Hamstring and Lumbar Work Programed To Break Your Squat and Deadlift Plateau

Improving performance in the squat and dead lift that stick, require programmed Glute and Hamstring work. You simply cannot add more weight to the bar and expect goals to be linear. Overtime the mentally of “more is better” will have its short comings. Stalled performance progression is only one facet of over training with the other more serious issue being injury. It’s normal to have fear of losing strength or power when working away from the big lifts. But I assure you, the best in the industry are constantly working on various goals such as structured balance/hypertrophy, work capacity, and neurological based programming throughout the year to stay successful. When you are ready to stop beating yourself into a pulp of negativity and failure because you didn’t hit a personal record after 6 months, then let’s move on together. Let’s apply an intelligent way to add in some Glute and Hamstring conditioning to gain some ground when under the bar. You will work your ass off, literally but in the end you will be better.

Using A Different Angle

In a perfect world example, your cars tires would all wear out evenly regardless of terrain, sadly we know this is far from the truth. With that analogy in mind consider your body and how it responds to your exercise selection. Repetition of the same exercise overtime yes will develop movement competency but it can also spell out plateau. What can amplify your progress though, are short but intense shifts following your program that provide a new stimulus; a new learning curve. Rather than slapping your arm for being an exercise selection drone, lets simply add additional benefit following your current program and get serious again about working out of our comfort zone.

If you are rotating through movements every 4-6 weeks or simply changing your reps, sets, and rest periods, then I applauded you. You, whoever you are, have mastered learning the law of diminishing results. In simple terms, you will adapt and then you will plateau.
So the longer you train, yes the harder it becomes to get stronger, bigger, faster, ect…
Hence, the approaches that the greats have taken have always been to keep it simple, keep it consistent, and change the stimulus over time. No one here in the fitness arena wants to take away your concentration bicep curls, or your heels raises when you say you want to gain strength and size. But, each exercise movement has a respective role to play in each goal type.
With that being said, when it comes to the squat and deadlift, the 2 most respected movements in our history of lifting weights; well most respected in the last 50 years before grandma was clean and pressing bales of hay into a wagon; we need to apply a balanced approach to conditioning if we plan on continuing to grow and reach new PR’s.

Where To Start

First let’s get educated on the why before the how.
The exercise selection below will focus on improving your posterior chain of muscles (Back, Glutes, and Hamstrings) to work with an emphasis on horizontally loaded resistance angles. Alternating the position of resistance from vertical (head to toe) to horizontal (your back to front) will allow you to gain better structural balance.

This is simple physics (yes it is simple). Example A: You line up with gravity and balance is easy, resisting the pull of gravity is easy, things are good. Example B: You move away from the line of gravity, and balance gets challenged, resistance or torque increases and if you can get perpendicular to gravity, then things get very hard. Thus, simply changing the angle of a movement will expose you to these new and novel stresses. Note only will you get stronger when you apply these methods you will also improve your movement patterns by learning and adapting new skills. This can also give your joints time to recover from heavy lifting sessions in the direct squat and deadlift pattern.

The Application

Depending on what current program you are in, implementing these exercises should not be a brain crunch. In fact, many of the exercise included are touted to have better muscle recruitment potential than your basic squat and deadlift. Hence, spending time including 1 or 3 of these into your existing program again will only help you along with your development.
Below are a list of current goals and how to implement these exercises into your programming.


If you are in a muscle building phase select to replace one of your lumbar extension and hamstring exercises with one listed from below. Recall that at minimum you will need to perform the exercise 2-3x/wk. You can also implement the exercises up to 2x/day (4-6 hr apart) twice a week (non-consecutive days). That will yield the fastest results. It is recommended on the last set of any muscle building exercise you perform the movement to mechanical failure and then implement a drop set. This type of shock effect allows the muscle to accumulate with lactate (lactic acid) which directly recruits higher threshold muscle fibers as well metabolically stimulates protein synthesis.


If you are in a strength phase here is what will work.

Step 1 Warm up) Select a Hamstring exercise as a lead into squat, or dead lift.  Never go over 65% 1 RM in this case use 3 sets of 10-12 reps, rest 30 seconds.

Step 2 Post lift) Select both a Lumbar extension and another Hamstring exercise. work into you 75 % to 80 % 1 RM, 4-5 sets or 6-10 reps rest 1-2 minutes.


If you are on a WOD based program, pick a single Hamstring exercise as a pre-activation or prep movement. Mobility is great but can all to often drag on without doing much for your nervous system. Also you warm up, is supposed to warm you up, so you should be moving, activating, priming; not PVC piping your shoulder to death with a yawn and a needed energy drink. Prime and prosper.

Do not exceed 65% 1 RM for prep work as you will decrease performance on your main lifts. Following your strength portion, Select another Hamstring exercise, and execute 3 sets of 12-15 reps, rest 30-40 seconds (this will add on an additional 5 minutes into your session). Now once you are done with your MET CON, select a Lumbar extension drill and perform 2 sets of 10 reps with a hold for a count of 5 seconds, rest 20 seconds.
Recall the value here is in providing alternate forms of resistance adaptation, which will teach your body to be more resilient to injury.

Hamstring Selection

Single Leg Dumbbell Deficit Bridge


Hamstring strain injuries can be avoided with proper programming of eccentric or negative based drills. Here are the facts Prevent 45 of soft tissue injuries with accentuated eccentric training.

Set up: Find a bench, or box and grab a dumbbell, Fat Bell , or a plate. Place the plate on the hip of the leg that is not performing the lift. Lift into the bridge by pushing into the box through your arch for beginners. For advanced lifters, try and lift through pushing down with the heel.

Partner Assisted Nordic Eccentric Hamstring


Nordic assist










Set up: Get a pad, place it under your knees. Grab a box or ball and place it against a wall to act as a break, unless you are ready to go the whole way down into the ground. Have your partner grab your heels and down you go. The goal is to slowly lower yourself as best as you can, and ideally use a push up or crawl up to the start position.

Barbell Hip Thruster













Set up:Grab a bench, neck collar (foam pad), and a barbell. Load the Barbell on plates if at a standard gym to account for the smaller diameter of plate. If you are at a CrossFit Box, just load any plate (standardized plate). Place you shoulders on pad, and now initiate the movement with your glutes and drive your heels down into the floor.

Hanging leg straight knee bridge and knee bent bridge

Single leg progression Straight knee

Single leg progression Knee bent pull through

Set up: Place a barbell on hooks at a height where your hips are off the ground. Starting with 2 legs in contact on a bench maintain straight knee position and drive the heels down. When ready, progress into the single leg straight knee variation as seen in the video.
Knee bent variation requires a pull through and almost rocking from heel to midfoot of the contact working leg. When ready progress from a 2 leg approach to a single leg variation as seen in the video.

Glute Ham Developer (GHD) option

GHD combined eccentric hamstring extension


NOTE: If continued assistance is needed while performing a GHD hamstring eccentric, implement a band assist.

Set up: Adjust the foot plate to your level of difficulty. Note that the closer the foot plate is to the hip pad, the more difficult the exercise will be. Experiment with foot placement until you can perform these with perfect form. Hands can be progressed from side of body, to chest, to finally over head in the prisoner position. The start of the position is vertical with knees bent and arms at your level of difficulty. Slowly maintain perfect posture and move into knee extension, and then over the hip pad into hip flexion. Recover for a moment and either use a band assisted return, hand assist return, or you have mastered the movement and can return concentrically on your own.
Training tip: The arm progression from body to head increases the torque and difficulty, so use a periodized approach to be successful. Tempo can be applied to this movement as well to target specific training goals

Lumbar Extension movements

 Bench assisted Lumbar Extension








Set up: Grab a flat bench and partner. Have your partner push downward as you extend into neutral. Never over extend. 


 Banded 45 degree extension










Set upStart with a lite band which can be attached to the machine or wrapped around 2 heavy dumbbells, wrap a towel around the band where is will be placed behind your neck. Now adjust the bench. Grab your waist and identify the bony numbs on both front ends of your pelvis. These are the anterior superior iliac spines (ASIS). Enter the bench and set up the pelvic pad so that the ASIS rest on the pad. Ensure your feet can be in a flat position without toes points to either extreme. Move into the hang position, grab band and place behind neck. Now rise up and terminate the movement before hyper extension occurs. Slowly lower yourself back to the start.

Cueing: While in the hang position, initiate the heels into the foot pad, contract the glutes, sniff in some air and brace the abdomen. Arm position will change the degree of difficulty. Start with arms at side, the progress in a superior fashion; arms to chest, and arms behind head.
Training tip: Progress in resistance band and to additional external weight. Very heavy weight is not needed as the emphasis is to perform an anti-flexion movement.

GHD Prisoner Back Extension

Set up: Foot to pad progression (closer is harder, further is easier). Start with 2 legs and progress to 1 as noted in the video.
Cueing: Before initiating the lift from a hang, push heel into pad, squeeze the hamstring and glute. Now take a sniff of air to stiffen the spine and execute the movement. Arrest the motion just short of hyper extending the spine and slowly return to start.
Training tip: The arm progression from body to head increases the torque and difficulty, so use a periodized approach to be successful. Tempo can be applied to this movement as well to target specific training goals

Power Development

What is Power?

I thought I would include these sled drag variations to also give you something fun to do outdoors or on a conditioning/ METCON day.

Sled drag pull through

Set up: You will be performing a 25 yard or 75’ standard distance sled drag. Before we start, when running the handles through your inner thighs be careful to face any bolts or sharp angles inward toward each other and away from your legs. First, walk away from the sled while holding the handles to remove the slack from the rope. Second, drop into a hip hinge dominant squat. Now sniff in air, brace the spine, and launch out of the hip hinge and into standing. The sled will slowly follow you along for the ride. This is a pure concentric movement hence we will partner it up with an anti-flexion reverse sled drag.

Anti flexion reverse sled drags.

A video posted by Dr. Mario Novo, DPT (@liftersclinic) on


Life gives you clues when it’s time to change your current program. Always be learning from your body, and your outward experiences from your coaches, teammates, and fellow lifters. We are all trying to get the most that we can out of this human experience so put the ego aside and do what is difficult, try what you haven’t and always be ready to learn how to be better, and most importantly live better.


Dufek, Janet S., PhD. , FACSM. “Exercise Variability: A Prescription for Overuse Injury Prevention.” ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal 6.4 (2002). American College of Sports Medicine. Web. 1 Mar. 2016.

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