Try These 13 Deadlift Accessory Exercises To Improve Your Deadlift Strength

The deadlift is one of the main three lifts we do in the gym alongside the bench press and squat. These three make up the sport of powerlifting and are a brilliant way to build strength for health and performance. Although improving your deadlift will mainly involve a lot of deadlifting, there are some extremely effective deadlift accessory exercises that you can use to help break through plateaus.

9 min read
Sean Klein
Written by
Sean Klein
Published on
08/12/23
Last updated
08/12/23
In This Resource
  • Types of Accessory Exercises
  • Hamstring Growth + Strength
  • Glute Growth
  • Spinal Flexion
  • Deadlift Specific
  • Hypertrophy of the Upper Back
  • Lower Back Stability
  • Exercise Selection
  • Pick Exercises That Work Your Weaknesses
  • Avoid Going Over Maximal Recoverable Volume
  • Do Not Cover All Basis

There are multiple type of deadlift accessory exercises, all of which can be used to great effect. I will walk you through the different types and guid you on how to use them in your training.

Types of Accessory Exercises

Hamstring Growth + Strength

The hamstrings are one of the prime movers in the deadlift and are one of the most important components of the posterior chain. Therefore, growing the hamstrings through specific hypertrophy training can later be transferred into deadlift strength. Hamstring isolation movements (in a gym without machines) often however involve very similar movement to the deadlift and therefore doing them in different sessions to the deadlift is advised. Hamstrings can also be made stronger through specific isolation, although actually strength work is more effective with deadlifts or deadlift variations that hamstring specific exercises.

Glute Growth

The glutes are another prime mover in the deadlift, though play less of a role than the hamstring. Having weak or small glutes however can be a weak link in the posterior chain, so growing them can be very beneficial to building a very strong deadlift. Performing hypertrophy in the glutes will also likely help you build a stronger back squat as well.

Spinal Flexion

Spinal flexion is often forgotten when it comes to deadlift accessory exercises, and is hotly debated within the strength and conditioning community. I think we should be able to move through spinal flexion with load, it’s a movement that humans perform, very regularly and in sports it is often done with load (contact sports). However I am not of the opinion that the weight used should be anywhere near maximal deadlifts or even over 10% of your max deadlift. It shouldn’t be so weak that it is never touched but, personally I am of the opinion that it doesn’t need to be strengthened like other movement categories. However I am very willing to change my opinion here. These exercise will help build strength and also help mitigate injury.

Deadlift Specific

Deadlift specific exercises mimic the deadlift with very slight alterations to either make it more challenging or easier. Manipulating intensity in either way can be helpful to progressing your deadlift. If we make the deadlift harder through elevating the feet, we create a very challenging deadlift variation that will likely increase the strength of the lower back so that when you come back to the conventional deadlift it will feel substantially easier.

Then, inversely if we shorten the range of motion so that we pull from the knee to the hips, we are able to overload this part of the exercise by adding substantially more weight than would be able if we were lifting from the floor. Either way both exercises apply overload to the deadlift in such a way to create adaptation.

As our application is currently focused on health, we do not have these kind of powerlifting specific accessory work exercises in our library, so I have linked them here.

Pause Deadlift

Dead Stop Deadlift

Hypertrophy of the Upper Back

Having a big and strong upper back is an advantage when it comes to deadlifting heavy weight. No, it is not the key characteristic for being a strong deadlifter but the upper back does play its role in the lift. This is why performing pulling movements in order to induce hypertrophy can be an excellent way to help increase your deadlift. These can easily be done within the same session as deadlifts as they are different enough to not risk applying too much load to one body part. Horizontal pulling for hypertrophy will also help your body deal with the fatigue of high repetition deadlifts, if this is something you’re planning on using in your programme.

Lower Back Stability

The lower back is a key part of the posterior that will be essential to having a strong deadlift. It is often the point of injuries in the deadlift, so strengthening it will not only help your get strong but also help you mitigate injury. Nearly all the other exercises in this list will involve the lower back, but will not isolate it and work it specifically. The lower back can be isolated through using static holds, these are very efficient at creating a lot of fatigue and help build stability in the lower back. unfortunately we do not have some of the best lower back isolating exercises using the GHD in our library, so I have linked the GHD Hip Extension here . Other lower back stability exercises are much more core movements, that will likely not improve your deadlifting strength but be very effective for mitigating injury through building a stable lower back.

Exercise Selection

Pick Exercises That Work Your Weaknesses

You will need to work on what your weakest at, improve it, then keep pick another aspect you want to improve and repeat this on loop until you have the deadlift you are striving for. Let’s say that you struggle pulling from the knee and have a small upper back and are looking to improve your deadlift. Then a training cycle with some pause deadlifts (at the knee) and upper back hypertrophy would be a great starting point.

Avoid Going Over Maximal Recoverable Volume

When programming, we need to be careful about how many sets we perform targeting a specific movement category with a week. Maximal recoverable volume is the maximal amount of sets you can perform in a week whilst being able to recover from the training. If you reading this article and plan to add in all these exercises into your programme you will break. Yes you need to hinge, hinge and hinge. But you need to stay within your maximal recoverable volume and not get injured in the process.

Do Not Cover All Basis

In training, we only have so much time and so much our body can take, if you’re trying to increase your deadlift you need to pick a physical attribute to improve and ensure your intervention works. This is far more effective than performing a bit of everything and improving nothing. Let’s say you want to grow your hamstrings, then this should be one of the primary goals of the cycle and the cycle should reflect it. However if you want to grow your back, hamstrings, glutes and improve spinal flexion all at the same time, taking into account that deadlift is likely a small part of your entire programme, you will have way to much to do and likely not improve at anything. Isolate a physical attribute, improve it, then pick your next physical attribute.

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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.

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