2 Assistance Exercises to Improve Your Deadlift

Posted: July 4, 2013 in Lift Technique, Training
Tags: , , ,

Here’s 2 exercises you can add to your program that will increase your strength on the deadlift by strengthening your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Incidentally, these are the same muscles that make you run fast, so not only will you get better at deadlifting, you’ll get better at sprinting and playing sports too.

#1) Heavy Kettlebell Swings

kettlebell swing

These are something I’ve been experimenting with for a while, since reading this post by Bret Contreras. According to Bret’s research, the heavy kettlebell swing is extremely effective for generating high levels of force production in the hips. I typically don’t include much kettlebell work in my programs because I feel that at light weights (which they usually are), kettlebell swings have little value beyond teaching good hip hinge mechanics. The idea of using very heavy kettlebells, though, is a good one. By using heavy kettlebells (32 kg or higher), we can work on improving not only the hip hinge movement, but rate of force development and strength-speed.

How To Do Them

Grab a kettlebell, set your feet shoulder-width apart, and set the kettlebell out in front of you like a center holds a football before hiking it. Then pull the kettlbell between your legs while hinging at the hip, and then forcefully contract your glutes to pull the kettlebell through your legs and up to around shoulder height.

Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s me demonstrating the heavy KB swing:

And here’s Brad, one of the athletes I train:

The big difference between Brad’s KB swing and mine is that mine has a little more hip-dominant movement and a more powerful hip extension. The key to a good KB swing is to lock your knees at the top of the motion and try to powerfully push your hips forward while leaning back slightly.

#2) Pull Throughs

pull through

Pull throughs are very similar to kettlebell swings in that they both involve hip hinging. The difference between the two is that KB swings require you to decelerate and then accelerate the weight, while pull throughs can be done from a static position. I typically use the pull through to teach the hip hinge before moving on to the kettlebell swing, though it definitely stands on its own as a strength exercise, not just a learning tool.

How to Do Them

Set up a cable machine with the pulley all the way at the bottom. Then clip a rope attachment onto the cable. Start by straddling the cable with your feet wider than shoulder width, and holding the rope in front of your groin. Then hinge at the hips and reach back between your legs while keeping your back flat. Once your back is parallel to the ground. Extend your hips and knees, driving your hips forward. Lock out the movement by squeezing your quads, glutes, and abs, then return to the starting position.

Here’s what it looks like:

Integration Into Your Program

If you are currently doing a Leg/Chest/Back split, or something similar where one day is devoted to legs, do kettlebell swings and pull throughs after heavy compound lifts like squats and deadlifts.

If you are doing a Deadlift/Squat/Bench powerlifting-style split, incorporate them on your deadlift day after heavy deadlifts.

Start out by doing 3 sets of 12, and  increase the weight each week. After 2 weeks of 3×12, move to 4×10, and then 4×8, increasing the weight each week. On each exercise, concentrate on moving the weight as fast as possible with good form.

  1. Paul Vandyken says:

    Hey Andrew,
    Thank you for this instructive article on Deadlift. I have used it as the reference to finish writing this post about 5 valuable types of Deadlift Exericses on my blog.
    Again, thanks for your informative article!

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