The deadlift is one of the most effective and rewarding exercises you can do. It involves picking up a heavy weight from the ground and lifting it to your hips, using your entire posterior chain, which consists of the muscles on the back of your body.
The deadlift can improve your strength, muscle mass, posture, and health, and it is used in various strength sports and competitions. But what happens when your progress stalls, and you can’t seem to add more weight, reps, or sets to your deadlift?
This is what is known as a deadlift plateau, and it can be frustrating and demoralizing for any lifter. In this article, we’ll explain what a deadlift plateau is, why it happens, and how you can overcome it with some effective strategies and techniques.
Table of Contents
Understanding Deadlift Plateaus
A deadlift plateau is a period of time when your deadlift performance stops improving, despite consistent training and effort. A deadlift plateau can mean different things for different lifters, depending on their goals and expectations. For some, a deadlift plateau could be failing to increase their one-rep max (1RM) for several weeks or months. For others, a deadlift plateau could be struggling to complete the prescribed reps and sets in their program, or feeling like their deadlift is getting harder instead of easier.
There are many possible causes and symptoms of a deadlift plateau, and they can vary from person to person. Some of the common causes are:
- Poor technique: If your form is sloppy or inconsistent, you could be wasting energy, creating imbalances, or increasing your risk of injury. Poor technique can also limit your range of motion, leverage, and power output, which can affect your deadlift performance.
- Lack of recovery: If you’re not getting enough sleep, nutrition, hydration, or rest between workouts, you could be impairing your recovery and adaptation. Lack of recovery can lead to muscle fatigue, soreness, inflammation, and reduced strength and endurance.
- Overtraining: If you’re training too frequently, too intensely, or too long, you could be overloading your nervous system and muscles, and causing more damage than repair. Overtraining can result in decreased performance, increased stress, and lowered motivation and mood.
- Adaptation: If you’re doing the same deadlift routine for too long, your body could get used to it and stop responding to the stimulus. Adaptation is a natural and inevitable process, and it means that you need to change something in your training to keep challenging your body and making progress.
- Mental barriers: If you’re lacking confidence, focus, or enthusiasm, you could be holding yourself back from reaching your potential. Mental barriers can affect your mindset, attitude, and motivation, which can influence your deadlift performance.
Assessing Your Deadlift Routine
The first step to breaking through a deadlift plateau is to assess your current deadlift routine and identify any weak points or areas that need improvement. You can do this by keeping a training log, recording your lifts, getting feedback from a coach or a friend, or simply being honest with yourself. Here are some things to look for when assessing your deadlift routine:
- Technique: How is your form and technique? Are you using the right grip, stance, and setup? Are you maintaining a neutral spine, bracing your core, and engaging your lats? Are you driving your feet into the floor, pushing your hips forward, and locking out your knees and hips? Are you keeping the bar close to your body, and lowering it under control? Are you avoiding any unnecessary movement, such as hitching, bouncing, or jerking the bar?
- Nutrition and recovery: How is your nutrition and recovery? Are you eating enough calories, protein, carbs, and fats to support your training and goals? Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated throughout the day? Are you sleeping enough and getting quality rest at night? Are you taking enough time off between workouts and deloading when needed?
- Mental focus: How is your mental focus? Are you setting realistic and specific goals for your deadlift? Are you tracking your progress and celebrating your achievements? Are you visualizing your lifts and using positive self-talk? Are you avoiding distractions and staying present during your workouts? Are you enjoying your training and having fun?
- Routine: How is your routine? Are you following a well-designed and structured program that suits your level, goals, and preferences? Are you using the right frequency, volume, and intensity for your deadlift? Are you varying your deadlift variations, assistance exercises, and loading schemes? Are you using the right equipment and accessories, such as a belt, straps, or chalk?
Key Strategies to Overcome Plateaus
Once you have assessed your deadlift routine and identified any weak points or areas that need improvement, you can apply some key strategies to overcome your plateau and boost your deadlift performance. Here are two of the most effective strategies that you can try:
- Strategy 1: Adjusting Deadlift Technique One of the simplest and most effective ways to break through a deadlift plateau is to adjust your deadlift technique. By making small tweaks to your form and technique, you can improve your efficiency, leverage, and power output, and lift more weight with less effort. Some of the common technique adjustments that you can make are:
- Grip: You can experiment with different grip widths, styles, and positions, and find what works best for you. For example, you can try a narrower or wider grip, a mixed or hook grip, or a higher or lower grip on the bar. You can also use straps or chalk to improve your grip strength and security.
- Stance: You can experiment with different stance widths, angles, and positions, and find what works best for you. For example, you can try a narrower or wider stance, a more or less toe-out angle, or a more or less forward or backward position on the bar. You can also use shoes or blocks to adjust your stance height and stability.
- Setup: You can experiment with different setup cues, sequences, and positions, and find what works best for you. For example, you can try taking a big breath, tensing your lats, pulling the slack out of the bar, or wedging yourself under the bar. You can also use a mirror or a video to check your setup alignment and posture.
- Strategy 2: Incorporating Assistance Exercises Another effective way to break through a deadlift plateau is to incorporate assistance exercises into your routine. Assistance exercises are exercises that target specific muscle groups or aspects of the deadlift, and help you improve your strength, stability, and mobility in those areas. Some of the common assistance exercises that you can use are:
- Glute-Ham Raise: This exercise strengthens and activates your glutes and hamstrings, which are important for driving your hips forward and locking out the deadlift. You can do this exercise on a glute-ham raise machine, or with a partner holding your ankles. You can also add weight or bands for more resistance.
- Romanian Deadlift: This exercise stretches and strengthens your hamstrings and lower back, which are important for maintaining a neutral spine and a proper hip hinge. You can do this exercise with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. You can also vary your grip, stance, and range of motion for more challenge.
- Barbell Row: This exercise strengthens and activates your lats and upper back, which are important for stabilizing your spine and keeping the bar close to your body. You can do this exercise with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. You can also vary your grip, stance, and angle for more challenge.
Advanced Training Techniques
If you have tried the key strategies above and still feel stuck in your deadlift, you can try some advanced training techniques to take your deadlift to the next level. Advanced training techniques are techniques that modify the deadlift movement, load, or speed, and create new stimuli and challenges for your body and mind. Some of the advanced training techniques that you can try are:
- Technique 1: Deficit Deadlifts Deficit deadlifts are deadlifts performed while standing on a raised platform, such as a plate, a block, or a mat. This increases the range of motion and difficulty of the deadlift, and forces you to use more leg drive and hip extension. Deficit deadlifts can help you improve your strength and power off the floor, and overcome any sticking points at the bottom of the deadlift. You can do deficit deadlifts with a conventional or sumo stance, and with a moderate weight and low reps.
- Technique 2: Floating Deadlifts Floating deadlifts are deadlifts performed without touching the ground between reps. This eliminates the bounce and momentum from the floor, and increases the time under tension and difficulty of the deadlift. Floating deadlifts can help you improve your strength and endurance throughout the deadlift, and overcome any sticking points at the middle of the deadlift. You can do floating deadlifts with a conventional or sumo stance, and with a light weight and high reps.
- Technique 3: Barbell Good Mornings Barbell good mornings are exercises that involve bending forward from the hips, while holding a barbell on your upper back, and then extending your hips to return to the starting position. This mimics the top half of the deadlift, and targets your hamstrings and lower back. Barbell good mornings can help you improve your strength and stability at the top of the deadlift, and overcome any sticking points at the lockout.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions and answers about deadlift plateaus and how to break them.
How do I know if I have hit a deadlift plateau?
A deadlift plateau is not always easy to identify, as it can depend on your goals, expectations, and individual factors. However, some signs that you may have hit a deadlift plateau are: failing to increase your 1RM for several weeks or months, struggling to complete the prescribed reps and sets in your program, feeling like your deadlift is getting harder instead of easier, or losing interest or motivation in your deadlift training.
How long does a deadlift plateau last?
A deadlift plateau can last from a few days to a few months, depending on the cause and severity of the plateau, and how you address it. Some plateaus may be temporary and resolve on their own, while others may require more intervention and adjustment. The sooner you recognize and act on a deadlift plateau, the faster you can overcome it and resume your progress.
How often should I deadlift to avoid plateaus?
There is no definitive answer to how often you should deadlift, as it can vary depending on your goals, experience, recovery, and preferences. However, a general guideline is to deadlift at least once a week, and no more than three times a week, to balance stimulus and recovery. You can also vary your deadlift frequency based on your training phase, intensity, and variation.
How can I prevent deadlift plateaus in the future?
The best way to prevent deadlift plateaus in the future is to follow a well-designed and periodized deadlift program, that incorporates the principles of specificity, overload, and adaptation. A good deadlift program should have a clear goal, a progressive plan, and a regular evaluation. You should also pay attention to your technique, recovery, and mindset, and make adjustments as needed.
The deadlift is a powerful and rewarding exercise, but it can also be challenging and frustrating when you encounter a plateau. A deadlift plateau is a period of time when your deadlift performance stops improving, despite consistent training and effort. A deadlift plateau can have various causes and symptoms, and it can affect different lifters in different ways. To break through a deadlift plateau, you need to assess your current deadlift routine and identify the areas that need improvement. You can then implement some of the strategies we discussed, such as deloading, resetting, switching, or testing, to provide a new stimulus and challenge to your body and mind. By following these steps, you can overcome your deadlift plateau and take your deadlift to the next level. Happy lifting! 💪