Jon Pal Sigmarsson once said “"There is no reason to be alive if you can't do deadlift."
Probably One of the most important exercises in the strength athletes arsenal and definitely my favourite go to exercise both for strength and power gains and also as a rehab exercise particularly if I’m suffering from back pain.
It recruits most of the muscles in the body, particularly the posterior chain, but also the arms and chest as well as the shoulder girdle and traps.
One of the problems with it though in relative terms the easiest is the setup, many of the “New trainers” are not taught the deadlift at all and in turn many that try it without a smattering of technical ability end up hurting themselves.
The deadlift is not exactly a 1 size fits all set up as we all are built differently, starting from the floor up, our shins and thigh lengths, our pelvis shape and hip joints, the length of our backs in comparison to our legs, even our arm length and variations on height all change the basic biomechanics.
Whilst trying to Improve my own deadlift for strongman (heavier weights and more reps) I did a lot of reading on the subject and looked at lots of videos of the “Big lifters”, The strongman community is tight knit and as such I also chatted with some of the best deadlifters in the world including the current world record (strongman) deadlift holder “Eddie hall” and from all of this there are a few key points that run through all the lifters techniques, what ever and how ever the lifters themselves describe them.
Eddie hall describes his technique like a leg press and goes very deep into the movement (he has great ankle ROM and isn’t too tall), Terry Hollands rolls the bar towards him to create momentum (Eddie does this slightly too), Big Loz Shahalei does a down up down motion to activate the glutes and hamstring.
The one key thing with all is that their shins are as near vertical as they lift, causing a nice vertical bar travel, all the lifters also have great gluteal involvement from the point of lift (where the weights actually break the ground) and the bar is as close to the shins as possible.
How do I start/teach the deadlift certainly from a beginners/intermediate point starts with foot position. If you jump up and down and land naturally this gives you a great solid and natural feel to the start position (it may vary slightly depending on comfort ROM etc). Then shuffling towards the bar, you should position your feet if you where wearing trainers with the bow directly under the bar and your shin about 1” to 2” away from the bar, hinge down to place your hands on the bar (to hinge properly see blog post “how to hinge”), I place my hands just to the outside of my legs, with a double overhand grip (for strongman as you can use lifting straps as it gets heavier and is safer on the biceps) and my thumbs rubbing up the outside of my leg as this allows me to keep the bar as close to my shins as possible without grazing the bar up them. The perfect starting position.
Next is the lift phase, I prefer the up down up method to really engage my glutes and start my hip moving forward as the prime mover. Squeeze the glutes as hard as possible and push the hips forward, shins vertical, and continue up to a standing position, making sure the hips are fully engaged at the top.
So, the order of muscle engagement should be glutes, hamstrings, lower back moving as smoothly as possible.
At the top of the movement if done properly should have been a steady pain free movement, in many cases the cause of injury and back pain is the decent of the bar as if the movement isn’t done properly the bar moves away from the body several times causing increased pressure on the vertebrae
To start the decent you must begin by the butt moving backwards (reverse hinge) keeping the bar as close to the body and the shins vertical, this is important if you end up squatting down with the knees popping forward as the bar comes over the knees you massively increase the pressure on the spine and this is the main point of damage in the deadlift. Once its past this point a sort of controlled drop to the floor is best (not the CrossFit style of dropping the bar uncontrolled).
In Powerlifting you only need to lift the bar once and put it back down, this also happens in some strongman comps, but is also lifted for reps, if that is the case a bounce movement is not allowed however in training there can be the case for continued reps, In my opinion at heavier weights this shouldn’t happen as the lift is designed to be from a “Dead” stop hence the name, but for bodybuilding particularly a “time under tension” style of movement is ok but should be done slowly and controlled with no bounce and at a light enough weight not to break form.
That is how I look at the deadlift, though there are variations stiff legged, Romanian, sumo, snatch grip etc and training variations (strongman had 14” and 18” in comps) deficits, 14” 18” even 21” and rack pulls, these are all to be included in another blog looking also as assistance exercises and how to safely increase your deadlift
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