By Stephen Brindle
If you consistently check out the Bas Barbell site I’m guessing that you aren’t just doing P90X, Insanity or using the shake weight but are doing some type of hardcore lifting. If you’re reading this article I’m assuming that you like to deadlift! Practicing excellent technique on your deadlift is crucial and should be addressed first before doing lots of assistance work. I recommend checking out one of Steel’s videos on deadlift technique to see the proper way to deadlift.
Once your deadlift form is good there are some assistance exercises that can really help your deadlift out! Since I starting implementing these assistance exercises my max has gone way up. I recommend doing 2-3 of these exercises after your work sets of deadlift. Try them out and see which ones you like the best. I would change up the exercises about every 3-4 weeks to add some variety and keep the body from getting used to the same stimulus. These exercises will strengthen your lats, traps, lower back and your grip to help your deadlift max improve.
Touch and Go Deadlifts
These are normally done at the end of my regular work sets with a lighter weight (60-75%) of max, as a down set. These are done like a normal deadlift except the tempo is much faster since you do not pause the weight on the ground. The key is to not let the weight bang on the ground which can be tough on the back but to let the plates tap the ground as you go down fast but under control. I do these at the end of my workout for some extra volume for high reps. I focus on getting real good lockouts on every single rep by squeezing the glutes real hard. They have a conditioning effect as well. Doing a set of 65% for 15 reps “touch and go” will sky rocket your heart rate and give you a feeling similar to pushing the prowler. Don’t be surprised if you get gassed after these sets! Another added advantage to them is that they help strengthen your grip. On the last few reps the bar might feel like it’s slipping out of your hands but you have to squeeze the life out of the bar and not let go!
Rack PullsSet up the rails in your power rack around knee height and load a bunch of 45s on the bar. Keeping the shoulders in front of the bar and a tight upper back simply stand up with the weight. These are essentially partial movement deadlifts. You will be able to use some real heavy weight on this lift; more
than your 1RM. This will shut off your body’s protective mechanism called the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO). This will ensure that when you go for a new max you will already be used to handling heavy weight. The body will not be shocked by you lifting a weight that heavy since it has already done it and knows what it feels like. For me, that is where rack pulls have their greatest benefit. Another benefit of them is that pulling such heavy weight will help your grip. Lastly, they help out with your lockout. If you are someone who is able to get the weight off the ground on deadlifts and end up hitching or being unable to lockout fully, these will help with your hip extension and the lockout. Heavy weight and low reps work best on this lift. To make them even tougher lower the height of the rack.
No Touch Deadlifts
Steel introduced me to these. He says that Dan Austin from South Carolina used these with great success. They consist of doing a normal deadlift motion but not letting the plates touch the ground on the way down. The key on these is to have a lot of speed in reversing the weight from the way down to the way up. The knees should bend just as they do doing a normal deadlift. At first glance these might appear to look like RDLs but the knees bend a lot more on these. I find these typically work well as “down sets” for extra volume after your normal heavy deadlifts.
Bent Over Rows from the floor
After Steel had me do these for about a month I noticed my deadlift get way stronger! I like these for developing lat and erector spinae strength. In Starting Strength Rippetoe says, “ The lattismus dorsi have a very important role to play here; its function is to pull the humerus back which is very important to the mechanics of the pull.” The lats help you keep the bar close to the body during the pull which helps you lift more weight. I like the normal bent rows that are performed with the bar below the knee but I noticed when I started doing heavy rows from the floor my deadlift max started to rise. The start position for these is the same as the start of a deadlift. The bar is positioned over the middle of the foot, close to the shins. While attempting to keep the shoulders in front of the bar the bar is rowed below the chest to the stomach region with the elbows being brought above back level. It is pivotal to try to keep the upper back flat on this movement without too much heaving while the lower back is contracted isometrically; this will allow the lats to be strengthened in specifically the same movement plane as they are used in the deadlift. Make sure to keep the bar close to your body on these. 4-6 sets of 3-6 reps have worked well for me.
These have been made popular by Matt Krocazelski. They are great for developing one’s grip= similar to the touch and go deadlift with the high reps. Pick a weight that you would normally do 10 reps with on the DB One Arm Row exercise. Now do a set of 20! Your form might break down a little bit but the key is to squeeze the dumbbell as hard as you can no matter what and do not drop the weight!
Heavy DB Rows
Probably my favorite exercise for simultaneously building up strength in the lats and rhomboids as well as strengthening the grip. I never use straps when doing these no matter how heavy I go. That’s just my personal preference. I also try my best to grab the middle of the handle of the dumbbell without my hands rubbing against the weight of the dumbbell. 5-6 sets of 5 reps are one of my favorite rep schemes on these.
I believe these help my grip out since the weight used is so heavy for 6-12 reps. I also think strengthening the traps has some benefit on the lockout of a deadlift. Even though you don’t actively shrug the weight while deadlifting the traps as well as the whole upper back are still activated during the lift. I typically do 5 sets of 6-12 reps on these.
There you have it. Those are my 7 favorite deadlift assistance exercises. Start implementing them into your workouts and you will be giving the people what they want in no time- a new max!