I am always coming across people and clients that are confused about the deadlift. People online and even medical professionals provide conflicting opinions regarding the safety and importance of the deadlift exercise. Reports and articles abound with how they are bad for your back and many people profess to see little to no benefit of doing them. Let’s look at the facts of why and how you should perform deadlifts on a regular basis.
The hip hinge is a fundamental component of human movement. It is a similar movement like a squat, where you hinge from your hips while maintaining a neutral spine. The main difference between the hip hinge and the squat is the degree of hip and knee bend and the subsequent torso alignment. Squatting down is the first action of sitting on a chair while a hip hinge involves bending over (as if to pick up something). With all that in mind, a deadlift is the gym equivalent of bending over and picking something up which is a movement done every day. We all have to do it, so we better learn how to do it safely and effectively. My method for learning basic human movements in a gym setting is to train these movements regularly so that you will able to mimic the action safely in any given situation.
Let’s learn how to execute a deadlift correctly.
Learn how to deadlift
People who are athletic and have good kinesthetic awareness can learn how to deadlift in a few minutes. They will be able to pull a good amount of weights pretty soon from the floor. However, many people these days spend a significant amount of time sitting in an office chair. Years of doing that have a lot of adverse effects on movement quality and mobility. This lack of activity makes learning the hip hinge in a gym setting a little more challenging.
I use a PVC pipe so that people can feel how their head, back, and hips need to align with the hip hinge movement. After learning the hip hinge, we learn the stance, stable shoulder position, and breathing.
The next step is to learn the movement with the barbell and small plates on each side. I summarized the barbell deadlift to 7 steps which I think are essential for a correct setup and pull.
Working on the perfect deadlift technique. 1. Bar over the midfoot. 2. Take a deep breath and grab the bar with straight legs. 3. Drive the shins forward until they touch the bar without dropping the hips. (yeah, your hips need to be up there. It is a hinge not a squat) 4. Tighten your back and squeeze your chest up. Shoulders stay in front of the bar. 5. Drag the bar up the legs. In the lockout squeeze your butt and bring your shoulder blades together to engage the posterior chain. 6. Lower the bar straight down. Break at the hips and not the knees (rep nr. 2 and 3 have not an ideal bar path) 7. Reset your back and repeat. No bouncing off the floor. Get strong and enjoy the process 🙂 #deadlift #strength #startingstrength #strengthandconditioning #health #personaltraining #acefitness #everyonestronger #fitspo #fitfam
Most people can learn this steps in one training session. If there are any problems regarding technique, a severe mobility issue or a structural problem, there are other alternatives.
What style of deadlift should you use?
I am a huge fan of the conventional deadlift (the one on the pics/clips above). It mimics very well how to pick up heavy objects from the floor and uses a big amount of muscle during a good range of motion. The deadlift will make you stronger and has a good carryover for any sport. I seldom program sumo deadlifts with my clients and me because the wide stance (with the grip inside the legs) produces artificially short legs which lead to less range of motion. That may be attractive for powerlifting purposes, but for general health and strength & conditioning I see less value in that. The conventional Deadlift also has a different back angle which has greater back muscle involvement which will enable us to strengthen our back!
More nerdy information about Deadlifts; have a look in the NSCA Strength and Conditioning Journal
A great alternative and regularly used by my clients is the trap-bar (or hex-bar) deadlift.
The trap-bar deadlift is great for beginners and older people with mobility issues. Through the different setup, the trap-bar deadlift has a closer knee angle and a more open hip angle. That means the trap-bar deadlift is less hip dominant and uses more quadriceps (which also means less stress on the back). The trap-bar deadlift also makes it easier to have the shoulder in a more stable externally rotated position. If you are unable to deadlift correctly with a regular barbell but still want to have the benefits of the deadlift exercise make sure to join a gym which offers a trap-bar/hex-bar option.
Another useful alternative is the romanian deadlift (RDL). The main difference between the RDL and the conventional deadlift is that the movement starts at the top position and not on the floor. It has very little quadriceps involvement, so it is a great alternative for focusing on the hamstrings. Especially with people who have hamstring and back mobility issues. The RDL is conducted similarly as a squat. The negative portion (eccentric) precedes upward (concentric). The stretch reflex helps the upward phase of the RDL.
I like to use the RDL if the person has a mobility issue in the hamstrings and back. We will focus on a controlled lowering phase of the movement and with some additional mobility work, we will change to the deadlift from the floor gradually.
How to program the deadlift
For general strength and health purposes, I like to program all the fundamental human movements in every training session. Most people are stronger in the deadlift than in the squat, which means the deadlift is more taxing on your body. The two main reasons are that the squat uses a greater range of motion, and the deadlift starts from the dead point (the floor), and force is applied to lift the bar. The squat relies on the stretch reflex (check the RDL) because it has a negative portion before the upward phase. The squat is also a good “warm up” for heavier deadlifting after.
If there is no particular reason, I will program squats before deadlifting.
Ideally, you work yourself up to 1 heavy set of 5 reps two times per week. For clients who don’t like the idea of lifting too much, I think three sets of 6-8 reps 2-3 times per week is very useful. I don’t like the idea of programming too much volume for the deadlift because it can get dangerous if you are executing the movement under fatigue with poor form. It is strength and not a conditioning or muscular endurance exercise.
Mint Chalita is doing very well during her PT session with coach @jamal.jokkok . Adding 2kg or 3kg to the bar in EVERY workout, In less than 2 weeks the Squat went up 12kg and the deadlift 25kg. #aspireclub #aspireresults #aspiretoinspire #fitness #fitnessclub #privatesession #lifestyle #personaltraining #results #stronger #befitandfirm
How much should you deadlift?
In the beginning, a real goal for general strength would be 1.5x bodyweight for a one rep max. That goal is achievable at any time. From there the fun starts and new goals (2 or 3x bodyweight) can be worked out.
The hip hinge is a movement we have to do many times in our life. Every time you pick something up from the floor such as a grocery bag, your kid, etc., you don’t want to get injured when doing that.
It should be trained on a regular basis to ensure you understand how to execute that movement correctly. It will not hurt your back. It will strengthen you back. If your goal is to get stronger, then it makes sense to Deadlift. Should you want to build muscle or lose fat – Deadlift. If you need to perform better in any sport or given activity – Deadlift.
I highly recommend deadlifting today.
If you have never done it before, grab a qualified coach and enjoy the process of getting stronger. Let me know your experience and opinions regarding deadlifting in the comments or as a message and share this post.