I've been trying to dead lift heavier (up to 380), but seem to have reached a plateau...the biggest obstacles seem to be my grip strength (thinking of using straps) and pressure on the lower back. Is it time to use a belt? what are the drawbacks to using one? and should I just put it on when I get to the heavy sets?
I would advise against either straps or a belt. Your grip and lower back seem to be weak points; you want to work on strengthening them and these pieces of equipment do the opposite, taking pressure off. You'll end up with an even greater strength imbalance.
Instead, work around your plateau for a while and focus on techniques that will help these problem areas. A few suggestions:
- Squeeze the bar HARD whenever you grip it and keep squeezing throughout your set.
- Don't use gloves as this inhibits your squeezing. If your hands get raw (and they probably will at that weight), use chalk.
- Focus on a tight core during your lift: squeeze (internally) anus-to-bellybutton, and make sure you are looking up at ~45 degrees and not rounding your back.
- Hold the bar at the top position for a few seconds before dropping it on the last rep of each set.
Once you have your grip and lower back stronger, then you'll develop new weak points (quad strength, for example) and you can once again work on increasing that and increasing weight without equipment crutches.
If you having sticking points, do what Greg suggested.
Working on getting the lower back stronger and overall core. Otherwise, you are just setting yourself up for disaster on that.
Implement more heavy bar holds without straps and some specialized grip training.
You can try wrapping a towel, squat pad or anything that can increase the thickness of the bar to get some good grip training in.