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6 Foolproof Ways to Break Through Stubborn Deadlift Plateaus

The deadlift is an incredibly simple yet complex exercise all at the same time. What I mean by this is that the act of deadlfiting is seemingly simple, however, progressing and busting through deadlift plateaus is another story.

If you’ve been deadlifting for a while then you’re likely no stronger to working around deadlift plateaus. A deadlift plateau is a term used to describe what it’s like to be stuck at a specific weight or point in your deadlift.

Over the last decade, I’ve navigated countless deadlift plateaus and have helped clients do the same. I address deadlift plateaus by assessing the deadlift at different points and looking at them from either a strength or skill plateau.

A deadlift plateau can typically mean two things. One, you’re stuck at a certain weight and you can’t break past that weight due to a physical or mental reason, or two, you’re getting stuck at a particular point during the lift at various thresholds.

Deadlift Plateau Stuck On the Floor

Nothing is more frustrating than getting yourself super hyped for a deadlift set or a heavy single and getting stuck on the floor. This means that you’re unable to move the barbell at all, and if you do, it’s only a few inches.

There are two methods that I like to use for deadlift plateaus that exist around the first portion of the deadlift. One drill entails a skill change while the other revolves around drilling strength work.

Skill Work: Deadlift Plateau Stuck On the Floor

When I see a lifter that’s trapped on the floor the first thing I look at is their legs and hips. Are they leveraging the legs to their fullest extent or are they having their hips shoot up too quickly?

Hips Shooting Up In the Deadlift for Tall Lifters

Generally speaking, you’ll fix a hips shooting up issue if you focus on what the legs are doing. More specifically, I want you to look at what the quads are doing when you’re breaking the floor.

Far too often, I see lifters think of the deadlift as only being a “posterior exercise”. This is far from the truth and it honestly does most lifters a disservice because they forget about leveraging muscles like the quads.

The Fix: Use More Quads

For your next few deadlift sessions, I want you to focus on bringing your knees a little more forward and letting your hips settle into a position that feels comfortable in relation to where the knees land.

How to Deadlift Step 4 Pulling the slack out

For example, if you bring your knees a little more forward, then it’s normal for the hips to come up a little more. Remember, if you’re sitting too low, then you’re going to more than likely lose tension and have the hips shoot up.

Once you’ve brought the knees forward, I want you to cue yourself to do a leg press when you start to pull your deadlift reps. By thinking of doing a leg press, you’ll get a nice harmonious push with the quads as you start to pull the weight.

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 for deadlifts

At times, this simple tweak to one’s position will be enough to help them bust through deadlift plateaus off of the floor because they’ll now be better leveraging their quads to help initiate their pull.

Strength Work: Deadlift Plateau Stuck On the Floor

If you’re getting stuck on the floor and it’s a strength issue, then you have some work cut out for you. However, it’s not impossible to break through this plateau once and for good.

How to Deadlift Step 3 Shin Position

When I see lifters who seem like they have the strength for the deadlift at hand but keep missing pulls off of the floor I look at their pacing and how good they are at staying in the pocket.

Being able to work through deadlifts that feel “heavy” and “slow” is both a physical and mental task. The strength may be there, but are the muscles and brain aligned?

The Fix: Slow Down

It sounds counterintuitive to slow down your deadlift, but by adding a concentric tempo or a tempo for the lifting portion of the movement you can actually reverse engineer this issue to fix it forever.

fix the hips shooting up in deadlift when setup is off

For this example, I’ll typically use a 2-3 second concentric tempo at a weight that is just under the threshold that seems to be trapping lifters. By slowing down we’re rewiring the brain to feel comfortable staying in the pocket when weight starts to move slowly.

I think it can be normal to panic when deadlifts don’t “pop” off of the floor so conditioning yourself to get used to moving slowly can be a great way to build both physical and mental strength and bust through a floor-related deadlift plateau.

Deadlift Plateau Around Mid-Shin

I don’t know which deadlift plateau is more frustrating, getting stuck on the floor or missing a pull at mid-shin. At mid-shin, it feels like you might actually complete the lift, but all of a sudden, your momentum comes to a staggering halt.

There are a lot of ways to approach a deadlift plateau around the mid-shin range of motion, however, I’ve found two methods to work exceptionally well for most lifters.

Skill Work: Deadlift Plateau Around Mid-Shin

Working around a mid-shin deadlift plateau that is related to skill can be finicky at times. Generally speaking, when a lifter is missing at mid-shin due to skill work it has to do with their mechanics and how they maintain certain positions.

Testing the Vivobarefoot Motus Strength JJF for deadlifts

For example, the barbell starts to hit mid-shin height, and either form breaks down, or a lifter just can’t mentally get themselves to stay in the pocket to keep pulling. Both of these are skill-related and can be fixed with consistent exposure.

The Fix: Paused Deadlifts

To work around a mid-shin deadlift plateau, try using pause deadlifts for a training block or two. The goal is to pause your deadlift right at your sticking point and hold that position for about 1-2 seconds.

fix the hips shooting up in deadlift when weight is too heavy

Ideally, you’ll want to work with weights and thresholds that are below the weight that normally has you stuck at mid-shin. This will allow you to complete reps successfully and build into the skill aspect needed to work through that range of motion.

Paused deadlifts can be great from both a physical and mental context. Mentally you’ll feel more confident working through this range of motion and physically accumulate strength in this ROM.

Strength Work: Deadlift Plateau Around Mid-Shin

If you’re getting stuck around mid-shin and it’s strength related then you’ll want to train the muscles that are working the most through this range of motion.

Banded Deadlift Guide

Since the deadlift is a skill and in this context, a lifter is at a deadlift plateau we’ll want to use different strategies to focus on building strength-specific ranges of motion like this.

Banded deadlifts are one of my all-time favorite tools for hammering strength-related work through the mid-shin range of motion. If you’ve never used banded deadlifts, get ready because your deadlift is going to skyrocket.

The Fix: Banded Deadlifts

Banded deadlifts are awesome because they’re going to provide a variable amount of accommodating resistance. When you’re deadlfiting with bands the band’s resistance starts to kick in the moment you lift the barbell off of the floor.

Deadlifts with resistance bands

So as you pull the weight higher, the band’s resistance steadily increases and we want to focus on a mid-shin range of motion while being deadlift skill-focused few things will give us a better focused stimulus than a banded deadlift.

To use banded deadlifts to work through a deadlift plateau you’ll want to use a weight that is 10-20% below your deadlift plateau, then use a light band to add additional resistance. You do not want a band that’s so thick that you get trapped on the floor.

Deadlift Plateau Around Lockout

A deadlift plateau at lockout is a little rarer and is typically related to hip extension strength. Ironically, my deadlift plateau always revolves around getting stuck at lockout at certain weights.

To address this, I’ve focused on two exercises that have greatly improved my hip extension abilities and deadlift strength at lockout.

Skill Work: Deadlift Plateau Around Lockout

If you find that your form breaks down as you approach lockout in your deadlift, then you’ll want to focus on how you can get more exposure work through this range of motion.

Testing the Tolos Archetype 1.0 for deadlifts

Ideally, you’ll want to train with thresholds that are just below, at, and slightly above the weight that has caused your deadlift plateau. To train at these intensities without accruing too much fatigue you’ll want to implement some range of motion-specific skill work.

The Fix: Block Pulls 

Block pulls are one of my favorite deadlift variations for working through top-end ranges of motion. I like block pulls a lot for working through deadlift plateaus because you can easily alter their range of motion.

How to Block Pull Step 2

Let’s say you’re struggling with your deadlift at just above the knee. If this is the case, then you’ll set your blocks so the barbell is just under this range of motion. This will give you a little more range of motion to train through and help you a bit with momentum.

You can load block pulls heavier because you’re working with such a limited range of motion and you’ll get an awesome stimulus for the muscles needed to lockout deadlifts AKA the hamstrings and primarily the glutes.

Strength Work: Deadlift Plateau Around Lockout

If it’s a clear strength-related issue regarding your lockout deadlift plateau then you’ll want to hammer the muscles that are responsible for locking out deadlifts and extending the hips. The muscles in question here are the glutes.

Testing the Adidas Dropset Trainer 2 for Deadlifts

To build stronger glutes with the goal of improving your deadlift lockout. I think it’s important to implement variations that are still deadlift-related with a bigger bias on building the glutes and their strength.

The Fix: Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

The Romanian deadlift (RDL) is a popular exercise for building the posterior, but I don’t think they get enough appreciation in the context of how great they can be for building your deadlift, too.

How To Romanian Deadlift Step 3

This exercise is heavily focused on building the hamstrings and glutes and it’s in the same ballpark as a normal deadlift. The combination of these elements makes it a great tool for breaking through a deadlift plateau at lockout.

To use RDLs to break through a deadlift plateau, use them as your main deadlift variation for a training block or two. That’s right, take out deadlifts completely.

How To Romanian Deadlift Step 2

You’ll then load your RDL heavy and train it with intensities that are similar to what you’ve been using with your deadlift. Heavy RDLs can do wonders for building posterior and lockout.

Why Is My Deadlift Stalling?

Your deadlift could be stalling for multiple reasons. Every lifter is different and how we move and sequence with different weights will vary due to things like training history, anatomy, strength level, and this list goes on.

If you find that your deadlift is stalling then I’d suggest trying to figure out if you’re stalling due to a skill-related or strength-related issue. By clarifying this you can then use deadlift plateau strategies like the ones provided above.

Deadlift Muscles Worked and Trained

That said, one strategy that I LOVE using that I didn’t mention above is taking a break from deadlifts. Sometimes a small break from deadlifts can do wonders in the context of getting a stalled deadlift moving again.

By taking a break, you can focus on other things that can create positive carryover to your deadlift, give your mind a break from pulling, and potentially give your nervous system some much-needed rest.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q:
How do you break a deadlift plateau?

A:
The best way to break through a deadlift plateau is to assess if your plateau is related to skill or strength. Once you pinpoint what's causing you to plateau you can then implement strategic accessory exercises and programming strategies.

Q:
Why is my deadlift stalling?

A:
If your deadlift is stalling then you may be hitting a point in which there's a strength or skill-related lag. I'd suggest taking a small break from deadlifts to see if this fixes the issue as this typically can do the trick. If you're still stalled, then you'll want to explore deadlift plateau strategies.

Q:
Why am I not progressing in deadlifts?

A:
Keep in mind, deadlift progress gets harder as you train longer. That said, you may not be progressing in your deadlift because it's tougher to increase the weight you're lifting as your body is taking a little longer to adapt to meet the intensity threshold needed.

Takeaway Thoughts

Deadlift plateaus are relatively normal and most lifters will experience a deadlift plateau at least once in their lifting career. Plateaus typically happen in intermediate and advanced lifters.

There are multiple reasons why your deadlift might be plateauing and I’d suggest you reverse engineer your deadlift to pinpoint the “why” behind your plateau.

From here, it gets a lot easier to make an efficient game plan.

If you have additional questions about deadlift plateaus and working around them, drop a comment below or reach out to me via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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