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PREPARING, EXECUTING, AND SMASHING THE DEADLIFT!

By Kalyanasundaram Divya
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Bending over to pick things up or put them down happens pretty damn frequently throughout our day. But what if there was a way to do it without having aching joints or a tight back the next day? Ah, well then you have come to the right place. Today, I’m talking about deadlifting. You might be thinking that any regular old joe knows how to pick things up off the floor, sorry to burst your bubble here. It is coined that any activity that requires a basic hip hinge movement pattern can be seen as a deadlift. The ‘big 3’ lifts can be seen as very intimidating to learn, seeing as they have some complexities to avoid injury and maximize performance. But just with any type of training, if proper technique is maintained, the potential dangers decrease more than twofold.

LAT PULL DOWNS AND CHIN-UPS ARE NOT ENOUGH
Here are just some of the real benefits from adding deadlifts into your training regime:

  • Extreme increase in muscle mass, utilizes large muscle groups of the body with maximal force output
  • Improves posture and stability
  • Combats dreaded “glute amnesia” and the harmful effects of sitting
  • Assists aerobic and anaerobic threshold capacity
  • Gives you a nice butt and hamstrings (ahem, ladies…it is beach season)

Many variations to accommodate all ability levels, goals, or body types
On top of those, my favorite is the involvement of the entire posterior chain. Strengthening the hamstrings, glutes, lumbar erectors, and adductor magnus can upgrade your functionality as human or high performance athlete.

Although the deadlift looks simple in context, have respect for its technicalities as it can be brutally difficult and complicated if executed without optimizing movement pattern. Because of that reason, it has been seen as dangerous to a great amount of the general public and even for athletes. Let it be known; any exercise performed incorrectly or that are far beyond current experience levels have a high risk of resulting in injury. That logic can pertain to squats, overhead pressing, bicep curls, mobility work, wall slides, planks…you see my point? Just because a movement can be seemingly dangerous does not mean it should be eliminated from training, if you are willing to dedicate time and effort into polishing your execution! Let me share some examples t further clarify my point;

  • Grabbing groceries off of your kitchen floor…deadlift
  • Picking your baby up to change their poopie diaper…deadlift
  • Dropped your keys…deadlift
  • Eddie Hall pulling 1,102.31lbs off the floor…still a deadlift (just a world record, no big deal)
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    No matter what avenue you find yourself walking toward, the main principle will always remain the same; the hip hinge. If you haven’t read over my article, or someone else’s (don’t worry, I’d only be a little offended) on executing a proper hinge…open a new tab and browse that over first. There is no sense placing a load in your hands until you master body awareness and positioning. THAT is the reason why many people injure themselves, NOT because of the lift itself. I’ll cut this rant short… So anyway, there are many types of way to classify deadlifting; sumo, trap bar, Romanian, kettlebell, suitcase, and so on, but today I will be focusing on the conventional deadlift. Although this is one of the most popular and recognized forms, it also is deemed the most advanced variation because of the shear load placed on the spine, and anterior placement of load. On top of that, the trainee MUST have adequate thoracic spine, ankle, hip, and shoulder mobility, which many people truly lack, even professional athletes. Mobility restrictions can be avoided by doing block pulls (elevating the bar to a higher position up the shin/leg, requiring less distance to pull), or rack pulls (the same general concept, but personally not my favorite).
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I do not expect this variation to be the first one you tackle, but once the hinge and “easier” styles are nailed, it’s definitely worth a go to see if it is right for your needs. Once you have sharpened your axe enough where you are ready to tackle this beast, congratulations, let’s get started!

THE SET-UP
In list form, here is a rundown of your pre-lift checklist in order to safely and effectively position yourself over the bar:

  1. Take a narrow stance with your feet within shoulder width (stacked joints = happy joints)
  2. Position your toes either forward or about 15º outward, whichever is comfortable
  3. Take a sharp inhale to lock your ribs down, and tuck your belly button toward your chin, posteriorly tilting your pelvis to activate your glutes, hamstrings, and avoid lumbar stress
  4. Push your butt back into a hinge(imagine trying to tap the wall), resulting in your shoulders higher than your hips, and your hips higher than your knees, while allowing your hands to travel downward to the bar
  5. Grip the bar 2” in front of your shins, allowing the insides of your arm lightly make contact with the outside of your legs, this increases linear force production.
  6. Bring your center of weight to shift onto your heels, allowing you to lock in your posterior chain (which can be called our ‘drive train’ of the lift) for work
  7. Take the ‘slack’ out of the bar; pull your chest tall and imagine bending the bar to activate your lats, pack your shoulder blades in, and activate your upper back

THE EXECUTION
Once you’ve done all that, great! Those are the steps necessary to get you into position before the bar even moves from the ground an inch. Continuing as an ongoing list, the upward phase of the list will begin where the set-up left off.

  1. Imagine you are on a leg press machine, forced to push the load away from you…Except here we focus on pushing the earth away from our body
  2. Push through your heels while keeping the bar traveling upward along your shins and quads
  3. During the bar movement, focus on driving your hips forward, almost like humping the bar to maintain posterior chain power.
  4. Keep your chest forward and over the bar and tension in your lats while pushing the floor away, almost trying to squeeze a peanut in between your scapulae; this helps create a more vertical bar path and effective lockout position
  5. Do not fully extend/lock your knees out until your hips are fully extended (the goal is to be synchronized)
  6. As you come to hip extension, your arms remain extended with your shoulders packed back, ribs locked down, and your butt eating your shorts.
  7. To return to the floor, push your hips back and allow the bar to travel the same path as it did on the way up à this is to optimize both safety and efficiency
  8. A few points are to even use this set up for your warm-up sets. Just like they say, you practice like you play, so there is no sense in flying through warm-ups without focus and intention to have increased rates of performance. Try to stick to 3-5 reps each set during deadlifting sessions; beyond that range we usually begin to get sloppy due to lack of tension and fatigue. You do not want to end a training session with a tweaked low back because you felt like He-Man on your 12th rep of a heavy ass set, train smart people. Start with light loads, increasing explosiveness and intensity first and then add weight as progression, rather than high reps.

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And there you have it! These are more than enough steps to get you rolling on adding proper deadlifts into your programming. I’m a big fan of using video feedback, especially if you don’t have a coach to watch you practice your hip hinge progressions from bodyweight all the way to loaded; it’s the hard evidence of how you move, regardless of how ‘right’ the wrong way might feel. I hope this article extinguished any false beliefs you had prior to reading, or even gave you some added tips to improve what you already do. Come back next week where continue this segment with the Sumo Deadlift and Trap Bar Deadlift; how to find the best style for you!

  • Link to Orca 28 Day Challenge!! https://orcaempirefitness.wufoo.com/forms/qv4q61x18miu0b/
  • Link to the Video!! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_HJmj2p6ps