How to Break Through a Deadlift Plateau - Coach Mark Carroll

How to Break Through a Deadlift Plateau

Dec 1, 2022
Mark Carroll

Has your deadlift plateaued? 

Here’s how you know:

You have spent a long time with the weight going up on the bar rapidly for months and everything felt great. Your technique was finally feeling better, the bar was moving off the ground faster, and each training phase you were turning your old max into a normal working set. Things were great. 

But then, the inevitable slow down of progress. Argh, the joys of lifting weights!

There is good news – this is normal! It happens to all lifters. We cannot go up forever every single week. Eventually things that were once working well begin to work less and less. 

There is great news – I am going to give you some of my favourite deadlift variations to get back to throwing more weight on to the bar and allowing progress to occur again. 

#1 – Deficit Deadlifts 

For the deficit, I want you to put down either a 10kg or 20kg plate on the floor (this goes under your feet). For people with good mobility, use the 20kg plate as this is thicker and therefore slightly increases your height. For all other people, a 10kg plate will be fine. Both of the plates lead to your feet being higher off the ground, meaning the distance the bar has to travel has now increased.
More importantly, the range of motion has increased from the bottom of the deadlift (where the exercise is hardest). This means we have now made the exercise even harder. 

You know when you deadlift the bar off the ground from a normal rep? It is hardest when pulling the bar off the floor. Well, by increasing the range of motion at the bottom position it allows us to work the muscles in an even weaker position. Why does this matter? Because by attacking a weak point, we become stronger in that increased range of motion and it generally then leads to increased strength when we transition back to a normal deadlift from the floor. A traditional deadlift without the deficit will feel much easier than before after having utilised an increased range of motion. 

This is a big favourite of mine with program design as we attack weak points – where an exercise is hardest or where it’s clear someone has a specific weakness in their lift. I want to then bias more work to that weak point.

Utilise a deficit deadlift when you are struggling with getting the bar off the ground. By forcing yourself to spend more time working in that very bottom range we, in turn, can target that weak point of the lift. Get stronger in an even larger range of motion to then come back to a conventional deadlift and reap the rewards from the increased strength in the added range of motion. 

Final Tip: Dead stop the bar each rep on the floor. Don’t bounce the bar off the floor. We want to use that deficit!

#2 – Floating Deadlifts

A floating deadlift, I am pleased to say a lot of people seem to know me for these days. Which is really cool! Did I invent them? No. Do I love to program them for clients… Strong Yes! A floating deadlift to the untrained eye looks very much like a deficit deadlift.

The big difference is, the bar does not touch the ground other than the first rep lifting the bar off the floor.

People also confuse this with a Romanian deadlift. It is not. The motion should be exactly the same as a deadlift from the floor. The only difference is that the bar achieves the same range of motion just without the bar touching the ground.

Again, stand on a plate. The goal here is to use the plate to increase range of motion. When we perform a regular deadlift, the bar hits the ground at the bottom of the rep by using the elevation. This means we can now achieve the exact same range of motion but the big difference is when the bar is at the same identical bottom position. Due to the elevation the bar does not rest on the floor, the tension stays constant.

Why use a floating deadlift?

Well, do you often have trouble with your hips shooting up first in the deadlift when it gets heavy? This is normal.

A floating deadlift. Forces you to focus on leg drive. Pushing the ground hard away to drive up. This helps to teach a more leg press focused deadlift rather than just hips up. By floating the bar off the ground, we can help drill in the technique of simultaneously using the quads to drive the ground away and the hips to pull the bar up.

Big tip on floating deadlifts – PAUSE! When you are in the bottom position and the bar is floating in the bottom range. Pause. Hold still for 2 full seconds and then leg drive the bar up. The pause can help you eliminate your usual hips only focus people often do.

#3 – Barbell Good Morning 

A barbell good morning is not a deadlift, obviously, but it is an excellent posterior chain exercise. There are 3 benefits I like of using the good morning as a deadlift plateau breaker

Firstly, due to the bar position, it allows you to achieve a greater range of motion for your torso to lower. Think of a deadlift, your torso position is generally around a 45* degree angle when pulling the bar off the floor but a Romanian deadlift torso will lower a touch more. With a good morning, if the lifter has good mobility and flexibility, It should allow the torso to be almost horizontal to the ground. This means we are able to train the posterior chain muscles hard in their very bottom range

This is allowing you to get the posterior chain stronger in the weak position of the deadlift. The very bottom.

Secondly, the good morning is not a quads exercise. Rather glutes, hamstrings and the erectors being trained isometrically. For some people when they deadlift, they have the opposite issues to that of the hips up first. Rather, they tend to leg press the weight up too much and not use the hips enough.

By using a good morning, we can make it posterior chain focused and take away from any quad loading.

Then finally, a good morning gives your grip strength and traps a break. For a lot of lifters, doing deadlifts over and over can mean grip strength is getting a high level of volume. Good at times but also good to regress at times. Likewise, when holding the bar in your hands, it can mean more upper back / traps being engaged. For those wanting to minimise potential growth of traps ie bikini competitors, a good morning can be a great way to add additional volume into your week while minimising upper back volume.

I like using the good morning as a supplementary exercise. For instance, if the lifter is training lower body 2 x a week. A strategy I like to use is to do a deficit deadlift on day 1. Then the second lower body day we use a good morning instead.

Often 4-8 weeks of attacking these variations and regressing the conventional deadlift can then allow the lifter to come back and be crushing new PBs when the conventional deadlift is reintroduced.

Final tip – attack your weak points. If an area is noticeably weaker, bias work there if you really want to break through a plateau 

I hope these will help you get back to smashing PB’s in your deadlift!

Coach Mark Carroll 

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