Big Exercise Alternatives; Breaking Through

deadlift strength strong powerlifting

The deadlift has been a thorn in my side for as long as I have been lifting. I can squat significantly more. Of course there are good explanations for such things, but it has a way of driving you crazy.

Have you ever had a time in your training where you were in a rut?

I think we all have, if we have been at this a while.

What did you do?

The majority of lifters just keep plugging along hoping to eventually make progress. Those who have enough training knowledge know that a deload may be in order. A deload is usually all you need to get your training back on track.

But what do you do if that is not enough?

I have had this happen before, and I think it may fall back to nutrition, sleep, or other recovery factors. But, from the perspective of a coach, those are things that the athlete or lifter has to control. What the coach must do in the interim, is give the athlete or lifter some tools that might assist in moving them forward.

A good method I have used in this scenario is to shake-up the program, using alternatives to the “big exercises”. So, your big exercises may be different than mine, but the idea remains the same. Of course you would not change these permanently, but it is a good alternative to avoid banging your head against the wall.


If you use the squat as one of your major exercises (which I assume you would), here are some alternatives:

Trap Bar (or Hex Bar) Deadlifts

A lot of powerlifters cringe at the thought of cutting squats or doing any type of deadlift without using the traditional straight-bar. But this is a useful exercise that places the body in a more “squat-like” position in comparison to a conventional deadlift.

Unilateral Lower Body Exercises

One advantage of unilateral exercises in this situation would be the fact that the load is significantly decreased. This cuts down on much of the stress. Though that stress is useful at times, in this case recovery will be quicker and will help us. Some examples are split squats, step-ups, single-leg RDL’s, and lunges.

Also, you could use other squat variations such as using various bars (Safety Squat Bar, Cambered Bar, etc.), changing stance significantly for a short time, or adjusting range of motion through high box squats or far beyond parallel (ATG) squats.


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While difficult to fully replicate, the deadlift is an exercise that needs the time off if you are in a rut. It is a very taxing exercise, and one you must train and plan for in a careful manner.


The Romanian Deadlift (or RDL) is an exercise that works much of the same musculature as the deadlift. One advantage as an alternative is the fact that you can use much less weight and still get the benefit. This will reduce the overall stress on your body.

Glute-Bridge or Hip Thrust

This exercise is great for posterior chain activation and can be used anytime, but especially when you need a break from the stress of deadlifting.


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Some of these may seem incredibly simple, but sometimes that is exactly what you need.


This one is a traditional exercise staple that has since been forgotten with the rise in popularity of the bench press. One advantage the pushup has is the scapular mobility that the bench press does not replicate. In the pushup, the scapula are able to move, not being trapped under you like the bench press.

If all you do is flat bench, sometimes mixing things up with incline presses or dumbbell presses might be a good alternative. Overhead press is also good if it is typically neglected in your programming.

For many of these movements, strongman variations could be a unique alternative as well.

At the end of the day, repeating the same things expecting a different result will not get you where you need to be. You must be willing to try new things and find ways to remove stress from the body where you have plateaued.

Do not remove the big movements or exercises for too long. These are cornerstones of any good program. But, understand that occasionally measures must be taken to see results in whatever way possible.

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How Do I Get Stronger if I Can Only Train Twice Per Week? : A 2X Per Week Program for Strength

2 days week program strength

Early in my coaching career, I wanted everything to be perfect. I would get so frustrated if my coaching clients did not show up regularly or get incredible results. Everything had to be optimal, from timing, rest periods, volume, intensity, the list goes on and on.

But what I was not taking into consideration is that everyone does not have the same amount of time, resources, etc. and people did not always place training as their number one priority. For those of us with training on the brain all day, it seems odd. But the average person will not go out of their way to train at all, nevertheless optimally.

With that, an emphasis needs to be placed on making the training environment work for the situation they are in. One common issue I found over the years was many clients scheduled 3 sessions per week, but only made it to 2. This throws off the entire plan if your programming calls for 3 days per week. After talking to many clients, it seems that something always came up on the third day.

From there, I made it a point to work off of a 2 day per week program. We still scheduled 3 days, and if the client made it for 2, we had a program in place. If they made it 3 days, we used that day as an accessory day (extra work, prehab/corrective, etc.).

All in all, it turned out to be incredibly effective for developing strength with limited time. It can be a great solution for breaking through plateaus and sticking points, as you allow for more recovery time.


With all that said, here is the 2x per week program for strength:

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Week 1:

Day 1:

•Squat: 5×5

•Step-ups: 4×10

•SS Bar Goodmornings: 4×10

•Bent-Over Rows: 5×10

Day 2:

•Bench Press: 4 sets-8,6,5,4 reps

•Neutral-Grip Overhead Press: 5×8

•Pull-ups: 5×10 (or as many as possible if you can’t do 10 reps)

•DB Floor Press: 4×10

Week 2:

Day 1:

•Deadlift: 6×3

•Lunges: 4×8/leg

•RDL: 4×8

•One-Arm DB Row: 5×10

Day 2:

•Push Press: 5×5

•Close-Grip Bench Press: 4×10

•Chin-ups: 5×10 (or as many as possible if you can’t do 10 reps)

•Floor DB Tri Extension: 4×10


Feel free to add a few accessory exercises if you have the time (but don’t go crazy).




Remember, even though you want to write the BEST program possible for yourself or your clients, the key is to be real with yourself about the level of commitment there is. Because a perfect program is only perfect with perfect follow-through.  I find that the results are better when the program is written as it will be used; if not, you leave gaps in your training.

Feel free to use the program, and give me feedback on how it works for you!

If you want more done-for you programs, join us below:

What’s Worth Reading: Volume 5; Bulking, Deadlifts, and Assessments

Worth Reading; Deadlift, Overhead Press, & Bulking

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What’s Worth Reading – Best Strength and Fitness Articles, Videos, etc. : Week 4

Strength Fitness What's Worth Reading

Welcome to Week 4 of What’s Worth Reading! Here is what I have written lately: Overcome Adversity and Be Great   Here are the articles I have checked out this week. By Mark Watts This is a solid overview of what the displaced Strength Coach has in store after his/her career as a Collegiate Coach […]

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Overcome Adversity and Be Great

Why are there so many moderately good lifters, but few great? Even though many of the moderate level lifters may be more genetically gifted.   There are many factors at work, of course. But, a major variable is how they handle and overcome adversity. Everyone who trains to be the best will run into hard […]

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What’s Worth Reading – Best Strength and Fitness Articles, Videos, etc. : Week 3

Strength and Fitness - Worth Reading

Welcome to the 3rd Week of What’s Worth Reading. Check out what I’ve been up to below. Here are some articles I have written or been included in this week:   Here are the strength and fitness articles I have been reading this week:   Listen, if you have never read […]

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