Like Aragorn returning to Minas Tirith with his armies of dead men in tow, this popular category returns to smite the forces of darkness led by Sauron…I mean de-conditioning, pain, and/or dysfunction.
Why is the Deadlift a KoE? Simply put, it comprises a host of actions involved with one of the primary movement patterns. Bending forward at the middle of our body is something we are designed to do. Picking up dropped keys or a shiny quarter, lifting a cooler out of your pickup or emptying the dishwasher, there are a lot of actions we perform during the day which necessitate some measure of bending forward.
Can you pick up a quarter without bending down? Sure, but it’s a little more complicated and you’ll look a little funny. One of the major themes we use here at Infinity Fitness is that you should be able to perform, to the best of your ability, all of these major movemnt patterns. I’ll not go into them all here today but for reference they are: Push, Pull, Squat, Lunge, Twist, Bend, and gait or walking. Deadlifting reinforces the Bend pattern.
I think most people at one time or other have sat through a safety training video in our lives which discusses “Proper Lifting Technique”. We’ve all heard it, “Lift with your legs and not your back.” That’s good advice but it’s not the whole story.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is a deadlift?
A Deadlift is a specific weightlifting movement in which the lifter hinges forward from the middle and grasps a weight from the floor (usually) and returns to a stading posture. What does that look like though? What is good about it? What can be bad about it? Let’s just go through a few key pieces here.
1 – Donald Duck butt – you don’t really need to overemphasize this but being aware of, and maintaining your lumbar curvature is important. So, stick it out!
2 – Hinge from the Hips – This is really the key, if you can’t do this, you really shouldn’t deadlift. From a standing position, take your fingers and poke yourself in the area of your hip right above where your front pockets would be and below where your belt would go. As you bend forward, if you are in the right motion, your fingers will get covered up. If they don’t, you are likely bending at the spine and not through the hip joint.
3 – Knees unlocked is a good place to start – There is a technique where you deadlift with straight legs, and as you get really good you can also bend your knees quite far in order to get the bar/weight to the ground. However, for a beginner, maintaining a ‘soft’ knee throughout is just fine. An unlocked knee makes for a fully active leg all the way up and down the chain. That’s good for stability in all things.
4 – Glutes, Glutes, and more Glutes – As you rise with the weight, your hamstring muscles will want to partake naturally. It’s just what they do. However, many people need greater activation of, and strength in, their glutes. So, when coming back to the top, think about clenching those cheeks hard.
So, what benefits does this King bestow upon you, it’s loyal subjects? Let’s start at the top and work our way down. Postural training at the start is always a good thing to practice. Head up, shoulders back and down, our weight is evenly distributed and we are ready to move.
Moving through the hips and maintaining the neutral curve of the spine maintains good motion of the hip joint and a healthy joint is a happy one. Also, the lumbar don’t really enjoy flexing forward so much and they will be perfectly happy to stay home where they are. This combination of motion and stabilization at the same time is an important neuromuscular skill that promotes safe movement.
The hamstrings and glutes both learn when to relax and lengthen and also when to tighten and shorten. Sitting a lot doesn’t do this, your glutes become so relaxed that they can have difficulty activating when they are supposed to, and the hamstrings learn to be short and tight when you aren’t active. This also is not useful for activity and stabiliy.
The pattern of hingeing and straightening gets them both moving in their correct places in time. In fact, if you find you have tight hammy’s, deadlifting is a fantastic way to actively stretch them out rather than the more passive method of stretching them.
In the fully engaged and hinged forward position, there is great strain pulling the chest, the gut, the head downward. Using the muscles all along the spine from tail to head you are activiely resisting this gravitational pull further strengthening your back from future strain.
Grip strength is also improved. As you begin lifting heavier and harder, your hands and forearms will naturally become stronger as well. In some ways, grip strength is the real limiter of how much a person can deadlift. If you can hold it, you shouldn’t try to lift it.
Deadlifting is a superior lift which can be done with a bar, with a kettlebell, or with dumbbells. It’s even a good movement without weight at all. Performing it safely is important but by sticking to a few key points and avoiding too much weight too soon, it can be a real benefit to your body.
You may not be able to vanquish your foes with an honor bound army of the dead behind you, but you can get your behind vanquished with a good honest Deadlift!