Every gym has at least one of them (OK, more like 10 of them)—the people who want to improve a specific skill or movements so their answer is to practice that skill every single day.
I have a client—bless her heart—who was frustrated that her deadlift hadn’t improved in 12 months and proceeded to deadlift heavy every single time she came to the gym for six months. At the end of it all, her deadlift weight hadn’t increased, but frustration certainly had.
Here’s the thing: You can improve your squat without squatting and improve your deadlift without even deadlifting a barbell.
Awhile back, I interviewed Sam Dancer—a CrossFit Games athlete who famously pulled 655lb at the CrossFit Games in 2014. He revealed to me that he actually rarely deadlifts heavy in training. Most of his time is spent doing accessory work to be able to lift a heavy deadlift when he needs to.
In my experience as a coach, and as a former CrossFit Games athlete myself, I have found that whenever I find myself on a plateau—be it my squat or my deadlift—the best thing to do is take a break from focusing so closely on the movement itself and turn my attention to appropriate accessory work for six weeks—and then voilà, I magically PR when I return to the movement I want to improve.
I’m not alone. In the same interview, Dancer casually mentioned he pulled his then all-time best deadlift of 695lb without having deadlifted heavy for eight months.
In light of this, here are five accessory work exercises you can do (especially if your deadlift hasn’t improved in a while) to help improve your deadlift without even deadlifting with a barbell.