Few exercises in the gym are as effective at building strength, power, and long-term health as a properly done deadlift. This is also the exercise that is most effective at being
overlooked, skipped, or misunderstood
The name is funny and the movement seems simple, yet many people get injured doing this exercise, and for that reason, it is often missing from training regimens.
If you're interested in reading past the first paragraph, I'd be willing to bet that you've been injured doing this motion before, and you are looking for a solution to not have that happen again. Let's review how you got yourself into a blog about deadlifting.
You may have been having a great workout, feeling good, and lifting well. When you're feeling good, it's easy to forget that you have limits, and that you need to stay focused on what you're doing. You had gone up in weight over several rounds to get to a heavy lift that you think you've got. You set up, lift the bar, and feel a pain that is familiar, reminding you why you normally are cautious with deadlifts. The bar thuds down to the ground as you try to not follow it. You walk away, which kind of helps, but you know that something is off and that you will be dealing with this for the rest of the week.....Then you remember you still need to rack your weights!
This story comes into our office a few times every month.
We help people recover from this, and we get them back to sitting comfortably, standing up without hesitation, and getting back on the bar.
This blog won't be about the recovery process since each person has an individual journey. Instead, we will talk about common flaws we see, and training cues we find to be helpful for many people.
Let's stop this from being an injury before it even happens!
When you're feeling good and working toward a good deadlift motion, we like to use something light like a PVC pipe or a swiffer mop. We want to learn the motion well before we start adding load.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with deadlifts is they work toward as heavy as they can, and not as heavy as they can well.
Doing the lift well will help you get way further than trying to do the lift heavy.
You can't out lift a bad pattern.
If your fundamentals aren't good, then your risk of injury is high.
Start at the top by standing tall and holding the PVC with your palms facing back and your thumbs straight out to the sides of your thighs. This is a good grip width to start with for many.
To start your movement, press your hips back while sliding the PVC down your thighs until you get right above your knees. Stop above your knees and return to upright, squeezing your butt muscles when you are fully upright. You should feel tension in the back of your thighs (in your hamstrings) throughout this motion. If you don't feel tension in the back of your thighs, and if your feel pain in your back, this tells us that you are flexing your back, and not hinging at your hips.
This hip hinge is a critical portion of the movement that can make or break how you feel. Hip hinging means that your trunk is moving forward by pivoting at your hips, and not by bending forward with your back. If you hinge with your hips, then your strong glutes and hamstrings control and move the load. If you bend forward at your back, then the smaller back muscles are trying to control and move the load, and eventually, that may lead to an injury.
If your interested in an excellent drill to practice hip hinging with your PVC, then try this one. It will give you the sensation of hamstring tension which we want to replicate during the deadlift. We want to do this for volume as we are building repetition and good patterning without any load or resistance.
After practicing this hip hinge drill, go back to the deadlift motion where you are sliding the PVC down your thighs to just above your knees. Work on this pattern until you can do it pain-free.
When you've got this motion down, then you are ready to start moving below your knees. You will still start with the same motion of hinging forward until the PVC is above your knees, then you will start bending your knees so you can keep the PVC along your shins, only going to mid shin. This transition of the movement is where many people mess up.
If we think about this movement in segments, you are hinging until you get to your knees, then squatting to get lower toward the ground. You are then coming up from the squat until the PVC gets to your knees, and then you are extending your hip hinge to return to upright.
The bar should stay along your legs throughout the movement as you are learning.
If you've got this motion down and pain-free, then you are ready to start adding load. If you can't do this motion entirely pain-free, then only work on the motion that you can do pain-free. You can start adding resistance in a limited range, which will help you get stronger and be able to get into a deeper position.
Having a guide along this journey is as important as having a trail map on the mountain. While you have to take each step to get to the destination, having good information helps you avoid setbacks and keeps you on the trail.
Deadlifts are a great exercise all year long and for lifelong activity. Not only is it a great way to learn to move well and prevent a back injury from occurring, but also gives strength and stability to your hips and knees, which makes your back even more resilient to injury.
No matter how strong your muscles in the front of your legs are, they are always stronger when they have a powerful counterforce to help them stabilize. The hamstrings and glutes serve that role, and the deadlift is the king of training these powerful muscles.
If you're serious about taking care of your back and excelling in your sport, then you've got to have deadlifts in your program. These tips will help you get started, but having a guide to avoid any missteps is the most valuable tool you can keep in your pack.