Would you like to receive the latest articles, free resources and updates for everything fitness and health? Submit your details to subscribe to the list!
Right, I’ve started writing this post five times, trying to find a witty little way to segue into the main meat and potatoes of the blog.
And I haven’t found the way.
All I’ve succeeded in doing is irritating myself and drinking too much coffee.
So no pussy footing about.
Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to discuss the deadlift and steps you can take to learn this wonderful exercise without your spine beating you up for making it feel all ouchie.
This isn’t about the technique for the exercise itself, but steps that I have found useful for many people who are new to the exercise, to understand the main concepts of the lift.
If you’re new to the exercise or you’ve left yourself feeling beaten up by it in the past, I highly urge you to ease yourself into it.
Don’t go jumping in, trying to see how much you can lift right now.
Cos here’s the thing about how much you can lift right now….it matters not one iota.
(Note to self: What is an iota and why does it not matter?)
If you develop your technique, treat the lift as a new skill, something to develop with a level of care and precision. In a few months you will be multiple times stronger and athletic than you are now.
The main muscles moving to generate the power to move the bar are in the legs, mainly the hamstrings and butt.
Not the upper body.
DEFINITELY NOT YOUR BACK.
The bar is moved by pushing the floor away with your feet – obviously the floor won’t move, but your intention is to push into the floor.
The intention is not to pull with the upper body.
The upper body muscles stabilise the spine as the bar. Is lifted from the ground.
You can obviously pull with your back if you wish, but be prepared to have a disc herniation and expensive visits to the physio somewhere in your future.
Before approaching a bar to lift off the ground you should appreciate the hip hinge.
This is the ability to disassociate the hips from the spine.
You learn to move through the hips without a compensatory movement from the spine.
Some folks can really struggle with this at first.
It may be a technique issue at first.
If this is the case, the issue then the movement should start to clear up pretty quickly as you run through the early exercises. The body will start to get some context of what you’re trying to do.
There are a few different ways get started.
You can start by adding some movements into your warm up such as this hip rocking matrix.
Even just the first part of the video (just rocking butt towards heels without spine rounding) can be great for the brain and body to start building some context for what you’re trying to achieve.
Cable Pull through
I’m a big fan of using this little number to ingrain the hip hinge movement and get it feeling a little more natural.
Rest assured, this may look like a cable sawing away at an area of the body that should never be sawed at, but it is extremely safe.
We’re up on our feet and developing the hip hinge with some load.
Having the weight behind on the cable stack, rather than hanging in front of us in our hands, reduces the sheer stress on the spine.
This means that if your technique is a little iffy to begin with, the likelihood of hurting yourself is greatly reduced.
Use this exercise to get used to the feeling of the back of the legs feeling “stretched” and “loaded” as you sit back into the movement.
It’s not unusual for people to “feel” their lower back with this initially.
This IS NOT something to just work through….none of these exercises should make it feel like your lower back is working.
The issue is cleared up most of the time by bracing the stomach muscles a little more.
Imagine one of your mates is about to give you a bit of a whack in the stomach. Nothing too hard. The way you just squeezed your stomach….that’s how you brace your stomach.
As a side note.
This exercise is not simply for learning the deadlift. It’s great for performing some high rep hip hinging (15 reps) sets after a deadlift session.
If that all feels ticketty-boo then lets shift on to holding some weight in front of us.
The way the kettlebell has all it’s mass in small ball in front of you, often really helps to groove the hip hinge pattern.
Make sure you keep the bell close to your body throughout the movement.
The further the bell moves from the body, the greater the sheer force put through the spine.
So keep it tight ya’ll.
Otherwise we’re still playing the same game…still looking for the back of the thighs to be loaded.
Make sure you have a slight bend in the knee as you sit back into the movement.
This will enable the hamstrings to load before producing the power for the lift..
Only a slight bend mind – once the knee’s are unlocked the rest of the movement is created by the hip hinge. We don’t want to turn this from a deadlift into a squat by bending the knees too much.
We’re going to take a slight side step now.
Some folks get the hip hinge really easily, for others it’s more challenging.
Please bear in mind.
There is no law that says you have to deadlift.
Not every exercise works for everybody and that is totally cool.
There are other ways to train the hip hinge.
The following exercises often feel better for folks who have struggled with the hip hinge whilst standing.
They are also great stand alone exercises. They are not a regression or a “baby” version – so don’t look your ego get in the way of providing yourself with a good workout.
The Hip Bridge
I really like this exercise.
It hugely recruits the glutes. Plus, as long as you keep the core tight and don’t arch through the lower back at the top of the movement, it is very back friendly.
I’ve used this with many clients you have had long running back issues and never had a problem.
They usually pull a funny face when they first see it demonstrated, but within a couple of sessions they’re usually full of confidence and thrusting like a good ‘un.
Moving swiftly on in our magical mystery tour of hip hinging exercises we come to the....
Yep, very similar to the Hip Bridge.
In fact, in terms of glute recruitment (that’s the butt muscles to you and me) EMG studies have shown that this is superior to the deadlift.
In the video I’m using a specialised Hip thrust machine. It’s a rather swanky bit of kit and absolutely not essential to performing this exercise.
Using a normal training bench is grand.
Just make sure it’s not all slidy before you use it.
You really don’t want to thrust a load of weight up into the air only to find your only support as skidded out from beneath you.
The final step as far as this post is concerned is to use a bar from an elevated position.
Getting all the way to the floor for a deadlift can be challenging from a mobility point of view.
There are so many parts that have to move and stabilise together that lifting from the floor with good form can be a challenge.
It’s also possible that your anatomy maybe working against you.
We all have hips that have been constructed in different ways. Different length bones, that connect at different angles.
It means that some people are fantastic at squatting, they can squat all day long, but a deadlift feels horrendous as the bones start to bump into each other.
The opposite is also true.
Can Deadlift til the cows come home but squatting is a no no.
The only people who HAVE to lift a bar from the floor are powerlifters and Olympic lifters, because that’s their sport.
For the rest of us, if lifting from an elevated bar feels best, then that’s grand.
You may find that the mobility develops and lifting from the floor feels great eventually.
But the following is still a great exercise that you’d benefit from utilising in your training cycle.
Mid shin rack pull
I’ve set up the bar in the frame area of our gym here.
If you have a power rack that is obviously a great way to set up.
At the worst, it usually works fine to simply get some weight plates and pop the bar on top.
Focus on building lots of tension in the upper body before the lift.
As ever, take this as a skill to be learned and honed. Get your technique before really loading the bar up and making it bend like the lifting demi god you are.
And that’s it.
Quick confession – a couple of years ago I was an absolute new year resolutions cynic.
Every January I’d see the gym fill up, new faces everywhere (usually turning a shade of beetroot).
Experience said that most of those of those face wouldn’t still be there at the end of the month. I’d join the regular gym goers in muttering under my breath about all these folks hogging the kit.
I’m pleased to say that I’ve seen the error of my ways.
I love the energy of new years resolutions now. The feeling of a fresh start.
I’ve made enough cock ups and false starts in areas of my life, that I can appreciate much better the hopes of someone who steps up in January to make something better for themselves.
The fact that so many people drop away from the gym is often down to improper advice given by the fitness industry.
We promise you sweat, high 5’s and mega results all in exchange for a direct debit.
And you want results.
It’s understandable that we feel impatient for the results. I start tutting if my wifi takes longer than 3 seconds to load a page. I don’t marvel at the wealth of information I have at my finger tips….I tutt, cos we want everything now.
And there lies the problem and the reason why many people will drop out of their training routine by the end of January.
There is a belief that we have to end every session covered in sweat, wondering if our heart is about to leap out of our ribcage and walking like Bambi.
Then spend the next few days so sore that we walk like John Wayne.
Let’s bust a myth
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SORE AFTER A WORKOUT
I know it feels kinda nice in a weird way….you know you’ve done something, it’s like you can feel your body getting fitter and stronger.
But soreness can actually limit your results and here’s why.
The real key to improved fitness and performance is CONSISTENCY and VOLUME.
Consistency basically comes down to keeping on keeping on.
For most of us, our long-term goals won’t be achieved in a month. That’s usually what makes them so worthwhile to achieve is that take some time and effort.
Any kind of dramatic weight loss in that time frame is usually done in an unsustainable way, which will often mean that when it comes time to stroll the beach in summer, you’ll be back to square one.
This is not ideal.
Achieving a long-term goal means that there will always be bumps in the road and unforeseen challenges.
We need to be consistent rather than perfect.
A quiet evening out turns into a marathon of shots, empty bottles and karaoke domination? Cool, make sure you had fun, then get back into the swing of things the next day.
Work gets chaotic, the kids need extra help with their homework and you have no idea how to fit in an hour at the gym? Then figure out what you do have time for…maybe a workout at home is the most viable option….just keep being consistent.
Volume – this is essentially how much training you do each week and is a key variable in developing performance and getting results.
When it comes to weight training it is how many reps you perform each week.
In running it is how many miles you run each week.
For someone wanting to develop their muscle mass, the total amount of reps performed per body part each week is one of the most important variables.
For a distance runner, the number of miles ran each week is key to how fast they can expect to go in competition.
So how does this affect our New Year resolutions.
We want all the results now.
So we push hard in our first few workouts.
If we go to the gym with a pal there’ll likely be some rivalry and competition.
In the short term this can often lead to a lot of soreness.
When we’re really sore the idea of training is a lot less enticing.
Over a period of a few weeks this can also result in not getting enough recovery. This leads to feeling like you’ve been hit by a speeding steam roller (if such a thing can exist), alongside other less than fun symptoms such as low libido and feeling like a miserable bastard.
It’s pretty clear to see that this can have an affect on our consistency as well as getting adequate weekly volume.
So what’s the solution
I’ve become a big fan of sub maximal training.
Especially for folks over 30 and/or with busy life commitments such as building a career and looking after a family.
Essentially it means not training to failure in the majority of your workouts.
Training is a stimulus for the body.
We do some exercise that is outside the scope of the body to do comfortably, it then adapts to be able to cope with the given stimulus.
The stimulus does not need to be maximal in order to adapt.
Imagine you did 10 reps of squat, for 3 sets as hard as you can manage. To keep the maths simple for me we’ll imagine the weight was 100kg.
So you’ve performed 30 reps and lifted a total of 3,000kg.
But tomorrow you’re unbelievably sore and just sitting on the toilet feels a herculean effort. You sure won’t be training your legs again this week, not with any appreciable stress at any rate.
What if you did those 3 sets at 75% of your effort (75kg).
You’ve performed 30 reps and lifted a total of 2,250kg.
But you feel ok the day after and a few days later you can repeat this workout.
Now for the week you have performed 6 sets, 60 reps and lifted 5,500kg. That’s 2,500kg more lifted for the whole week.
Extrapolate that over the period of a year, who do you think will end the year stronger and happier?
In the case of running.
Imagine you go out to run feeling fresh and excited. You do 5 miles and are bushed.
Or, you do 2 miles, but repeat this workout another two times that week for a total of six miles.
You have greater consistency and greater weekly mileage.
This is not about being easy or soft on yourself. Rather it’s about setting yourself up to be able to consistently build and develop yourself over the year.
So come next January you ca focus on other targets in resolutions rather than trying to get fit….again.
None of this is to say that we should never have an all out session, it’s simply that those types of sessions should be planned to allow for adequate recovery and for a time when you are in good condition and can perform well.
Going all out in the weeks following a month long sugar and/or alcohol marathon isn’t the best of moves.
If you’re new to training or returning after a long break, it would be a better use of your time to spend January developing your exercise techniques and building a base level of endurance before fully unleashing yourself on your workouts.