Why do you deadlift?
For greater strength? Larger muscles? Improved athleticism? Better health? Or because you love the deadlift?
The deadlift, without a doubt, can be a benefit in the pursuit of these goals.
But for certain folks, deadlifting sessions leave them beat up and worn out, even when approached carefully.
If you truly care about the deadlift but cannot train it regularly, I’ve got great news for you …
You Can Increase the Deadlift Without Deadlifting
Yes, it’s possible. Your deadlift can improve over time with the use of other training tools, and you can still achieve those other goals (health, athleticism, etc.) too.
Of course, make sure that you’ve tried modifying how you use deadlifts in your program before dropping them completely. Plenty of folks benefit from training only speed deadlifts.
Speed deadlifts are basically lighter deadlifts (40-70% of your 1RM) pulled for many sets of singles, doubles, or triples. Rest is minimal (1-2 minutes between sets) and the reps are performed with blistering speed and perfect technique. Jon Call, AKA Jujimufu, is a huge believer in training the deadlift in a somewhat similar fashion, and he pulls over 700lbs.
Now, if any form of deadlifting regularly still doesn’t work for you, check out this list of exercises that you should use in its place.
Do These Instead of Deadlifting:
#1 – Hip Hinges, a.k.a. RDLs (The Best Option)
Before anyone learns how to deadlift, they need to know how to hip hinge.
Here’s how you hip hinge: sit your hips back as if you’re trying to hit someone behind you with your butt, then stand back up.
Do this movement with a barbell in your hands, and you’ve got the Romanian deadlift.
By performing the RDL/hinge properly – with a flat back, vertical shins, and a butt that travels a mile backwards – you will strengthen the appropriate muscles required to deadlift heavy weights.
Plus, training the RDL is much safer and more forgiving than training the conventional deadlift. Here’s why:
1. It does not force the lifter to conform to a certain depth. Some people struggle to maintain a completely flat back when they set-up for the deadlift. Meanwhile, the RDL only goes as low as the lifter is capable of going.
2. RDLs are best trained with higher reps and lower weight. For a number of reasons, maxing out on an RDL is counter-productive. Less weight means higher quality reps, equating to minimal risk for injury.
RDLs can be the only “substitute” you use, and you’d still see fantastic progress and an ever-improving deadlift.
#2 – Back Squats (Another Important Staple)
People who have a big squat have a decent deadlift, at the bare minimum.
If there was one sentence to explain why, it’d be this: both the deadlift and back squat heavily challenge someone’s leg and back strength.
These fairly different movements still engage similar muscle groups.
But while the back squat can drive your deadlift up, the type of back squat you perform will determine the size of impact.
Placing the barbell on top of your traps and squatting a mile deep, a la Olympic weightlifting, will force you to use more of your quads and less of your hips and back. This kind of squat will have less carry-over to your deadlift.
Moving the barbell down to your rear delts, sitting your hips way back, and just hitting parallel will require more hips and back, and less quads. Result? We’re mimicking the deadlift, meaning we’re getting better at the deadlift.
#3 – Power Cleans (“Assistant #1”)
The power clean may look sort of similar to the deadlift, but anyone worth a damn will tell you the two movements sure as hell aren’t the same thing.
Because it is a significantly lighter movement that moves many times faster, the power clean alone drastically increase the deadlift.
It does, however, involve pulling a barbell off of the ground, as does the deadlift. That’s the value here.
Pulling off the ground is removed from the RDL (especially if you use a rack to start your set) and it certainly doesn’t happen during the back squat. Having the familiarity of lifting a bar off the floor will help when you decide to test your deadlift from time to time.
Additonally, because it involves much faster speeds than the regular deadlift, it can help improve your lower body power. And more power has never held anyone’s deadlift back. Just ask any top-level Olympic weightlifter.
In adjunct with the RDL and back squat, the power clean can further develop your heavy pull.
#4 – Pendlay Rows (“Assistant #2”)
Pendlay rows – the speedy, clean-looking cousin of the regular ol’ barbell row.
Like the power clean, it involves lifting a barbell off of the ground.
But, unlike the power clean, the Pendlay row strengthens your back.
Think about it … While your torso is nearly parallel to the ground and your legs are stiffer than a mother, your arms and shoulders rapidly smash the bar into your chest.
During this movement, your back is fighting to stay flat in a fairly tough position (parallel to the ground versus upright). This is a similar position that your back experiences during the deadlift, as well.
Sure, the RDL strengthens the back too, but this movement can add a little extra strength on top of that.
Putting It All Together
You do not necessarily need to deadlift to increase the deadlift, let alone to improve strength, size, athleticism, and health.
The Romanian deadlift is a safer, simpler training tool that targets the same exact muscle groups used in the deadlift. Even when used solo, the RDL will increase the deadlift in the long-run.
The back squat is another excellent option, and would best be combined with the Romanian deadlift.
Power cleans and Pendlay rows are beneficial to developing the deadlift, but are secondary to the RDL and back squat.