The 6 Best Accessory Exercises for The Conventional Deadlift

Legs 7 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

To have a great conventional deadlift, you need to have strength throughout the entire body. Therefore, your deadlift will only be as strong as the weakest link in the chain.

The single best exercise to improve your deadlift is more deadlifts.

But that advice is most useful for seasoned trainees who have brought all of their weaknesses up to par.

Accessory exercises for the conventional deadlift are the best way to bring up your weaknesses.

The most common weak links in your deadlift chain are:

– Glutes
– Thoracic Spine (upper back)
– Lumbar Spine (low back)
– Hamstrings
– Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
– Grip Strength

If you have weak links in the chain, you can use the exercises outlined below to shore them up.

1. Hip Thrusts – Glutes

Hip thrusts are the ultimate glute builder. This exercise is the king of glute hypertrophy when you throw a band around your knees and weight on your lap.

Your glute medius, glute maximus, and glute minimus will all grow, which translates to stronger deadlifts.

The video below focuses on using a band and a sandbag for high reps. However, you can push this exercise when using a barbell and lifting heavy weights.

If you’ve never done direct glute training, start with something light. Then, in every training session, you should see your glute strength go up, and your deadlift numbers rise.

2. Weighted Cat/Cows – Upper Back

This move is a variation of a yoga pose, and once you add some weight to it, you have made it into a strength training exercise.

Any good deadlift starts with the setup, and the cat/cow is a critical component of the set up. Performing weighted cat/cows will provide muscle-building stimulus to muscles that typically receive minimal growth from deadlifts.

Weighted cat/cows will reinforce your thoracic spine positioning for deadlifts, and give you the muscle necessary to hold it.

The weighted cat/cow is a great accessory exercise for conventional deadlifts because it isn’t overly taxing.

If you see your upper back rounding at the beginning of your deadlift, you will benefit greatly from adding this exercise into your training program.

3. Straight Legged Deadlifts – Lower Back

People do so much ab training and often neglect the low back. That’s because every fitness magazine cover highlights a 6-pack as the ultimate display of sexiness.

But you’re not reading this article for a sexy 6-pack. Instead, you want to know how to improve your deadlift, and you will do this through a solid low back.

I’ve heard it said that “the muscles in the front of the body are for show, and the muscles in the back are for go.”

Use straight legged deadlifts to give your low back a solid hypertrophy stimulus to remove it as a weak link.

You will need to start with a much lower weight than you are used to–I recommend about 40% of your regular deadlift working weight. If you can do 300lbs for eight reps, then it’s good to start with 120lbs for eight reps to be safe. You should keep the reps in the hypertrophy range, 8-15 reps, and focus on feeling those low back muscles working.

4. Romanian Deadlifts – Hamstrings

Romanian deadlifts will grow your hamstrings like no other exercise. Shelve the hamstring curls because you won’t need them anymore.

Romanian deadlifts have the single most significant carryover of any exercise on this list. Not only will they build massive hamstrings, but they develop incredible isometric upper back & lat strength. You need all three of those for massive conventional deadlifts.

Mastering the Romanian deadlift will boost your conventional deadlift max tremendously. Focus on keeping your back neutral by engaging the lats hard and trying to get a big hamstring stretch.

Most people will only need to go down to the knee cap to reach the max hamstring stretch. If you find yourself going lower than this, you are either really flexible or not keeping your back tight enough (most likely).

Your goal when doing Romanian deadlifts should be to max out your hamstring stretch while keeping the bar as possible. If your mid-back, lower traps, and hamstrings are sore the next day, you did a great job. However, if your soreness is mainly in the low back, your form needs to be improved.

5. Lat Pulldowns – Lats

When your deadlift setup is perfect your shoulders are actually a little in front of the bar. This allows the rest of our body to position itself optimally, but this entire setup hinges on one muscle–the lats.

The lats act like a rope tugging on the humerus (upper arm bone) that keeps it close to the body. This keeps the bar close to the body. This minimizes your mechanical disadvantage. This allows you to pull more weight safely.

Improving your lat strength will ensure that the bar never gets away from you.

If you find that the bar rolls away from you when it leaves the ground or that you have a hard time keeping your back flat, weak lats may be the culprit.

6. Grip Crushers – Forearms

A few years ago, I started to focus on my grip training. I had to let go of the idea that my grip would only get strong if I didn’t use straps. Instead, I embraced the idea that if a muscle was important to me, I would give it the attention it deserved.

The result of this shift in my approach to training was that my grip has never failed on a deadlift since adding dedicated forearm workouts.

The other change I made to training was the liberal use of lifting straps. I use lifting straps in almost every deadlift workout because it allows me to use a double overhand grip. The double overhand grip ensures my body develops most evenly (as opposed to using a mixed grip in training which can lead to asymmetry). Lifting straps are your friend, so do not be afraid to use them. But don’t use them as an excuse to neglect your grip training.

A weak grip is one of the most common failures in the deadlift, and it is the easiest to fix.

Get yourself a gripper (we recommend the Captains of Crush brand) and get to work.

In no time your bulging forearms will be capable of picking up weights the rest of your body will only dream of.

Need a Training Program?

These are the best exercises to work on the weak points in your deadlift. We have organized some of these exercises and more into a program to strengthen your deadlift as well as your squat and bench.

You can check out our free guide, The Seriously Strong Intermediate Program, by clicking on the link below.

Head over to the Serious Guide to the Conventional Deadlift for more information about the deadlift.

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.