Whether you're training for a powerlifting competition, trying to improve your athletic performance, or just wanting to get bigger and stronger, deadlifts should be part of your routine. Along with squats and bench presses, deadlifts are one of the three competition powerlifts. When you first start deadlifting, you'll find you can increase the weight every session without too much trouble. However, the stronger you get, the more you'll have to battle for every extra pound. It's in this instance where deadlift auxiliary, or assistance, exercises become very useful. They help fix weak points, which will boost your regular deadlift.
Rack pulls are performed by setting the safety bars in a power rack to the height at which your form starts to break down when deadlifting heavy. For most lifters, this is just below knee height. Set the bar on the pins and lift the weight from there. Rack pulls emphasize the lock-out part of the deadlift and allow you to use more weight due to the partial range of motion. According to former elite powerlifter Jim Wendler, this overload principle translates into superior size and strength gains.
Deadlift to Knees
Start the deadlift from the floor, in exactly the same way as you would usually, but instead of pulling all the way to the top, stop at knee height, pause for a few seconds, then lower the bar again. This is the point at which most people struggle with deadlifts and start rounding their back, rather than driving through with the legs and hips. So pausing in this position helps you get stronger at the midpoint of the lift and ensures that your lower back and glutes keep firing. Deadlifts to knees are a staple exercise in the Sheiko powerlifting programs.
Romanian deadlifts, or any other deadlift variation with a shortened range of motion, such as stiff-legged or sumo deadlifts, place extra focus on your hamstrings, says strength coach Charles Poliquin. A common deadlifting issue is an overreliance on the quadriceps and lower back due to a hamstring weakness; building your hamstrings along with your glutes is the best way to overcome this. You'll need to use lighter weights on Romanian deadlifts, though, as they're much harder than conventional.
While you may automatically think of all deadlift auxiliary exercises as being lower body focused, you need upper body assistance too. The upper back, grip and forearms play a big part in successfully locking out a heavy deadlfit, and if they're not strong, you're going to struggle. Competitive powerlifter and co-founder of Beyond Strength Performance Todd Bumgardner advises using the Kroc style of dumbbell row, where you use slightly looser form and a little body momentum to lift the weight. Go as heavy as you can, and shoot for a high number of reps to build your upper body pulling muscles.