Use These Exercises to Build Your Deadlift

The Deadlift builds hip and core strength, but it's complex. Use this progression from STACK Expert Alex Rosencutter.

Let's be honest. No athlete wants to be slow and weak. If you want to be quicker and stronger than your competition, hip and core strength are critical.

The Deadlift is one exercise that can build massive amounts of hip and core strength. But be forewarned—the Deadlift is a complex movement, and you can't just throw it into your training program. You must progressively build the form and strength it requires.

RELATED: Fix the 10 Most Common Deadlift Technique Mistakes

Below is a list of progressions to help you perfect your deadlift technique.


This exercise may look funny, but it will help you build a solid posterior chain capable of lifting major weight. The Pull-Through is an excellent way to properly teach the hip hinge while minimizing stress and load on the spine.

  • Stand facing away from a cable machine.
  • Grab the rope attachment with both hands, and take a few steps away.
  • Set your feet about hip-width apart with your chest tall and chin tucked.
  • Hinge at the hips and push your butt back while maintaining a flat back.
  • Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, drive your hips forward, stand tall and squeeze your glutes.

Sets/Reps: 2-4x10-12

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

The RDL is a step up from the Pull-Through, as it places the weight in front of the body with a barbell, allowing for a greater range of motion and an increase in load. Having the bar in front also relates more to an actual pull off the floor.

RELATED: 3 Common Romanian Deadlift Mistakes

  • Set your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width and grip the bar overhand just outside your legs.
  • Drive your hips back as far as you can with a slight bend in the knees.
  • Once you feel your hamstrings tighten, drive your hips through and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Focus on maintaining a nice flat back and a tall chest.

Sets/Reps: 2-4x6-12

Rack Pulls

If the RDL and the standard Deadlift had a child, it would be the Rack Pull. Rack Pulls are a nice in-between move when building up to lifting off the floor. As with the RDL, the bar is placed in front of the body. Form is similar to the RDL, but the Rack Pull builds up strength to lift from a dead stop without using the stretch shortening cycle. This is crucial to building a strong pull off the floor. Rack Pulls are best used as a max strength movement within the 1-5 rep range, but they can also be used as a basic strength/muscular hypertrophy movement at 6-12 reps.

Trap Bar Dead

Whereas Pull-Throughs and RDLs are excellent for initially building the posterior chain, the Trap Bar Dead is your first taste of an actual lift from the floor. This movement is an easy, effective way to build up to pulling from the floor because the load of the bar is equally distributed around the body.

RELATED: Benefits of the Trap Bar Deadlift

  • Set your chest tall and feet roughly shoulder- or hip-width apart.
  • Hinge your hips back as if performing an RDL and grab the bar on each side.
  • Once your grip and hips are set, allow your knees to bend a little while pulling the "slack" out of the bar.
  • Brace your stomach tight, pull your hips forward and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Focus on keeping your chest tall and your back flat.
Sets/Reps: for max strength—2-5x1-5; for basic strength/muscular hypertrophy—2-4x6-10

Conventional/Sumo Deadlift

Finally! The holy grail of exercises.

We won't get into specifics between conventional and sumo, but both can be used in a program, depending on the lifter's anatomical structure and mobility.

  • For conventional, set your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width and set the bar 2 inches in front of your shins or directly touching them.
  • Set your chest up tall and drive your hips back with a slight bend in the knee.
  • Grip the bar overhand on the outside of your legs (your elbows should be outside your knees, not in front of them).
  • Act as if you were using the weight of the bar to pull yourself into the bar, pulling the slack out of it as you force your chest and eyes up.
  • Brace your stomach tight, pull your hips forward and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Focus on maintaining a flat back and tall chest throughout the movement.
Sets/Reps: 2-10x1-10, depending on your training goals.

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