How to Get Out of Your Deadlift Rut

woman deadlifting

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The deadlift is one of the main compound lifts and is considered one of the "big three" strength training exercises along with the squat and the bench press. Deadlifting is often performed with heavy weights. Increasing the amount of weight or number of reps at a particular weight are common goals among those who strength train.

Hitting a rut with your deadlift where you are unable to increase your weight lifted or the number of reps you perform is a common occurrence. Fortunately, some excellent methods and practices can help you get out of the rut and back to progressing.

Perfect Your Form

The number one way to increase your deadlift performance is to step back and work on your form. Many people are so focused on their progress, increasing the weight on the bar or number of reps they can do, that they neglect to address form issues.

Minor variances in your form may not be noticeable for some time, but when you hit a rut, improper form, however slight, may mean you cannot progress further. Assuming you have the basic form down, here are some additional tips that can significantly improve your success.

Take the Slack Out of the Barbell

The plates on the barbell have a small gap underneath when resting on the floor. Before you begin pulling, engage your glutes and hamstrings, pull your hips down, and pull your upper body up, holding the barbell and removing the slack. You will hear the barbell and plates connect.

Engage Your Lats

When you remove the slack from the barbell, your back should flatten and your lats should engage. It should feel like you are trying to break the bar in two.

If you have trouble engaging your lats, try some lat isolation exercises as part of your pre-deadlift warmup. Think about pulling your scapula (shoulder blades) back and down, as if you are trying to put them into your back pockets.

Screw Your Feet Into the Floor

This cue can single-handedly improve your deadlift and reduce your risk of injury. It should feel like you are trying to spread the floor apart between your feet as you turn your hips slightly outward (external rotation) while keeping your feet firmly in place. You should feel the outside of your glutes and thighs activate and become firm.

Push Your Hips Back

When lifting the bar, do not let your hips start to rise before moving the weight. If you have correctly taken the slack out of the bar and engaged your lats, you should not feel the need to start raising your hips first—your lower back could become injured if you do.

Keep your hips close to the bar as you raise it. You will have more power to lift the weight, which may allow you to lift heavier. Fully extend your hips after you get to the top of the movement.

When lowering the bar, it is vital to push your hips back to protect your lower back and reduce the risk of injury and lower back tightness. Keep your hips tall, and a soft bend in your knees as you lower the weight. Pull the bar close into your body and keep your chest elevated.

Choose the Proper Load and Volume

Always trying to lift heavier and more often are common mistakes among gym enthusiasts. Many people who are dedicated to increasing their performance believe that more is better. Sometimes, the answer is to do less.

Deadlifts are highly taxing on the body and central nervous system.

You may feel fine lifting near maximal effort at first, but after a while, you will likely be too fatigued to continue. You might even see some regression in your performance.

You may want to focus on lifting at weights less than 85% of your one-rep max. Try not to work to failure, but instead, stop when you feel that you can do a maximum of two more reps with the weight you have chosen. Working to failure can be too taxing on many people, especially when done consistently.

Allowing yourself to recover at least 48 hours between workouts for the same body parts is also recommended. That doesn't mean you have to avoid activity or light lifting, but give your body some time before lifting heavy weights using the same body parts to avoid fatigue and overtraining.

Increase Your Glute and Hamstring Strength

If you struggle to get the deadlift off the floor, and you have already made sure your form is correct, you have a neutral spine, and your chest is up with your shoulders behind the bar, you may need to increase your glute and hamstring strength.

Your glutes and hamstrings are the major muscles required to pull the barbell. To increase strength in these muscles, try incorporating additional exercises.

Glute and Hamstring Exercises

Build Your Back Strength

If you are able to get the bar off the floor but cannot lift it past knee height, your issue may be low- and mid-back weakness, along with your glutes. To protect your back and build the strength required for heavier deadlifts, incorporate exercises that focus on building back strength.

Back Strength Exercises

Improve Your Grip Strength

If your glute and back strength are not the problem, and you can get the bar up but cannot fully lockout by bringing your hips forward fully, your grip strength could be to blame. If you feel that the bar is slipping from your hands at the top of the lift, working on your grip is essential. Try working on improving your grip strength.

Grip Strength Exercises

Work on the Eccentric Movement

Many people drop the barbell after completing the lift rather than controlling the descent. If you consistently drop the barbell, you are missing out on strength and muscle gains from the eccentric (lowering) phase of the movement.

Try to control the descent by lowering the bar slowly and keeping your back, core, and glutes engaged. Remember to keep the bar close to your body, grazing your shins as you lower the bar.

You likely will need to use a lighter weight than usual to focus on the eccentric motion of the deadlift.

Start with light weights and perform 8 to 10 repetitions, slowly lowering the bar for a count of four.

Try Pause Reps

Adding pause reps can help you build the strength to get past your sticking point with the deadlift. With pause reps, you will pause for 3 to 5 seconds at the sticking point with a lighter load than you would typically lift.

It is best to try pause reps when you still have plenty of energy. So, try them before heavier lifts.

For pause reps, try a load that is approximately 60% of your one-rep max and perform up to 10 repetitions.

Add Partial Reps

Partial reps can also help you get past your deadlift sticking points. For partial reps, try using dumbbells or kettlebells to perform your deadlift using a lighter weight than you would typically.

How to Do Partial Reps

  1. Perform a full deadlift
  2. Start lowering part of the way down
  3. Extend back up to the top of the movement
  4. Return the weight to the floor
  5. Repeat

Change Your Tempo

Switching up your tempo might help you get past a sticking point. If you always lift with the same tempo, such as a 1-second lift, 0-second pause, a 1-second lowering phase, and a 1-second pause on the floor (1011 tempo), trying something different might be the key to success.

Similar to the pause rep or eccentric focus, changing tempo can build strength in the areas of weakness and help focus on muscles that are being underutilized, causing your deadlift rut. Try an alternate tempo such as:

  • 2121: 2-second lift, 1-second pause at the lockout, 2-second lowering phase, 1-second pause on the floor.
  • 1130: 1-second powerful lift, 1-second pause at lockout, 3-second lowering phase, touch the floor and lift powerfully back up.

When you pause on the floor, remember to reset your form, engage your lats, and practice all of the techniques that protect your spine. Use a lighter weight for any tempo to which you are not accustomed.

Focus on Recovery

A very large and vital part of the puzzle with any lifting regimen includes enough time for rest and recovery. If you find that you are all of a sudden unable to lift as you were previously or start to regress, this is a sure sign that your recovery is not adequate.

Resting 48 hours between deadlifting days is ideal.

It is also essential to get enough sleep, hydrate, and consume a nutritious diet. If you are in a calorie deficit, trying to lose weight, it is not the time to focus on increasing your deadlift weight when you reach a plateau. Instead, practice form and technique.

Some people also like to add recovery tools such as massage guns and foam rollers. Saunas, ice baths, or cold and hot contrasting showers are also popular recovery techniques.

A Word From Verywell

Hitting a deadlift rut can be frustrating, especially if you feel like you are doing everything right. However, several of the above techniques and tips can significantly increase your performance once you put in the effort.

Sometimes it is best to have your form checked by a professional, like a personal trainer or another exercise specialist. These experts might be able to point out your potential mistakes or weaknesses and develop a plan to get you past them. Remember to focus on recovery—more is not often better.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Kompf J, Arandjelović O. The sticking point in the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift: similarities and differences, and their significance for research and practice. Sports Med. 2017;47(4):631-640. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0615-9

  3. Nóbrega SR, Libardi CA. Is resistance training to muscular failure necessary? Front Physiol. 2016;0. doi:10.3389%2Ffphys.2016.00010

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By Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.