There are few exercises that just make me happy all of the time, but, I love deadlifts. I love doing deadlifts, I love seeing deadlifts and I love teaching deadlifts. For creating hip to spine awareness there are few exercises that measure up to its simplicity.
Over the years I have been taught how to deadlift by many different people, watched hundreds of videos and obsessed about how to teach it better. It always bugged me that it is punished for being a ‘dangerous’ exercise by many, when in reality it is usually their fault due to lack of education and correct execution.
Some reasons why you should avoid deadlifting:
People pick up bad movement habits all of the time. If you or your athletes have issues like those listed below, it doesn’t matter how good someone’s technique genuinely is, you need to get them addressed before you can get your deadlift gains!
1. You have an upslip or downslip of your pelvis
This will mean that you will drive through one leg more than the other, you may only feel one hamstring working properly and if you continue to do this over time without fixing it, you will seriously aggravate your lower back most likely on one side. Lateral chain stretches can make a difference but if in doubt, visit a physiotherapist.
2. You have an excessive anterior pelvic tilt
This can come from a lot of different reasons: tight hip flexors, sitting for long periods, lazy abs, lack of proper core training, etc. This can cause constant compression on your lumbar spine, by “tightening” it even further with the deadlift, (thinking your protecting it) you can actually make the issue worse; adding load to a hyperextended spine is NEVER a good idea.
3.Your internal or external rotation in one hip is severely different to the other
Keeping your hips as balanced as possible is extremely important, most people are going to have a slightly more dominant side which is fine but if it is starting to have an effect on how muscles feel and perform then it can really hinder your ability to deadlift correctly.
4. You have a core issue
If you are lacking in anti rotational strength then it will be easy for you to be pulled out of position when under a heavy load. That is why devoting time to separate core work as often as possible is so important: you are only as strong as you core allows you to be.
Having a better idea of how your own body works and knowledge of the areas that you personally need to work on goes a long way when choosing exercises for yourself. For a trainer or coach, it is paramount that you are able to spot these things – if you can’t then a movement and mobility course is something that you should definitely invest in, something like FMS or FRC would be a great thing to look for if any courses are near you.
So all of the boring stuff out of the way, how do we actually start to train for a better deadlift?
At one rep max time when you need to be able to grind out a lift for longer than normal, you need your core to be strong enough. If your core gives out, you won’t make the lift. If your spine feels under threat it will shut you off and hopefully make you drop the weight – the alternative is you’re pulled out of position during the lift, causing an injury.
Some of you reading this will switch off now, “Oh, it’s another one of THOSE articles that yap on about core strength” – but I want to express how important it is to relate the feeling of tension to your lifting ability, otherwise yes, just holding planks is genuinely useless. To connect everything in your body together you need to teach it how to move as one unit, the only way to do that is knowing how to create tension through correct positions.
When you are doing your standard elbow plank what you should be aiming to do is create tension through your body by taking a breath in and squeezing everything together as if you were bracing to do a one rep max attempt. Three sets of ten seconds like that is far more beneficial than holding that plank position for minutes at a time – less plank, more gains? Yes please.
After you have the fundamentals of tension down, then you want to relate it to your deadlift position. Try going in to a deadlift position without a bar and see if are aware of your hamstrings in that position. Next, stand back up straight and recreate the plank tension. Keep this tension and lower into your deadlift position again – you should feel more tension in your hamstrings and it should be challenging to even hold that position.
If you can teach yourself or a client the correct position through a feeling, you shouldn’t even need to use the sentence “keep your back straight”, they will just know.
Once you are able to create tension without weight, then the deadlift itself can become your core exercise!
Changing the dynamics of the exercise goes a long way to your overall program. People just think that adding kilos makes you stronger, but also try experimenting with the tempo of your lifts, adding pauses, slower negatives, get creative as it’s all beneficial!