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.
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.
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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