Unleash the Beast – 5 Lifts That Improve Your Deadlift
Want to become a deadlifting beast? Use these 5 exercises that are sure to improve your deadlift and make you a monster in the gym.
So I was talking training with I Am Awake & Alive’s very own Mark Smith last night after we concluded my podcast, and we got to talking about the deadlift.
Lifters always talk about the deadlift! It’s what we do! As a trainer of 23 years so far, I have had the honour and pleasure of learning from some pretty amazing people who have put up some pretty outstanding numbers in all of the major lifts.
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But the deadlift is something that for some reason fascinates us all and if you find yourself in conversation with another lifter, there is a pretty good chance that they are going to ask you the age old question,
“How much can you deadlift bro???”
When I was a bodybuilder my deadlift was ok. It was good enough to generate muscle growth and development which at the time were my focus so to that end I was all good.
But as I evolved into a strength & conditioning coach, my focus shifted from aesthetics to performance. I learned the importance of hip drive and being able to produce and reduce force.
I then realised how these new skills tied in perfectly with unleashing power already within me that I just hadn’t realised was there.
The same was applied to my journey from physique athlete, to kettlebell coach, to functional trainer to Mace athlete. My thought process changed and so did my approach.
5 Lifts That Will Improve Your Deadlift
Exercise #1: The Kettlebell Swing
Now, let’s get this straight people. I do not mean an “American Swing”. I mean come on, what the hell is all that about?!?!
In my opinion whoever came up with that one needs to have a word with himself as it is just wrong on every level……but I digress.
I am talking a true Kettlebell Swing often referred to as Hardstyle. Where you hike the bell back and follow it through until your glutes and hamstrings are fully loaded before exploding back until the bell reaches to no higher than your sternum.
If it goes higher than that it’s too light. Heavy swings will light up your entire posterior chain and prime you for pulling. Swings should be part of every strength athletes training arsenal. The carry over to pretty much all things strength is huge.
I suggest incorporating swings twice a week into your training and really focusing on the explosive element so keep the weight heavy and the reps down to 10-15.
Exercise #2: The Suitcase Swing
I love, love, love this move. It is totally different to the Swing mentioned above. This time we have 2 bells. Heavy bells. Heavy enough that you can’t do more than 10 reps. Feet under hips, bells outside of feet, handles horizontal and palms facing back the way.
Hike both bells back with force until they only go past your butt. Chest elevated and open, shoulders back. Remember a swing is a hinge and not a squat. From the side you should look like you are skiiing.
Once the bells go past your butt, put the breaks on them and force them back using your hips and glutes. Bells should come up no higher than belt level. You’ll know when you’ve nailed these as the next day your traps will feel like they belong to someone else.
This move is the perfect partner to the deadlift and in my own training I do these immediately before a set of deads. Suitcase Swings fire up your central nervous system as well as your entire posterior chain, upper back and traps.
Do these and watch your DL numbers rise.
A set before each set of deads for 5-10 reps will do the job.
Exercise #3: The Lower Back Protocol
Ok, not a “move” as such, but a prehab and rehab protocol that anyone serious about training should be performing daily.
The LBP was developed by Donnie Thompson (SuperD) who went from world domination in powerlifting to spreading the word on Performance Therapy and keeping the body in a place where it doesn’t just function well, but functions optimally.
Please check my video below to see how this is done and believe me when I say if you are not currently doing this, your competition very likely is and that’s part of the reason they keep beating you.
The LBP involves literally hanging upside down and allowing the hips and lower back to unlock and reset. It is training gold. Try it once and you’ll wish you’d tried it years ago. For me personally, I do it daily as part of my warmup time before I train. And physically I have never been in a better place than I am now.
Exercise #4: Back Extensions
I’m not talking about Glute/Ham raises. With the advent of CrossFit those things are everywhere. And yes, they are good. But let’s not forget about good old “hypers” which were around long before CrossFit ever was.
Much like the Lower Back Protocol, hypers as I call them allow you to just pull out all of the tightness that comes with the deadlift.
Keep it to bodyweight only and keep the movement steady and controlled, always breathing out at the top and blowing away tension. I personally do hypers after a set of deads and view them as active rest. I go for 15-20 reps on hypers.
Don’t just sit on your arse post set….keep moving and prepare your body for the next round.
Exercise #5: Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
Yes, it’s a deadlift. And this article is about improving your deadlift. But it’s a hybrid of a deadlift and not a “real” deadlift like we perform with a barbell in either conventional or sumo stance.
An RDL as I’ll refer to it here is a cross between a stiff legged DL and a conventional DL. The Kettlebell version in my opinion is a great tool for getting in touch with your glutes and hamstrings and waking them up.
Way too many people deadlift using their back and traps. Social media is full of attempts that look like car wrecks as people pull from entirely the wrong place.
A deadlift uses your entire body as one unit but the glutes and hamstrings are MAJOR players. Switch them on and the whole thing just gets cleaner and smoother.
So with 2 heavy kettlebells try this. Feet under hips. Bells outside of feet with handles horizontal. Hinge at the hips like you’re about to swing the bells. Palms facing back, chest elevated, shoulders back and eyes looking ahead (not down).
Now just stand up and drive your glutes through as you do, so they snap as you stand tall. Reverse it under control back to the start position. As you return to the start you’ll feel your hams and glutes light up.
You want to feel this as this is telling your brain where your posterior chain is and that you’re engaging where you should. Personally I don’t allow the bells to touch the floor on my descent for the next rep.
That keeps maximum tension going and endures you keep feeling it. Several sets of 5-10 reps is all that’s needed.
So there you have it……my tried and tested take on unlocking the deadlift power you already own. Now go train and tell me how you get on.
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Kirsten Tulloch AKA LittleTank is a strength & conditioning coach from Scotland with 23 years experience to share. She is a former international bodybuilder and now an unconventional coach with a focus on kettlebells for strength and power development.