Nothing will kill a deadlift more than weak lats or a less-than-comfortable-it’s-nearly-slipping grip on the barbell. No thank you! The antidote to both situations is using accessory work to plug all the weak leaks in your deadlift.
Or, maybe you just don’t know how to deadlift correctly, which is a topic I cover at length here.
Most people start deadlifting with an aesthetic goal in mind. Eventually (hopefully), they begin to view the deadlift as an exercise that benefits more than just the booty. Deadlifts create a ripped back, firm grip, killer hamstrings, great arms, burns more calories than a single leg curl ever will, and is all around a phenomenal exercise.
I’d argue that not everyone needs to deadlift with a straight bar. The trap bar is a lot safer and more comfortable for 99.9% of people but the way to make yourself stronger at any deadlift is to get smart about your accessory work first. These supplemental exercises should be used to improve, correct, or strengthen a weak link in the chain that’s impacting your big lift (i.e. deadlift).
Generally speaking, I have a few go-to exercises I use again and again to address a few universal weak links with myself and clients, however, accessory exercise selection is unique to the individual.
5 Go-To Accessory Exercises for Better Deadlifts
Great for: Lats, core, and grip
Chin-ups or pull-ups are by far my favorite accessory exercise to build up my deadlift. In some cases, I may swap this out for the seated lat pull-down but not all gyms have these machines. Chin-ups are more accessible even if you’re still working to get your first one. Choose variations for your skill level like assisted pull-ups, negatives, or even inverted rows.
Single leg deadlift
Great for: Unilateral hamstring and glute strength, asymmetries
I’ll state the obvious here: You should probably include some type of unilateral work in every lifting session. Most people spend too much time with bilateral exercises and develop imbalances or asymmetries over time.
Easy fix is to prioritize single leg work, and what better way to do that than with a single leg deadlift? Like the pull-up there are 101 varieties of the single leg deadlift so pick one that works with your experience and fitness level. Single leg RDLs are also a good alternative, like this one below.
Great for: Quad and lower back strength, upper back tightness and lockout
I am biased towards front squats as I thoroughly enjoy pairing them with deadlifts. While it’s a quad dominant exercise, the front squat hits a lot of points that are absolutely necessary for the deadlift. If you struggle with the lockout portion of your deadlift or staying tight in the torso during the lift, the front squat will teach you how.
If you pull sumo as I prefer to do, the front squat becomes even more important as sumo deadlifts recruit the quads more than conventional. If you don’t have a barbell, use kettlebells in the front rack position as an alternative.
Great for: Grip strength, core
A farmer’s carry and all its varieties are the spice of core development. It’s one of those exercises that every person can benefit from and is easily adaptable in any situation. When deadlifting, you’ll likely start to miss lifts due to a lack of grip strength. A combination of heavy loaded carries and pull-ups will improve your grip so you can handle bigger deadlifts. You also get the added benefit of learning to brace and stabilize the abdominals, a skill that can prevent serious injury in the deadlift.
Great for: Triceps. Duh.
Women have often asked me how I get my arms so toned and my response is usually, “I deadlift a lot.” Ah yes, the secret to great arms, ladies, is deadlifting heavy. The triceps brachii are contracted during the deadlift to maintain a straight arm, and in order to keep it strong and prevent any tears, building up your triceps are a must. Dips aren’t ideal for everyone (like me) and can be swapped out with other tricep exercises.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t list other great accessory exercises – good mornings, RDLs, KB Swings, loaded glute bridges. They are all great but they’re not appropriate for the majority of people. These five accessory lifts are accessible enough for the majority of people and offer the most ROI without loading up the back even more.
Let ‘er rip!