As a lifter, it feels great to have hoisted up a heavy weight and then hear the gym shake as it drops back to the ground. It's always good to get respect in the gym, but only real lifters know that there is no true marker of strength than being able to fully lock out and push through at deadlift. Hitting new deadlift personal records can be really rewarding but oftentimes it can seem like you won't be able to reach your favorite lift goal. Don't give up! Here are seven effective tactics you can utilize to break out of your deadlift plateau.
1. Set a lower weight and complete more reps
Conventional wisdom is that you have to lift in the 2-5 rep range if you want to get stronger. This is true, but only to some extent. The problem with lifting very heavy weights for low reps is that it's uncommon for just one muscle group to be responsible for the weight being lifted. When it comes to strength, there are two major components. The first is being able to activate the correct number of muscle fibers during a movement and the second is having thicker fibers. While doing low reps with a lot of weight is great for training your nervous system, it's not ideal for muscle growth.
If you're only lifting weights with low reps and heavy weight, you may be plateauing. It might be because you've already maximized your nervous system without increasing muscle mass. If you've been using heavy weights in your workout routine, try going lighter for a period of at least 4-6 weeks to give your muscles time to recover and grow. We recommend sets in the 6 to 10 rep range for this phase. When you go on to lift heavier weights for lower repetitions in the future, than you can make more rapid progress.
2. Focus on your weak points
The hard part of deadlifting is often an indication of where you might need to focus. This can help you choose the right exercises to improve your results in the long run. For example, when you struggle to get the bar off the ground, it's because your quads or lats are under-developed. Rows of any kind are great for building your lats while squats (with a barbell, dumbbell, or machine) and leg presses will beef up your quads. Weak hamstrings may be the culprit if you find your muscles tend to give out when you stand up. Romanian or stiff-leg deadlifts are ideal for strengthening your hamstring muscles and preventing muscular inhibition. To solve your deadlift problems, it's probably because your glutes or lower back are weak. Hip thrusts, block deadlifts, good mornings and back extensions will help you fix this.
3. Do your deadlifts FIRST!
Deadlifts are the most physically and psychologically exhausting lift you can do in the gym, so if you wait until the end or middle of your workout to do them, you'll be too tired to give them everything that you've got. Deadlifts seem to bore a lot of people and they'll end up dropping them altogether - which is why you need to do them at the start of your workout when you're fresh. After a few difficult lifting sessions, it's natural that you may not want to do much physical work afterward. You can either dedicate a day of the week exclusively to heavy deadlifting or add some lighter exercises to your workout routine that target muscles which aren't involved in the exercise. Personally, I prefer doing biceps & side delts on my deadlift day because even if it saps your energy you can always do a better workout for your back, chest or quads. Conversely, if you deadlift at the proper weight for your lower body part then you're unlikely to have any energy leftover to do squats.
4. Do a "mini" deadlift day.
It can take ages to recover from a heavy session of deadlifting so I wouldn’t recommend doing heavy sets more than once a week. But it might not be enough time to perfect your technique, depending on what you want to achieve. As such, I recommend adding a few mini deadlift sets to one of your non-deadlift days. For these sets, load up with 50% of your max on 3-5 reps and focus on getting the most out of each set. When you do lat pulldowns, make sure you keep your back in a neutral position. This might mean putting a mirror near the machine. You can practice good form here by making sure your upper and lower body stay aligned and hold for each repetition. Consider engaging in short workouts throughout your week between heavy lifting sessions. This will give you the opportunity to focus on the correct form and quality of movement while still getting a good workout in. Doing a few mini sets each week that focus on lifting technique will help you get better at lifting and avoid injury. It also helps you develop better posture and strengthens certain muscles.
5. Take time to relax!
It's important to get enough sleep. Sleep doesn't just help your body rebuild after working out, but it also makes you stronger. Eight hours is the amount of sleep that's best for most people, but if you're not getting at least 7 hours every night, then it will really hurt your potential to build muscle. You also need to make sure that you're managing. Stress can adversely affect your body in a variety of ways. One way is by increasing your cortisol levels, which can have a negative effect on your testosterone production, thereby inhibiting muscle growth. Stress is a natural part of life, but you can take certain steps to reduce your stress levels by planning your day, meditating for a few minutes per day, and taking care of yourself. Be sure to spend quality time with friends & family too! While it's impossible to eliminate fatigue, you should make an effort in recognizing when it starts and try the best you can. I don't recommend doing more than one heavy deadlift session a week & always take at least one day of rest a week from lifting weights. A good rule to follow is "8 day blocks of working out". This means that if you haven't made progress on any of your lifts for a while, this could be a sign you need to take some time off to recover.
6. Get your diet right.
You need to make sure you're providing your body with the nutrients it needs when trying to grow muscle. Unless you're overweight or a newbie lifter, your body needs to be in a caloric surplus, meaning you should be eating more calories than it burns. This will use that extra energy to build muscle. It shouldn't be more than 200-500 calories above what you would eat to maintain your weight. If you're eating too many, they won't make you stronger any faster, they'll just make you fatter. Putting on more than 0.5% of your body weight each week might not be good for performance or muscle recovery. However, if you're not gaining any weight throughout the week, it's worth adding a few calories to your diet. In order to build muscle tissue, your body needs both energy and protein. Not eating enough protein can severely hurt your strength building efforts. I make sure that I eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight every day. That should be more than enough for you. You probably won't hurt yourself by eating a bit more, but it might not have much of an effect on your strength either. Besides getting strong via working out, you need vitamins and minerals as well and they can be found in fruit and vegetables. Perhaps investing in a nutritional panel test could also help you to find other deficiencies. Creatine is the new, natural way to boost your strength. It's legal & safe and can offer the same benefits as people have been achieved through weightlifting in previous years.
7. Make sure you have the right gear
If you want to increase your deadlift, start using a belt!
Wearing a belt while lifting helps to stabilize your midsection and prevent injury. It also helps you go heavier and move better which will lead to new personal records on the platform of your choosing. One important benefit of lifting straps is that they give you a secure grip. This can be especially helpful if your hands slip or if you have a weak grip. What’s more, when you use lifting straps to get a secure and tight grip on the bar, it can help increase your deadlift by giving your hands something to do other than work against each other! If you're training for a powerlifting competition in which straps are illegal, you can improve your grip with chalk. Some gyms provide chalk, but if yours doesn't, you can carry lifting straps with you at all times.
Summing things up
When you are stuck constantly hitting the same weight or rep range, change things up by lengthening your time between sets to improve muscle building and technique, while keeping an eye on fatigue management. You should also do your best to be as healthy as possible outside the gym, focusing on good sleep and stress management. Eating enough protein & calories post-workout is also important for rebuilding muscles and recovering. Weightlifting equipment like belts, straps, and chalk can help you get past your deadlift plateau. They not only help with injury prevention but also make for instant gains in strength! Follow these tips to keep going strong and break through your deadlift plateau.