Because I’m a powerlifter, it will come as no surprise that I’m a big fan of the deadlift. When it comes to hitting your entire posterior chain in one fell swoop, from your calves all the way to your upper back, the deadlift reigns supreme.
But what if I told you that you could build a strong posterior chain that will keep your deadlift strong with lifts that don’t require you to pull a heavy barbell off the floor?
To be clear, I’m not tossing the baby out with the bathwater: to get a strong deadlift you’re going to have to deadlift, and deadlift regularly.
But there are additional exercises that train the muscles of your posterior chain that don’t require you to place shear forces the spine.
I’m a big fan of adding in smaller movements because it introduces variety in your training while still hitting the muscles recruited in the competition lift, and more muscle mass helps move more weight. Building rear-wheel strength without loading the spine is a great way to do that without irritating your lower back.
Below are three of my favorite exercises to perform after you’ve completed your last deadlift set. And even if you’re not a powerlifter looking to score big on the platform, you can continue to improve strength in your posterior chain by adding these lifts into your exercise routine.
Barbell Glute Bridges
The glutes and hamstrings are major players in the deadlift and I love barbell glute bridges for building muscle in that area. You have the opportunity to target the hamstrings and glutes fairly exclusively, and because you’re lying down and pushing up on the barbell instead of pulling on it, you can work up to some serious weight.
The key to getting the most out of the barbell glute bridge is to turn your focus exclusively on your glutes. When you get into position, imagine you have a bowl of water sitting on your pelvis. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips and tip the water into your belly button. Only raise your hips as high as your glutes fully contract —any higher and you’re getting into low-back territory and we don’t want that: for this we want to make it all about the butt.
The deadlift is a heavy hitter for the lats. They play a key roll in stabilizing the spine and they also help keep the barbell pulled in close to the legs once it leaves the floor. Use pull-ups to target the lats from another angle, no barbell required.
Pull-ups can seem intimidating, but they don’t have to be. You can introduce assistance with bands or with our favorite variation at Movement Minneapolis, the Box-Assisted Pull-Up.
Here’s how to do them:
- Place a box under a pull-up bar. Make sure it’s tall enough so that your chin clears the bar when you’re standing on it underneath the bar.
- Stand on the box with your hands in an overhand grip on the bar, keeping one foot on the box and one foot off the side.
- Slowly lower yourself down until your arms are fully extended and then use as much support as you need from the foot that is on the box to bring your chin back above the bar.
Suspension Trainer Face Pull
Face pulls target the muscles of the upper back, namely the rear delts, rhomboids, and external rotators. Strengthening these muscles will help with the lockout portion of the deadlift and beyond that, it’s a lift no client of mine escapes because it directly counteracts the poor posture many of us find ourselves acquire from being at a desk all day.
Hot tip: Don’t lead the movement with your chin. (In other words, no chicken-pecking.) Brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, and keep your chin tucked.
Jennifer Vogelgesang Blake’s leggings might be pink but her weights aren’t. A personal trainer at The Movement Minneapolis she is a powerlifting coach and competitor with a passion for helping her clients discover and grow their strength, inside and out. She’s here to spread the good word that strong is empowering and because of that, really, really fun.
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