- 20-30 minute read
- Helps pair accessory movements to individual weaknesses
- Covers conventional versus sumo and relevant accessories
- Most people cannot make optimal progress by just deadlifting on its own (after a certain experience level)
- Deadlift accessories should be specific to individual weaknesses, not just randomly thrown into a programme
- Deadlift accessories should not stray too far from the main competition lift, whether for bodybuilding or powerlifting
- Main deadlift accessories are deficit deadlifts, block pulls, paused deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts and deadlifts with accommodating resistance
- Each movement has a specific purpose, whether that be to aid speed and control off the floor, maintain position throughout, benefit the commonly difficult lockout or add overall muscle mass
- As a competition or 1RM attempt approaches, deadlift accessories will take a backseat, volume will drop and intensity of the competition style will increase unless peaking a specific accessory too
Deadlift training is a tough one – high volume, low volume, speed work, tempo work, bands and chains, pauses, sumo or conventional and of course the major aspect of accessory work. This article aims to outline which deadlift accessories there are and why you might want to apply them to your training in order to maximise your deadlift potential and turn weaknesses into strengths.
I want to do this in a simple and basic way; scientific aspects will be kept to a minimum because not everyone wants to know about angles, leverages and force production. The specifics have their place but knowing the general stuff and how to apply it will provide the most benefit to the most people.
Integrating deadlift accessories
“I’m just doing regular deadlifts once per week and making really good progress, why would I want to change anything?” Well, there’s a few answers to that.
- Progress will slow eventually – it might take a while, but at one point just regular deadlifts once per week will lose potency and your programme will need the added volume and variation.
- You might make progress faster – instead of being stuck to the same routine, adding in accessories or having a higher deadlift frequency might skyrocket your pulls or expose weaknesses earlier, meaning they can be corrected earlier.
- There are different parts to a deadlift – speed and positioning from the floor, maintaining posture, lockout strength; all these aspects feed into a big deadlift and all have training that can address them individually, so why not find your current weakness and integrate something to add further benefit?
- Variety – adding accessories into a programme and strengthening different areas means keeping training fresh; varying set and rep ranges and accessories will allow progress to keep going as well as keeping training challenging and engaging.
Following on from these pointers, it is key to know that deadlift accessories in a training programme should be specific to INDIVIDUAL WEAKNESSES and this cannot be stressed enough. Using rack pulls to overload your ego is not going to help maintain positioning from the floor nor is yanking up a huge deficit deadlift going to improve your speed and control in your regular deadlift. Do not just randomly throw some accessories into your programme, find your specific weaknesses and customise your training from there. Look further into the article to see which accessories match which weaknesses.
Another vital point is that the deadlift accessories that are chosen should not stray too far from the main lift itself. Using a bunch of bands and chains with no regard for how it may change your position or loading up a heavy rack pull on the highest pin setting expecting it to have appropriate carryover to your main deadlifts is a flawed approach to integrating accessory work. For most weaknesses in the deadlift, using simple and effective movements will be entirely sufficient to add to the main work and will allow for the best progression.
This applies to not only powerlifting but to bodybuilding too; why bother putting focus on deadlifts as a bodybuilder to then do movements that stray so far from the main lift? For maximal hypertrophy, it would be ideal to supplement deadlift work with accessories that have a full range of motion and that utilise the most muscle mass (chosen ideally to also boost any weak points one may have).
Breakdown of main deadlift accessories – what, why and how?
This is a breakdown of general deadlift variations and accessories, and I have put emphasis on the ones I feel have the most carryover to increasing the deadlift for the beginner, intermediate and also advanced lifter. There may be a place for more advanced techniques for experienced lifters with specific weakpoints however this list contains movements that will provide the most bang for your buck.
Differences between CONVENTIONAL and SUMO:
|Upper back, lower back and hamstring dominant||Glute, quad and hamstring dominant|
|Easier to grind||More technical|
|Taxing on the lower back = can be harder to recover from||Requires good hip mobility|
|Less upright back position (technique can break down more without failing)||More upright back position (relies more on technique)|
|Generally faster off the ground and harder to lockout||Generally slower off the ground and easier to lockout|
Regular deadlift (changes to tempo, set and rep scheme)
What is it? – Tempo can be defined as the speed at which the movement is performed. Set and rep scheme is the number of repetitions performed within and over a number of sets.
Tempo changes can be made by speeding the movement up (by reducing intensity or reps in order to move the weight as fast as possible), slowing the movement down using control and keeping tension or stopping momentum completely at certain points (also known as isometrics, which can increase strength at a given point in the movement).
Set and rep range can be altered to create a high or low volume session, with more reps and more sets or less of both aspects. There can be different combinations to suit the training programme such as more sets and less reps which put focus on different aspects of the deadlift. It is a very effective way to change how challenging the session can be.
Why should I implement it? – Many reasons! Increasing tempo and aiming for speed within your deadlift training will reinforce positioning whilst aiming to be explosive with the weight. It won’t necessarily increase the speed of your pulls but it is a good tool to pull explosively with good form and maintained posture.
Slowing tempo can aid control within the movement and will highlight weaknesses in positioning, as well as adding extra time under tension (TUT) which will break down more muscle fibres, increase intensity of the movement and enable lifters to get hard training in without necessarily using heavy loads which is a great tool to have. Utilising isometric holds goes along the same principle, it trains a certain part of the movement (for example just below the knees) and adds to TUT, making the lifter hold good position, reinforcing tightness and neutrality in the pull. Isometrics are not something to be used every workout, but can be another useful training tool or excellent for weakpoint training amongst other uses.
Set and rep range differences is a big topic but to summarise it, they should be implemented into blocks of training primarily: this being a hypertrophy phase where higher reps and more sets are used to gain muscle, strength phases where sets and reps lower to get the movement stronger and then peaking where intensity is highest and sets and reps are very low to peak strength for a competition or testing.
A secondary reason why set and rep range is important as it means lifters can adapt sessions if needed, for example a challenging 4×4 session can become an 8×2 if needed (sets x reps) and this can mean varying from week to week without straying too far from current goals but also allowing for appropriate volume/intensity to be achieved.
How can I implement and perform it? – Tempo work should be used as an accessory to main pulls for the most part, as it adds extra stress to the movement but should not be in place of it. Starting with lower sets and reps is recommended with light weights too and to vary speeds (fast pulls, 3 second eccentrics, 8 second eccentrics etc) experimentation is useful here!
Isometrics can be set up by setting up pins on a power rack to where a sticking point is and pulling into the pins with maximal force from 4-10 seconds. Likewise isometrics can be performed by deadlifting as usual but stopping halfway up (maintaining tension) or perhaps just off the floor with again an isometric hold of maybe 4-10 seconds (isometric holding is the reason for paused deadlifts). Frequent and challenging isometrics do not have to be used often but are another useful training tool.
Set and rep ranges can be implemented by splitting training into different blocks (as mentioned above) such as hypertrophy, strength and peaking. Or perhaps a “speed day” (I don’t generally like using that term but I understand if lifters want to devote training time to pulling lighter weights as fast as possible with good form) where sets and reps are lower as well as intensity or higher volume days where sets and reps are much higher.
Either way different lifters will respond to different set and rep ranges. To some strong deadlifters going above 5 reps may be completely unnecessary but on the other hand beginners or intermediates may benefit from the added volume and focus on higher rep accessory work.
What is it? – A deficit deadlift is an accessory which requires the lifter to create further distance between themself and the bar, usually standing on a platform or plate of about 1-4 inches. It adds range of motion (ROM) to the regular deadlift making it more challenging and requiring better positioning.
Why should I implement it? – Because of the increased ROM and requirement for good positioning, lifters who already struggle with a rounded back or basic deadlift technique should not use this accessory, they will benefit far more from regular deadlifts and alternative accessories as the deficit deadlift can accentuate bad positioning or change the movement pattern to where the carryover is poor.
However for lifters that have the basics locked down the deficit deadlift is a fantastic tool for improving starting position, tightness, speed from the floor and lockout strength as well. The increased ROM means more TUT over a set as well as more demands on the deadlift prime movers, and reinforces a well-positioned and efficient pull to lockout fully, improving the lockout. The requirements the distance increase put on the lifter’s starting position also means it is even harder from the floor, making it good to address weakness from the floor. Lastly, it trains the deadlift in its entirety as a full ROM, deadlift specific accessory.
How can I implement and perform it? – The deficit deadlift can be taxing on the deadlift muscles (particularly lower back) so once a week should suffice for most lifters. I recommend pulling from a deficit after main working sets and to start with a light weight. The deficit deadlift can be set up to suit both conventional and sumo pullers. Lifters will benefit from anywhere between 1-5 sets and 3-8 reps with deficit deadlifts; the set and rep ranges should be adjusted to suit ability and current goals.
Block pull/rack pull
What is it? – The block pull/rack pull accessory is the opposite to a deficit deadlift whereby the lifter decreases distance between themself and the bar, training a shorter range of motion for a few purposes. It is often used as an ego-lift, where form is disregarded for as much weight as possible, which defeats the purpose of accessory work.
Why should I implement it? – The block pull/rack pull should be implemented for lifters who are looking to gain more muscle mass and need some extra accessory work for after main deadlifts; it is especially good if full ROM exercises are simply too taxing after main sets and allows for lots of work to be done with decent load. It can also provide benefit to lockout strength, not necessarily because it “trains the sticking point” (as most of the time speed from the floor and technique will overcome that more efficiently) but because it allows for overload of the second half of the movement which may contribute to an overall stronger lockout.
How can I implement and perform it? – They can either be performed in a power rack at differing heights (just below knee level is recommended) or on platforms using deadlift blocks or plates to drop the bar onto, although the latter can get frustrating if the bar rolls around. Lifters may benefit from starting the pulls just below the knee and adjusting height as needed; anywhere from 1-5 sets and 3-8 reps is perfect for block pulls. However if using more than a deadlift max or close to it lower sets and reps would be recommended. I would only do these after main deadlifts as the correct muscles will be warm and primed; both styles of deadlift will benefit highly from this accessory.
What is it? – Paused deadlifts are a simple accessory where the lifter simply initiates the pull and pauses at a given point in the movement momentarily (1-5 seconds) before pulling with full force to lockout.
Why should I implement it? – It is a fantastic accessory for lifters that struggle with keeping tension and controlling the pull from the floor (which is a common beginner to intermediate weakness) because it requires so much control over the weight and back tightness to hold the pause. It is a great reinforcement for lockout strength as the lifter must pull through hard to lockout once the pause is completed. It can also be a good movement for building up the posterior chain, due to the extra TUT and isometric component to the lift.
How can I implement and perform it? – Most lifters would benefit from breaking the bar from the floor by about 1-3 inches and pausing there, as this is the most effective execution of this accessory however it can also be done as a “hover deadlift” where the bar is lifted under extreme control to only a fraction off the floor (much less weight needed for this one).
Another execution may be pausing just below the knee as many lifters struggle from this position however this may change the movement pattern or put too much stress on that position so is not recommended. Anywhere from 1-5 sets and 2-6 reps would provide benefit to a training programme, starting light as it is a movement that can be built up quite quickly. It should be done after main deadlifts or on a separate accessory day and can absolutely be used for both conventional and sumo. Quality over quantity for this accessory!
Stiff legged deadlift/Romanian deadlifts
What is it? – The stiff legged/Romanian deadlift is an accessory that strays quite far from the main movement (compared to most deadlift accessories anyway) however it is so effective because it trains the deadlift prime movers and is excellent in terms of hypertrophy because of the stress that can be created with the movement – especially for the posterior chain. Furthermore, it is an accessory that can be adapted and changed to suit individual needs.
Why should I implement it? – For beginners and intermediates especially, chances are musculature can be a limiting factor in getting stronger, or of course simply getting the right muscles stronger therefore using full ROM, targeted accessories such as this one can really benefit main deadlifts. A bigger, stronger posterior chain is something every lifter of every ability should strive for as it means no weak links for any of the lifts and of course is particularly important for a big deadlift.
How can I implement and perform it? – The most important concept for this accessory is the hip hinge, as it has many ways it can be executed but it is key to “lead” with the glutes and hinge from the hip in order to keep a good degree of neutrality through the spine and perform the lift optimally. It can be kept close to the body and lowered to just below knee level, lowered all the way to the floor (providing individual body type allows this), lowered away from the body (at the end of the toes to add stress to the movement), or lowered only to above knee and done for high repetitions.
This can be done in both conventional and sumo style however it may be easier and more comfortable to perform it conventionally. There is no recommended set and rep range but a good place to start may be between 2-5 sets and 5-10 reps with a moderate weight. Straps can be used if needed and it should be done after main deadlifts or on a separate accessory day if wanted.
Trap bar/hex bar deadlifts
What is it? – The trap bar/hex bar (pictured below) is a specialty bar that allows a lifter to stand more upright whilst performing the movement, which targets muscles differently and may be a better option for athletes or individuals whose focus may not be the straight-bar deadlift or whose ability may not suit/have reached straight-bar deadlifts (back injury etc).
Why should I implement it? – There are a few reasons to integrate this accessory into a programme, the first reason being the anterior loading of a straight-bar deadlift can place a great deal of stress on the lower back which some lifters may find it very hard to recover from or to deadlift effectively with. Therefore using the trap bar/hex bar for the more central loading allows deadlifts to still be performed because of a modification to training, instead of a common approach which would be to “not deadlift at all” or “take time off them”.
It is also a very quad-dominant deadlift accessory so may have carryover for leg drive off the floor (not greatly though as deadlift is primarily posterior chain) for lifters who are incredibly slow off the floor or who sit their hips very low before initiating a pull. Lastly, it trains the deadlift prime movers, meaning it may have a good place in training for hypertrophy especially to switch up training regular deadlifts on a regular barbell and introduce new stimulus to the body.
How can I implement and perform it? – Bracing is essential for this accessory due to the central loading, and it should be trained the same as the main deadlifts with adequate back tightness and a solid lockout. Lifters may benefit from 2-5 sets of 3-8 reps doing these. There may be better accessories but this one is worth mentioning as it has a variety of applications and is a useful training tool.
Accommodating resistance (bands and chains)
What is it? – Accommodating resistance training is using means (bands/chains etc) to accommodate resistance throughout the entire range of motion of a movement. By using bands and chains, it caters for individual strength curves and adds/takes away resistance whilst not sacrificing the full range of movement. The lifter can add or take away resistance by setting up bands and/or chains in certain ways.
Why should I implement it? –
Bands – Attaching bands to the bar to add resistance from the floor is a useful training tool to maintain tightness from the floor and will train lockout strength as the band tension kicks in on the second half of the pull.
Chains – Chains will add extra resistance throughout the whole movement and especially in the top half of the pull, chains also have a stability aspect due to their unstable nature hanging off the bar, which can teach a lifter to stay tight and pull explosively to counteract their downward force.
Reverse bands – Reverse bands will aid with the pull from the floor and give minimal to no help in the last bit of the deadlift. This can help to overload the movement throughout the whole range of motion and train the lifter to commit to pulling hard all the way to lockout. It could be good for building confidence with heavier weight too, without turning the movement into an ego-lift, which often happens with accessories like block pulls/rack pulls.
How can I implement and perform it?
Bands – this video explains how to use bands if there are no platforms with band pegs available. If there are however then the bands should be with enough tension that it covers the bar. The tension can be measured by luggage scales (holding the scales to the point at which the band is resisted in the movement e.g. hip height for deadlifts) however if not available it is better to use less tension than more, as it is an easier starting point and allows for better quality reps and sets. 1-5 sets of 1-6 reps is a good place to start, however it depends on session structure; many lifters find benefit in higher set/lower rep work such as 10 sets of 2 reps to work on explosiveness alongside good technique.
Chains – It is self-explanatory with chains, they can either be put either end of the bar although it may be easier to drape them over the centre of the bar for ease. Resistance in the ranges of 10kg/22lbs-30kg/66lbs is more than enough to provide the challenge in extra resistance and stability for sets and reps. 1-5 sets of 1-6 reps is a good place to start, however it depends on session structure; many lifters find benefit in higher set/lower rep work such as 10 sets of 2 reps to work on explosiveness alongside good technique although with chains it may be possible to work in higher rep ranges if needed.
Reverse bands – This may require a power rack or cage with pegs at the top to attach the bands properly, which go either end of the bar with equal tension so that when the pull is initiated the tension aids the first half of the movement. The bar should barely be affected by the bands at lockout. 1-5 sets of 1-5 reps is a general set and rep scheme however it must be remembered that this is primarily an overload movement therefore it depends on the ability of the lifter to determine this.
Approaching a competition – what should I do about accessories?
Good question! To keep things simple, I’d take two approaches here:
- Choose an accessory that is super specific to individual weakness and peak it alongside main movement – when peaking for a competition it is not possible to have focus on building the competition deadlift alongside multiple accessories. Not only will recovery be compromised, so will the quality of the main deadlifts. However it is not necessary to have to cut all accessories out weeks and weeks in advance of the testing day/competition as they are meant to aid the main lift. In this case I would suggest identifying the biggest weakness in your individual pull and choose the accessory that matches it best (for example, issues maintaining tightness and control from the floor may want to peak the paused deadlift) and then peaking the accessory up to the competition. Obviously the accessory should be done after the main deadlift sets and is not priority over main pulls.
- Cycle accessories for a few weeks per movement until a few weeks out where the main movement is the sole focus – in the lead-up to competition (providing there is enough time) it may be worthwhile to cycle a few accessory movements and get stronger at each one for a few weeks at a time. This will provide the body with different stimulus as well as keep training fresh and allow the lifter to see if some are more effective than others. Then, around three to four weeks out from testing/competition, the accessories can be cut out and more focus can be put on competition deadlifting, with additional work added in if needed or the accessories replaced with lighter, more technique-based “speed” work. It depends on the lifter’s ability, preferences and weaknesses to determine this but it is useful to keep in mind that there are different options.
I hope this article helped you gain some more knowledge on the implementation of deadlift accessories and the benefits they provide to a training programme. Hopefully you can now distinguish what accessory/accessories may help you build a bigger deadlift!
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