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Lockdown & Lockout: Tips for Improving your Deadlift During Quarantine

No, I’m not going to make grand claims or assertions about how training at home is somehow superior for deadlift strength. That sort of talk is… misguided.

Like many, lockdown life has taken me through all five stages of training grief. But once that first week went by, I turned my attention to what could be achieved instead of what could not.

Due to its relevance for both aesthetics and athletics, the barbell deadlift has long been an extremely popular movement.  The recent popularization of barbell training, and specifically barbell training at home, has me thinking about methods to suffice these goals.

So naturally, the question becomes,

“How do we maintain or even gain deadlift strength during lockdown?”

The best way to deadlift heavy is to practice deadlifting heavy. However, regardless of gym access or not, proper program periodization does call for the use of accessory exercises. In this article, I offer and expand on three accessory movements to bolster your deadlift once life returns to normal.

Isometric Deadlifts

Isometrics are a great way to analyze your pulling mechanics and work through sticking points. Deadlifting is a skill, and like any skill, it makes sense to spend time and energy improving weak points, or in this case, sticking points.

 Traditionally done by pulling the bar up and into the pin safeties of a power rack, isometric deadlifting can also be done at home.

  • Assume your normal deadlift stance while standing on a rolled towel or bed sheet.
  • Grab onto the ends of the towel. 
  • Pick your working sticking point, and give yourself enough slack in each hand to tension the towel at this desired depth.
  • “Deadlift” the towel by raising the hips and shoulders simultaneously, pulling the ends of the towel up to the desired height, and maintain an isometric contraction for 4-6 seconds.
  • Rinse and repeat.

Pendlay Rows

Rowing is a natural compliment to deadlifting because of both the muscle groups and motor coordination involved; not to mention it’s a movement akin to heavy loads much like the deadlift.

Though there are many rowing variations, I prefer the Pendlay Row as a primary accessory to deadlifts. This movement is quite strict and forces you to maintain continuous scapular retraction and a mostly neutral spine throughout the movement, similar to a deadlift.

For lockdown purposes, Pendlays are great because they can either be performed with a barbell, dumbbell or resistance bands. Here’s how to do it.

  • Assume a stance that involves a forward bent torso (nearly parallel with the floor), hips pushed back, and lower legs perpendicular with the floor.
  •  Maintain a strong grip on the bar, dumbbells or resistance band, and row the weight up and between the belly button and sternum while keeping the shoulder blades retracted and down.
  • Lower the weight in the same path.
  • Feet should remain flat on the floor throughout the movement.

Kettlebell Swings

I’ve had the displeasure of overhearing too many arguments regarding whether deadlifts should be programmed for “back day” or “leg day.” Of course, it’s the entire posterior chain is getting recruited and recruited hard to perform the lift.

As a physiotherapist, kettlebell swings are a go-to in teaching patients to properly hinge at the hips explosively and do so with drive primarily via the glutes.  Deadlifting is not near as explosive due to the increased load. However, the movement pattern is very similar and need for gluteal activation is essential.

Everyone’s seen a kettlebell swing, but with so many quick-moving parts, it’s tough to evaluate appropriate mechanics. Here, I’ll hit the high points.

  • Much like Pendlay Row, assume a stance that involves a forward bent torso (nearly parallel with the floor), hips pushed back and knees as extended as possible to grasp the kettlebell which is situated on the floor, beneath your chin.
  • With shoulder blades retracted and down, grasp the kettlebell firmly and swing it under your backside.
  • Explosively swing the weight up and in front of you by righting your posture, thrusting the hips forward and squeezing the glutes.
  • Guide the weight down in the same path but not resisting its descent.

If you don’t have kettlebells at home, try taking a small towel and looping it through anything with a handle such as a sturdy bag or backpack filled with weight. In fact, I use this homemade variation in the clinic to enforce hip drive and alleviate shoulder activation during the swing.

There you have it; three accessory movements to springboard your deadlift strength once you’ve returned to the platform, and let’s hope that’s sooner than later.

…And What about Supplements?

Training at home doesn’t mean training without intensity. In fact, intensity may be more important now than ever given our current state of affairs.

Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements in or out of the exercise space. And if you don’t already know, creatine is used to improve muscular power, and thus performance, when training. Squeezing an extra rep or two out of each set can be beneficial regardless of your training locale.

So, if you’re looking for a scientifically sound method to improve your workouts in or out of the gym, shop the range of creatine here

Written by, Dr. Brian Grant, PT, DPT, CSCS