Paused Deadlifts: How To Bust Up Plateaus

Deadlifting is pretty fan-freaking-tastic when it comes to building up overall strength and particularly posterior chain (the backside). Whether you're a competitive strength athlete or a self-competitive trainee with a deadlift number that won't budge, try cycling in some paused deadlifts. 

Paused work is a common technique for overcoming plateaus in the bench and squat, but it's often not used in deadlifting. The main reasons are a) it can be riskier than the other two lifts because of the position in which you are pausing (at the bottom), b) due to the risk, one must have consistently solid technique, and lastly c) it's really, really difficult. 

So why perform pause work with deadlifts? 

Everyone has a sticking point (and you probably know where yours is...) that acts as a force-field against increasing weight on the bar. Depending on your individual leverage, that sticking point will range, generally, between 1-4 inches off the floor.

Strength is specific. Translation: training a particular quality, body part, or, as in this case, a particular position within a movement will result in growth in that area. Pausing at that sticking point increases the time-under-tension at that point and thus increased strength to, hopefully, overcome that sticking point at higher loads. 

Another benefit is reinforcing a tight upper back, specifically the lats, as those bad boys have to fire like crazy to maintain bar position close to the body AND allow for sufficient force transfer from the hips to the bar once the pause is over and it's time to accelerate that bar upwards. 

If you don't know how to use your glutes in a deadlift, you'll quickly find out. You should feel them firing like crazy to both hold the position and then explode out of the bottom. 

For those of us (myself) that have not-so-great speed, this is also a great way to work on exploding out of the bottom. 

How To: 

*Note: this is not a "beginner" exercise. A very solid strength (close to 2x bodyweight deadlift) and technique foundation needs to be present in order to reap the benefits and perform it safely. 

  • Start by working at your sticking point, wherever that may be. In the video I demonstrated a few different heights. 
  • Work with 50-70% 1RM; no need to be a hero on your first try. Start with 50% of 1RM and go from there. 
  • Hold the pause anywhere from 2-5 seconds. I recommend using an actual timer (instead of counting in your head) as it will keep you honest. Again, don't be a hero, I started with just 2 second pauses and that was p-l-e-n-t-y of time. For example: 
    • 3x4 w/ :02 hold at 50%
    • 4x4 w/ :02 hold at 50%
    • 5x3 w/ :02 hold at 60%
    • 4x4 w/ :02 hold at 60%
  • Sets of 3-5 reps is sufficient and anywhere from 3-4 sets. I don't recommend performing these after a heavy set of deadlifts. These would be much better suited to train on a day where either squat or bench is the main focus on the lift. 
  • There isn't a hard rule for this kind of work, as long as you're progressing (either in weight or time) that's the key. 

I incorporated paused deadlifts for about 8 weeks and noticed a difference in my speed off the floor over time. If you've tried other avenues to increase your deadlift numbers, this could be a game-changer for you. 

Only remember, these suckers are difficult, just wanted to repeat that warning. :)