Imagine the struggle. The weight. The back breaking, leg crushing, grip straining, blood pumping drive of the lift. As the friend, parent, guardian attempts to haul the crushing weight of the world from the ground to save their companion. The heroic struggle to raise the portcullis and allow your friends through the gates to freedom or victory. That in essence is the dead lift. The challenge of lifting an impossible weight from the floor with naught but your bare hands and the strength of your body to aid you. It is pure, simple and a truly ancient test of strength and will. Can you or can you not pick up that weight and hold it in the air victorious?


It is he corner stone of strength and power sports, from strongman to Olympic lifts all who enter into these halls must at some point experience the challenge of the dead lift. You have all witnessed the exercise, many of you have probably watched the recent Eddie Hall world record lift of 500kg. This blog post will hopefully provide you with some assistance work you can do along side your dead lift reps to boost your hinge and pulling power and build a strong and proud dead lift.

The Dead lift is an exercise aside for the rest of the power lifts in that regular heavy loading in this area is not always recommended. You could bench and squat heavy multiple times a week but with the dead lift it is not always recommended. The strain on the lower back and joints with very heavy lifts is not as easy to recover from as say a bench press or Squat. But that almost plays into your hands when you add in the assistance lifts.

You could allow for a day of purely dead lifts and recovery work and a second day of the assistance moves to maximise recovery and also provide the energy, technique and energy needed to really work hard on these lifts and add kilos to your dead lift.

My typical dead lift routines:

  • Day 1: Dead lift – 5 sets of (5/3 or 1 reps) 
  • Mobility and recovery exercises such as foam roller and stretches, trigger point ball work etc.
  • Day 2: Assistance move 1 – 4 sets of 8
  • Assistance move 2 -4 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Assistance move 3 – 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps 
  • Assistance move 4 – 2 -3 sets of varying reps usually a more core focused exercise 

So what moves do I include in my porgramming?

  1.  Variations of the Dead lift: Using things like HEX-BAR dead lifts or the Romanian Dead lift variation will allow you to continue to build the core strength, grip strength, hamstring and glute strength needed to build a huge dead lift without overloading  the movement and lower back musculature. When really blasting at dead lifts I will normally do the split above with one day of dead lifts and mobility, and I will then have a second day which includes one of these two variations. IT allows me to continue to develop things like grip strength, thoracic spine strength and  hamstring/glute strength.
  2. Pull Ups – lots of variations in terms of grip here but I tend to use this exercise in day 2 or day 1 depending on training volume for that week or if the dead lift session wasn’t too intense. If it is in day 1 then I normally strap on some heavy plates, say an extra 10-15kg and do 4-5 sets of 6-8 reps. On day 2 its all about the volume so its either 4 sets of 10 body weight but strict, or I pick a number like 50-100 reps and just keep going until I have done the desired total weather it is 5 sets of 10 or lots of varying sets like 10/10/8/6/6/5/5/5 etc. Great for developing grip strength and the strength in the shoulders and lats. Varying the grip from wide to narrow and from over to underhand or even neutral allows for lots of variation between days r even between sets.
  3. Bent over rows – A hugely beneficial lift for dead lifts, building grip, bicep, lats and thoracic spine strength not to mention the core control needed for a good technique at this lift. Varying the grip from underhand to the wider over hand grip allows for more focus into the biceps or shoulders and provides variation to the otherwise constant lift. I normally use this as the second exercise after the HEX or Romanian dead lift. Doing 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.
  4. Single dumbbell Rows – Another classic lift often seen in power lifting and bodybuilding routines is the single dumbbell row. Great for developing the core, and lat/rhomboid strength it is a must use for building up your back. I use it every other week and go pretty heavy aiming for 4 sets of 8 reps or failure.
  5. Inverted body weight rows – A good options to switch in for the bent over or single dumbbell rows above this exercise requires no equipment except for the bar and the squat rack or else a simple TRX strap and something to put your feet up on. It is great for the grip endurance and strength and also helps with core and glute work as you hold a straight line whilst pulling. I normally treat this like the pull ups doing either 4-5 sets of 8-10 reps or aiming for a total and going to failure each set until the total is reached.
  6. Planks and isometric core holds – great for developing the core control and thoracic and lumbar spine strength needed for the dead lift to work effectively as well as building up the abdominal muscles to add further core strength. I normally use something like this in my 2nd day and do 2-3 sets of failure or a target time hold.
  7. Kettle bell swings – Great option to build up the glute and core musculature and at the same time build speed and power in the hips. It is also a nice, low level exercise for using during a recovery week to continue to build the hips and core areas while taking strain of from the back, lats and forearms. Normally I will do 4-5 sets of 20 reps with a heavy weight or else up to 10 rounds of 30-60 seconds of non stop swinging with 30 seconds rest between sets.

When choosing the right exercise it often depend on how I am feeling. If I am feeling good then a few heavier exercises, but if I am fatigued or sore then body weight or maybe even just stretching is my go to. Just make sure to pick those that you are confident with in terms of technique and to listen to your own body and see how hard you can push that day.

OVERHEAD PRESSES are up next so make sure to check it out. And if you missed it check out our BENCH and  SQUAT assistance work post from last week!

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