When the word deadlift comes to mind, we may think of heavy weights, chalked up hands, strained faces, and high fives. The deadlift is an exercise for only the veteran gym-goer or exercise enthusiast… right? What about the soccer-dad picking up cones after his daughters practice or the grandma reaching for her bag of potting mix in the garage? Moving a couch, vacuuming, or lifting a grocery bag are real world situations which present terrific opportunities for EVERYONE to learn how to deadlift.
A proper deadlift will protect your back and can make you more efficient. You see, the deadlift is just a name for a movement that aligns your joints – from ankle to hip to wrist – in optimal positions for lifting an object in front of you. Think for a second how many times a day you reach for something on the floor. Maybe once? Twice? Dozens of times? One bad lift could cost you days of pain, or worse; a trip to your Doctor or Physical Therapist.
Often, the deadlift is considered a back exercise. While this exercise does indirectly target muscles in your back, when performed properly it’s primarily a hip and knee exercise. The aim is to strengthen the famous glutes (butt), quads (front of the thigh), and hamstrings (back of thigh). The band of muscles around our midsection, aptly named “the core,” also benefit from a well-executed deadlift. It’s a movement that develops synergy of important muscle groups rather than an isolated exercise to train one muscle.
Let’s think of muscles as instruments in an orchestra and our brain is the conductor. A properly trained conductor is able to create a well-organized program which is activated smoothly in order. A poorly trained conductor cannot efficiently control the group; leading to jumbled, erratic results. Therefore it is important to train our brains to properly understand and control this movement. Let’s learn to lift like Beethoven.
How do you deadlift?
Whether you’re recovering from a low back injury, trying to improve your mile time, or contemplating exercises for a brand new routine, there’s a version of the deadlift that’s safe for you. There are many ways to deadlift, but the best approach is consult with a Physical Therapist or experienced trainer who can break down the movement and lend an eye to perfect form. However, let’s review one of the simpler variations that can help you get started.
The Romanian Deadlift
To begin, let’s use a broom-stick or light bar. Eventually resistance can be used in the form of a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell.
1. Grasp the stick in an overhand grip, arms fully extended, back straight and hips pushed forward
2. Artificially create tension through your core – picture someone poking your abdomen; Tighttn the muscles but do not “suck in.” It is important to maintain this tension throughout the exercise
3. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backwards – while maintaining a neutral spine; this is called a “hip hinge”
4. As your upper body moves forward, your bottom moves backwards – become comfortable keeping your back straight while inclining your torso
5. Keep the stick close to your thighs – it should slide down your thigh to just above or below your knees depending on your hamstring tightness
6. Prevent your knees from moving forward – think “rotating about the knees” rather than moving your knees forward
7. Lower stick to about knee level – then squeeze your buttock and reverse the movement, being sure to keep the stick as close to your body as possible
8. Return to the upright posturing – in step one, insure your hips are fully forward without increasing the curve in your lower back
As you become more proficient in the Romanian Deadlift, these steps should blend together into a smooth, coordinated movement. Just like any version of the deadlift, this movement requires practice. There are numerous deadlift patterns with a variety of more specific applications. Once you’ve mastered the Romanian style you may decide to progress to a conventional, sumo, single-leg, single-arm, or band-resisted styles. The deadlift is a staple of any well rounded exercise routine. Add them to your current regimen or advance your style for a continued challenge!
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- Berglund, Lars, et al. “Which Patients With Low Back Pain Benefit From Deadlift Training?.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.7 (2015): 1803-1811.