Few things in the gym are more frustrating than hitting a plateau on a big strength move like the deadlift. We’ve all been there: You’re going along just fine for months, piling on more weight and regularly setting new PRs. Then — bam! — PRs become a pipe dream. When you increase poundage, you’re not able to complete the lift, so your numbers look the same week after week. Is the culprit overtraining? Poor technique? A bad diet? Perhaps it’s something as simple as a particular weakness along your range of motion — yes, a sticking point.
“First and foremost, it’s critical to recognize where your ‘sticking point’ is on deadlifts,” says Molly Galbraith, CSCS, co-founder of GirlsGoneStrong.com. “There are three main ones for most folks — off the floor, midshin and the lockout — and you should use different strategies to overcome each.”
“Off The Floor” Sticking Point
On the squat and bench press, the eccentric (negative) portion of the lift comes before the concentric (positive or exertion) part, which allows your muscles to store elastic energy before releasing it to get the bar moving. With deadlifts, the concentric comes first, at least on the first rep of a set. “This means you need to be explosive off the floor to get the bar to move upward from a dead-stop position,” Galbraith says.
If your initial pull is weak, she recommends going light and fast for a month by doing speed deadlifts: Load the bar with 55 to 60 percent of your one-rep max and do five sets of two super-explosive reps with one-minute rest periods between them. Over the next three weeks, add a set each week so that by the fourth week you’re doing eight sets of two reps with the same rest periods.
“Midshin” Sticking Point
If your weak spot is higher up than the initial pull from the floor but lower than the lockout at the top, do your best to target the exact point you get stuck. “Then set the bar up either in a power rack or on blocks so that it sits about an inch or so below this point and start each rep from there,” Galbraith says. “Use this as your main deadlift exercise for four weeks to get used to successfully pulling heavy weights through what is normally your sticking point. Work up to a heavy set of three reps, leaving one rep in the hole — meaning, you could have completed one more rep with good form — and try to increase your weight slightly each week.”
“Lockout” Sticking Point
If those last few inches at the top are your Achilles’ heel, address the weakness via weighted bridges. “Bridges are a fantastic end-range hip-extension movement to increase power and allow you to lock out your deadlifts with no problem,” Galbraith says.
To do them, lean your upper back against a bench while seated on the floor and roll a loaded barbell onto your hips just below your hipbones. Bend your legs and position your feet beneath your knees so your shins are perpendicular to the floor. Hold the barbell for stability, brace your core and drive through your heels as you extend your hips and thrust the barbell toward the ceiling. At the top of the rep, your head, neck and upper back should be flat on the bench, with your torso and thighs parallel to the floor; your glutes and core should be tight, and your knees should form 90-degree angles. Reverse the motion to come back down and repeat for reps.
“Include bridges in your program three times a week — doing a heavy, medium and light day — with at least a day in between each,” Galbraith says. “On your heavy day, bridges should be the first or second exercise you do. Work up to a pretty heavy weight for four to five sets of five reps. On your medium day, do them second or third in your workout and perform three to four sets of eight and 10 reps. On your light day, use them as a finisher for three sets of 15 to 20 reps and minimal rest.”