Exercise Spotlight: Deadlift

The deadlift is a full body compound movement that involves lifting a bar off the floor, then putting it back down. It is a bit more complex than this but that is the general premise. The are many variations of the deadlift that have a huge variety of benefits, but this spotlight will be covering the traditional deadlift since this is the one that I perform most often and therefore have more experience doing. We will be exploring the 3 main stages of the lift, as well as what stretches and exercises are best to prepare for the lift, and why it is considered a primary staple exercise in every training program.

Warming Up

It is important to remember that without a sufficient warm up, you will be setting yourself up for injury. If you don’t set up your spine properly, and don’t have enough tension around it you can seriously hurt yourself which is why breathing and bracing is very important and will be discussed soon. The hip joints also need to be prepared so that they can get into the correct positions to generate the explosiveness required to lift heavy weights off the ground.

Stretches

The main areas to focus on when stretching to recover from deadlifts are the hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, glutes, and upper back. I also recommend performing these stretches only when warmed up, as well as post workout.

The below stretch works really well for me to help stretch out my lower back and glutes, just ensure that you are breathing slowly and when you exhale, push your leg harder to increase the stretch. Also make sure that your shoulder of the arm that is not being used is maintaining contact with the ground.

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The stretch below is an upper back stretch that is useful for post workout recovery by reducing tension in your lats and rhomboids that may have accumulated during deadlifting.

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Mobility

I recommend performing static stretches post workout or when warmed up, but dynamic stretches can be performed any time and also help prepare for the movement.

Hanging from a bar, lifting your knees to 90 degrees and moving them from side to side helps warm up your core, hips, as well as decompresses your spine.

Eric Bugenhagen, a very intense and very strong lifter has an excellent video in which he goes through a general mobility drill that he uses to get ready for squats and deadlifts. It is important to note that he is an advocate of the ‘Bulgarian Lite’ method which involves performing the same exercise every day, at maximal intensity, so for him warming up and recovery are number 1 priority. I highly recommend his channel for intensity and motivation.

Mobility Drill

Breathing and Bracing

Breathing is very important because a stomach full of air provides a lot more support for your spine throughout the movement. Also you read that correctly, you need to be breathing into your stomach, also known as diaphragmatic breathing. If your chest is rising when you breath, you are doing it wrong. This provides 360 degrees of tension in your midsection which is ideal for your spine.

The steps to follow to ensure you are breathing correctly and in the right timing is to, when set up in the starting position, breath out until you have no air left, then take one big breath into your stomach, and as soon as you can’t take any more air lift the weight, while holding your breath. You can release the breath once you have locked out the weight at the top. You must do this for every repetition.

Starting Position

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Start with the bar directly over the centre of your foot. Next, reach straight down and grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Think slightly narrower than your bench press grip. Once you are holding onto the bar, lower your hips, which will cause your shins to go forward and meet the bar. When your shins touch the bar, push your knees out to touch your arms. This is the basic starting position, but we are still not ready to lift the weight. Before you begin make sure that you are engaging your entire back, so that it does not round over and place strain on your spine. Flex your triceps to force your arms to stay straight, if I was using over-under grip and not flexing my triceps, there is a risk of me using my biceps which could result in a tear. Engage your hips so that you are putting force through the bar. At this point, it should feel quite uncomfortable and if there is a heavy weight on the bar, it should already be bending without the weight lifting up. From here you are ready to lift the weight.

During the lift

You should be driving through your heels and trying to hinge your hips at the same time as extending your legs. Make sure that the bar maintains contact with yourself at all times! Yes, this may result in some shin scraps but it is maximising the amount you can lift and minimising risk of injury if you keep the weight as close to your centre of mass as possible. It is also important to control the weight on the way down, by lowering it the same way you lifted it, and resetting at the bottom. If you start every deadlift the exact same way, your brain will create neurological pathways which will make lifting easier.

Your set should look a little something like this (minus the failed row at the end):

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