Written by Zack Henderson
For the competitive powerlifter and those in the pursuit of maximal strength, the deadlift is life.
It’s the most simple and, for many, the heaviest lift of all. This means the most weight you’ll ever hold in your hands will probably be on a deadlift bar.
Few things are as exhilarating as setting a new deadlift PR. As you become stronger, however, those successful max attempts require more time and effort to achieve.
Training for a Bigger Deadlift: A Matter of Balance
Getting stronger in any lift hinges on a handful of major training considerations - technique, volume, intensity, frequency, and recovery.
Obviously, perfect technique is always a priority and the other factors should be maximized to the best of your ability while maintaining some semblance of a life outside the gym.
If you’re stuck at a plateau, one or more of these needs to increase or improve.
Simple, but not easy when you’re dealing with heavy weights.
Certainly adding another deadlift day to the training week can work wonders for some athletes - as long as technique stays sound and there is adequate recovery between sessions.
Some lifters may not be as tolerant to deadlifts for any number of reasons (injury, anatomy, training age, etc.). In this case, we can look for added hip hinge practice in low-risk accessory work.
Compared to the many squat and press variations, there are relatively few options in the deadlift camp. We have good mornings, block pulls, Romanian and deficit deads, but today we’ll take a look at an often misunderstood exercise for developing hip power.
ENTER THE SWING
The kettlebell offers volume-friendly hip hinge training with the swing.
Like any exercise, always consider the intention and goal behind the movement. For a swing to have the most transfer of benefit to the deadlift, the focus should be on hip power, core engagement, and optimal back position in all ranges of motion.
Let’s take a look at the technique in Zack's video below
As you can see, the hip and back positioning is nearly identical to a “textbook” conventional deadlift - involving the same posterior chain musculature as well. Anecdotally, a strong swing seems to eliminate most lock-out issues.
How to incorporate the swing into your training sessions
Kettlebell swings can be included in your deadlift warm-up to prime the hips. Keep the weight and rep range low to moderate in order to save energy for your work sets.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch x 1 minute each
Single Leg Hip Thrust x 15 each
Kettlebell Swing x 5-8
As an accessory exercise, perform heavier swings after your main lifts. Do straight sets or pair with core work.
- Kettlebell Swing - 5 x 10-15
Dead bug - 5 x 45s
In the same way, some athletes are not as tolerant to full range of motion deadlifts, some may find issue with the ballistic nature of the swing. There are many fine subtleties that go into safe, optimal technique so at least some practice and coaching is required even for advanced lifters. For a listing of strength-minded kettlebell instructors, check out StrongFirst.com.
While the swing might be a key for your next PR, nothing replaces training with heavy barbells, especially once you achieve a 2x bodyweight deadlift.
Train For Life
A good deadlift is the pure expression of hip power, back and core stability, grip, and total body strength. When done properly in the context of a smart strength program, swings can develop these in spades.
Zack is a strength coach in Nashville, TN. His free online course, Powerlifting 101, is a comprehensive guide to getting a stronger squat, bench, and deadlift.