Bodyweight Exercises for the Deadlift

The Iron Cross. So simple, such brutal strength to acomplish.

I do a lot of bodyweight exercises, from full on yoga routines to your meat and potatoes pushups/dips/pullups, to attempts at more extravagant and ‘metabolic’ moves that could be lumped under the ‘animal flow’ category.

Funny how a lot of that stuff looks like break-dancing. Funnier still how much it kicks my ass.

Now I know, you’re going to say that there is only so much strength you can build with your own bodyweight, and how does this apply/carry over to powerlifting or something like strongman competitions?

It’s simple. Core strength and endurance. A strong core leads to greater stability, support and foundation   in your lifts, in whatever sport or activity you do. Core endurance is vital as well, just imagine your stomach muscles failing during a heavy lift. Gymnasts not only have strong abs and core muscles, but by necessity, they can maintain that strength over extended periods of time.

When asked what two body parts he would focus on if he had no time for anything else, Pavel Tsatsouline replied, “grip strength and core strength.” Given an otherwise active lifestyle, that’s not a bad answer.

Back to the deadlift. How do I use bodyweight exercises to improve my deadlift? The following routine is an example:

  • Push-up & or Elbow Planks
  • Spider or Bear Crawls
  • Good Mornings with the hands/arms in different positions

Now I could add things like Supermans, or the Table Top exercise and many others, but most days I keep it simple.

How could these exercises possibly affect my deadlift numbers? Or anything else involving weights you ask?

Planks: These are done in the hardest way possible. This means that once in position, you contract everything. Lats, glutes, abdominals, fists, etc. As a result, nearly everything else contracts as well, including your quads, hamstrings and even calves.

This is a concentrated effort that is hard to maintain for more than 10-20 seconds. Chances are, if you’re going much longer than that, you’re doing it wrong.

So this is intense isometric contraction. and what is one thing we do a lot of when lifting heavy weights, especially in the squat and deadlift? You got it, isometric contraction of the core musculature. Not only does this build strength, but it makes a great warm-up before going into heavy lifting.

Spider or Bear Crawls: Spider Crawls, or Spiderman Crawls, are sheer torture. Alligator crawls may be a more appropriate term, because you are striving to keep your torso flat and as close to the ground as possible while you move your opposite arm and leg at the same time to ‘crawl’ forward.

Try it. Get in the bottom position of a pushup. Now, raising yourself just enough to get your body off the floor, extend one arm, bend the opposite leg and move forward one step, ‘catching’ yourself with the movement of the opposite arm and leg. Yeah, it works your core, and everything else.

Good Mornings: I once did 100 repetitions of good mornings, moving down and to left, right and center, sometimes reaching forward with extended arms, and I had a sore back for the next 3 days. Ah, that lactic acid buildup.

Granted, I don’t see much point in doing this many repetitions of the exercise anymore, but it illustrates how effectively it targets the lower lumbar, and if you do them right, glutes and hamstrings.

As with planks, I flex. For one thing, I have injured myself doing these in sloppy form. For another, it makes it harder. So I place my hands either behind my head, on my hips, or extended over my head, and I contract my abs, glutes and hamstrings as I lower my torso to parallel.

To increase the work, you can pause at the bottom position. Extending your arms also makes this more difficult, and for some variety, you can twist up to the left and right.

Done as a circuit, these 3 simple bodyweight exercises will get your heart pumping as well, and are a great substitute for a free weight or similar resistance workout. Vary the intensity and use this as a light day when you can’t lift heavy, or a great core travel workout when you can’t get to the gym.