Today we’re looking at the DEADLIFTING… (because it deserves BIG LETTERS)
ANYONE who has a gym membership (or a concrete floor) should be doing some form of deadlifting. While the squat is known as the “king of lifts”, the deadlift offers so much more in its simplicity. There’s limited injury risk for those with mobility issues and limited equipment needed. Obviously, if you have any injuries or health issues, you should check with your doctor/physician first and they will be able to give you a suitable variation.
The 4 deadlift variations that will add 10 years your body’s health (bone density, core stability, general stability, better posture, better muscle tone… confidence, well being, attractiveness, success, fashion sense [no skinny jeans with deadlift butt], mental arithmetic [from counting plates], it’s everything… AND MORE)
1. Trap Bar Deadlifts
This is your FIRST stop for deadlifting. If you have mobility issues, if your have any back problems (and have been cleared by your doctor), this is where you start! The bar is a hexagonal shape which allows you step inside and lift from within, instead of having the bar in front of you. This reduces the loading on the lower back AND removes much of the technical aspect of deadlifting. Also, the Trap Bar allows you to use a neutral grip, reduces the strain on your shoulders and upper back.
To begin, reach down to the bar by sitting the hips back. Bend the knees a little if you need, as this will allow you to keep your torso more upright (If you are having trouble with mobility, start with the bar raised so that you’re not having to reach down as far to start the lift). Take a breath deep into your stomach (you shoulde feel your tummy expanding, not your chest) and hold it. Tuck your chin, look straight ahead, and start driving up with your legs. As the bar travels past your knees, remember to drive your hips forward by squeezing your glutes (but DON’T overdo it and end up extended in your lower back). You want to finish standing up straight with your hips underneath you and your glutes engaged.
2. Conventional Deadlifts
This is the next level of difficulty in your journey towards a happy & healthy body. The difficulty here is two-fold. The bar is in front of you, so the lift becomes more technical in nature and you’ll have to work on maintaining a tight upper back and mid section. Also, your grip will now be either prone (both palms facing you) or alternate (one hand facing you, one hand facing away). Keep your head in a neutral position, your shoulders down and back, and keep your shins as vertical as possible.
Set up with the bar about an inch from your shins. Take a deep breath and keep your mid-section tight before you start the lift, and try to keep your weight back towards your heels a little. Sit your hips back and reach down to grab the bar. Trying to keep your torso upright is ok, but DON’T just extend at the neck and look upwards. Instead, think: tuck my chin, drive shoulders down and back, and keep my chest proud. Start the lift by driving hard with the legs and trying to maintain your back angle (i.e. make sure the bar is moving with your legs, don’t just drive your hips back). As the bar passes the knees drive hard with the hips and try to keep your chest up. Again, you want to finish standing up straight with your hips underneath you and your glutes engaged.
3. Romanian Deadlifts
The ultimate posterior chain builder, RDL’s (as they’re known) will strengthen your hamstrings, glutes and lower back/core. Make sure you start with a light weight and look to do 12-15 reps per set (stop as soon as you feel your form start to deteriorate).
Start and finish the movement with a slight bend at the knees. Shift your hips back and lean over to grab the bar. The weight should stay as close to your legs as possible and your back should be completely neutral (no rounding). This lift is particularly difficult to initiate off the floor, so you will see many people starting with the bar in a rack and walking it out. DON’T DO THIS. In 99% of cases, people won’t be able to set themselves properly for the lift if they have been walking backwards with a heavy barbell! To break the bar from the floor, sit back slightly further, bend slightly more at the knee, and begin the lift by pushing your legs into the floor and aggressively driving your hips forward. You can correct your position at the top of the first rep, and then continue the rest of the set with a little less bend at the knees.
4. Single Leg Deadlifts
If you have made it this far, you deserve something wonderful! Enter SLDL’s.
These are very difficult and should be done with just the bar in the beginning. If you’re having trouble balancing, you can rest your back foot on a bench/plyo box. The key things to remember are: keeping tight, stay symmetric (don’t let the bar turn/lean to one side), and keep your head neutral. This will build athleticism, strength, power, dexterity, and leave you sore in muscles that you didn’t know you had (this won’t last long, and you’ll be left with legs that feel incredible).
We generally advise thinking of this as a single leg Romanian deadlift, as the cuing is better. Make sure you sit your hips back and don’t just lean forward to grab the bar, and let your hips counterbalance the weight, not the back leg. This means that you can keep tension in both legs, and should feel it in the glutes and hamstrings of the working leg.
These should be treated as primary lifts on a trip to the gym, particularly 1-3. As you become more proficient in your deadlifting, you can look to focus on one particular variant and use others (like the above, or block pulls, snatch grip deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, deficit pulls, etc.) as assistant work.
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