How to lift heavier on your deadlifts

If you want to lift heavier on your deadlifts, follow this expert advice - and prepare to pump some serious iron

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(Image credit: Getty)

If weights are your go-to workout, then it's possible you've got a common goal in mind: how to lift heavier on your deadlifts. 

However, whilst it’s all well and good having a target figure in your head that you want to lift, boosting strength takes time and and effort.

When it comes to deadlifts, form is key to help prevent injuries (read our guides on how to deadlift properly with barbells and how to deadlift with dumbbells for more on that front). However, maintaining flawless form does mean that upping the weights on your deadlift bar will be a slow process.

Firefighter and personal trainer Darren Placid knows a thing or two about lifting heavy. Here he shares his top tips for working towards your goal of lifting heavier and harder...

1. Improve your grip

Lifting up a bar requires serious gripping power and as Darren explains, the stronger your grip, the stronger you will be.  

Your nervous system won’t recruit the maximum amount of muscle mass if you are unsure of your grip,’ he adds, explaining that your brain knows that if you can’t hold onto a weight you probably shouldn’t be trying to raise it into the air.  

‘That means, if you don’t feel locked onto the bar, it’s going to be impossible to lift.’

One way to improve your grip strength, is to incorporate carries in your workout. Try walking a set distance (say 100m) with a heavy dumbbell in each hand, ensuring your back stays straight and your abs stay engaged. Repeat this several times with quick strides.

You also want to incorporate more ‘pull’ movements into your workouts such as dumbbell rows, chin ups and pull ups. These will help your hands and subsequently grip, become accustomed to various weights.

2. Build a big squat

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(Image credit: Getty Images)

‘Anyone who has lifted for many years will tell you that improving your deadlift probably won’t improve your squat,’ reveals Darren.

‘But if you improve your squat, it will improve your deadlift. The squat requires so much raw strength and stability through every major joint, that it impacts heavily on your performance of the other lifts.’

So, aim to incorporate squats into your weekly workout regime - perhaps three times a week - and really focus on building up the weight, whilst maintaining perfect squat form.

3. Get low to the floor

Deadlifting in running shoes? Take them off immediately! If you want to lift heavier on your deadlifts, go barefoot or opt for lifting trainers. 

‘If you’re lifting with soft-soled trainers, such as running trainers, you’ll add a lot of weight to your deadlift just by removing them,’ says Darren.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

‘The first is that you’ll literally have less distance to move the weight. Some trainers could be adding two or three centimetres of height.  It might not sound like much, but it can make a big difference.’

Darren adds: ‘The second reason removing your trainers will help your lift, is that they absorb some of your force. If the soles of your trainers are soft because they are designed to absorb the forces of running or similar activities, then they will also be absorbing some of the drive for your deadlift.’

So, when you try and jump in the air while standing in deep sand, you won’t jump as high as the soft surface under foot reduces your power. The same thing happens with running trainers.

4. Practice submaximal reps

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(Image credit: Getty)

Sorry, what?

Darren explains that you must practice your deadlifting to build optimal technique, however it’s a good idea to lift a weight that isn’t your max. 

‘Every lift above 70% of your one rep max is going to increase strength. That means if you can deadlift 140kg for one rep, performing reps with 98kg and above will still build more strength. The benefit is, the reps using lower weight are going to look a lot better and you’ll be drilling your perfect technique.’

And, as mentioned, nailing the technique is of utmost importance.

5. Film the lift

We’ve all looked at someone else doing deadlifts and shuddered at their lack of form.  Our deadlifts would never look like that, right? Don’t be so sure, says Darren.

‘If you want to change something, you must measure it. You should be tracking the sets, reps and weight lifted for your workout anyway but recording the reps doesn’t record what those reps looked like.’

He adds that if you want to improve your deadlift, it isn’t just about improving the weight moved.  

‘It’s about making it a better lift. The better your technique, the more weight you will ultimately be able to get off the ground. Filming your lifts will allow you to track the progression of your technique.’

Prop your phone up nearby, and once filmed, you can analyse every movement within your deadlift. You may find that your core isn’t as engaged as it could be which is making your midsection weaker and stopping you from adding more plates to the bar.

6. Engage your core

‘Strength also comes from within. If you have that strong core it will aid you to lift that little bit more. Strengthen that core with specific exercises and you will also be able to lift more too,’ says Darren.

Unsure how to strengthen your core? Try starting with the best workouts for abs.

7. Fuel up

If you’re trying to deadlift heavy on an empty stomach, you might be setting yourself up to fail. 

Whilst you may not feel hungry when you wake up, your muscles will need a glycogen hit to get them prepared for lifting. Food is fuel after all, and if you aren’t giving your muscles the fuel they need, you can’t expect them to function optimally.

In the morning, try a banana and a couple of oatcakes before a workout. If you’re training after lunch, then be sure that lunch contains an adequate amount of healthy carbs to get those muscles pumped! Try a portion of brown rice, or wholemeal bread or even a tasty baked sweet potato.