my CNS", you say?
Without going into the ridiculous claims of CNS Fatigue, I will say that the odds of you "overtraining" by doing Starting Strength programs or deadlifting once a week are so incredibly low that you don't need to worry about it. Matt Falk and I compete in Strongman competitions, a sport where you may have 3-4 "deadlift" type of events. This doesn't mean we will be pulling a standard bar off the floor with mix-grip, we may be loading stones, carrying Husafel stones, carrying kegs, etc. Are we going to get better at pulling off the floor if we "deadlift" once a week?
NO! We are "deadlifting" objects 2-3x a week, you can see in our videos that we do conventional deadlifts, carrying events, axle deadlifts, deadlifts with straps, cleans, stone loading, etc. Now, this isn't an excuse for you to try and hit a 1RM every time you deadlift, or doing some god-awful metcon that has 50 deadlifts in it. Instead, be smart about when you are deadlifting, don't do them on (or before) days where you may compromise other events or lifts, plan ahead instead. Just to reiterate: If you are bad at something, do it again and again until you no longer suck.
2. Increase Your Grip Strength
Much like CNS fatigue, grip strength is another one of those subjects that people like to cry about continuously on the internet. I am of the opinion there is almost no excuse for missing a deadlift due to grip weakness, especially with a mixed grip. Part of the problem is that some newer lifters treat a deadlift as their only form of grip training. The issue is, deadlifts aren't really the best way to train your grip: the rep doesn't last very long, and the diameter of a bar is small and easy to close the hand around. Now, I am obviously not the world's best gripper, but I am better than the average jabroni. I can actually hook-grip deadlift more than I can with straps AND mixed grip, even though I usually use straps on a conventional. Why is this?
Because deadlifts aren't my grip training! If you want to increase your grip strength for realsies, you need to start picking up objects that don't want to be picked up by your hands, like stones (This goes back to point #1). Deadlifts are great for many things, but grip strength isn't really one of them. If you want your grip strength to go through the roof, you need to start doing heavy farmer walks, double-overhand deadlifts with axles, hanging from a pullup bar with one hand for as long as possible, etc. Then maybe you can deadlift with straps all you like, instead of crying about how it will ruin your grip strength.
Learn more about strengthening grip in our previous article.
3. Strengthen Your Upper Back
As we extensively covered in our previous article, the upper back is the linchpin to all lifts that involve squatting, picking weight off the floor, and supporting weight overhead (HINT: that is just about every lift in existence). Because of this, your weak upper back may be holding back from a bigger deadlift. There are a few ways you can correct the upper back issue: The ways mentioned earlier in this post, heavy, high-rep Olympic high pulls, and heavy box squats with a regular or Safety Squat Bar.
I think some avoid the high-rep hypertrophy work that needs to go into upper back training because they don't want to feel like a douche in the gym. Let me ask you this: Do you want a bigger deadlift, or do you care too much about what JimmyST.Musclez will say about you on Reddit? putting high rep high pulls in your training will do wonders for building thick traps and a thick, strong upper back, especially snatch high pulls. As far as muscle growth on the upper back is concerned, you get about the same effect from a high pull as the actual lift, the benefit of the high pull is you can use more weight.
Finally, we get to the box squat. Before you crucify me for recommending these, remember we are using them to assist our deadlift. Box squats are pretty close to useless for new lifters who want to build their raw squat, but they do build a nice thickness in the upper back. Another benefit of box squats with the SSB is quickly locking out the legs and driving the hips forward will help with a deadlift lockout. Matt has a ridiculously bad time with his lockout for about 6 months until he started doing these squats regularly, and his deadlift has exploded.
Deadlifts should be one of the most fun lifts you get to do during the week, not something you dread because your grip gives out. I regularly have trouble sleeping the night before deadlifts because I am so excited. I hope these tips help you increase your deadlift, let us know how it goes for you.