The deadlift is a complicated lift.
A successful deadlift should be measured as more than just getting the weight off the ground. It should look at the quality of the lift and most importantly walking away without being in pain, especially in your low back.
To deadlift you need to be able to hinge from your hips and engage multiple muscles simultaneously right from the bottom of your feet right up through your trunk and down into your fingers, not just ‘engage the core’.
Ideally you want to keep your chest up and not round your shoulders forward. Prior to moving any weight you want to ‘screw’ your feet into the ground creating a foundation to move from. Drive from your glutes, squeeze at the top of the lift and then in a controlled manner return the weight to the ground along the same line of pull.
Here’s a simple test to determine whether or not you’re ready to deadlift off the floor:
- Touch your toes without bending your knees in a slow controlled manner.
- Now do it again without bouncing at the bottom.
- How did that feel?
This mini assessment tells your trainer a lot about how your body moves, or more importantly, what isn’t moving the way it normally should.
Not being able to touch your toes when reaching down to the bar indicates that your hamstrings, QL, glutes, adductors, or your external oblique muscles are “stuck.” This stress on your backside prevents you from having a proper range of motion. As a result, the wrong muscles will compensate to complete the deadlift.
Performing any exercise with compromised form leads to:
- Consistent pulls and strains
- Buckling your back
- Overall back soreness
- Hitting a plateau
Does having “stuck” muscles mean you should completely avoid the deadlift? Absolutely not!
It simply means you and your trainer need to regress the exercise, work on some much needed mobility exercises, stability exercises and movement education. Along this pathway of learning you will often train parts of the deadlift using a variety of tools that might include:
- hex bars
- weight plates to elevate the position
- superbands to add stability
Not being able to do a traditional straight leg deadlift right now doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future. But you also need to evaluate the cost benefit analysis between what might be gained or lost if you do this lift too soon or too heavy.
So let’s take a closer look with dowel hinge movement education.
- Can you hinge at your hips or do you squat?
- Can you do one or both?
Understanding the difference between a squat and a dowel hinge is key to prevent having difficulties in lifting the bar throughout the full motion of a deadlift.
A personal trainer will provide cues such as “push your backside” or “extend your glutes outward as if a chair is out of distance.” This immediate feedback provides great help in feeling the difference between carrying out a squat versus a dowel hinge.
Continue to evaluate the quality of your movement by taking a video of your lift from the side view and the front view.
Answer these questions:
a. Am I squatting or hinging at the hips?
b. Is my back staying flat or am I rounding at my shoulders?
c. Is the bar/dumbbell/kettlebell lifting straight up or is it moving in an arch?
d. Does my back hurt after doing a deadlift?
Here is a checklist for pain free lifting:
1. Evaluate your position. The moment you’re too far back and try to lift the bar or kettlebell, all the weight is transferred right into that lower back, which we don’t want.
2. Switch up your stance. Something as simple as turning your feet out and going wider to almost a sumo stance can make a world of difference.
3. Elevate it one more time! By shortening the distance, this can quickly make the pain or “feeling in the low back” go away.