In a recent article, I talked about how important it was to squat every day. The squat is a fundamental movement pattern that everyone must maintain throughout the course of life. Unfortunately, many people associate squats with a heavy bar on their back, like a powerlifter, and don’t think it is necessary for them to perform.
The same goes for the deadlift; people think that the deadlift is an exercise where you are pulling a heavy barbell off the floor, grunting like a wild pig, straining with effort, and probably jerking your back out of place. While both exercises, the squat and the deadlift, are regularly performed with heavy loads on a barbell, it doesn’t have to be. In reality, the actual squat and deadlift movement pattern, with weight or no weight, is essential for everyday living.
The deadlift is a hip hinge movement, which requires your body to use almost every muscle in your body to perform, especially under load. Generally speaking, the hip hinge is any flexion/extension movement originating at the hips where there is a posterior weight shift. An example of a hip hinge is bending over to pick up something and standing upright with it. You can also think of shoveling snow and other manual labor-type movements as a hip hinge.
That being said, how many times have you or someone you know hurt themselves while performing this movement? This is because the body is not prepared to perform this movement for a variety of reasons. The glutes are not strong enough, the core lacks stability, the thoracic spine and hips lack mobility and you are not able to maintain a neutral spine under load. These are all characteristics that one must have in order to perform a proper hip hinge. Our everyday movement depends on it!
If you want to relate to the common athlete, think jumping or running. The hip muscles, back muscles, and core muscles must synergistically work together in order for these actions to happen with integrity. The deadlift is the perfect exercise to help improve the strength in those muscles and joint mobility during this movement pattern.
Again, keep in mind that the deadlift does not always have to be done with a barbell. In fact, most people are not ready to perform a proper barbell deadlift, and doing so too soon can cause injury. This is where proper progressions are needed.
Every client I work with will learn to perfect this movement pattern. First, we start with no load and a PVC pipe to help keep the spine in a neutral position. Notice in the picture with me holding the PVC pipe, I have a small bend in the knee, neutral spine, and my hips are pushing behind me as much as possible. This will help teach your body to maintain joint integrity and fire the correct muscles during the movement before you add load.
After you perfect this movement pattern, then we move onto the kettlebell deadlift. For most of us, the kettlebell deadlift will be all that we need. If you choose to lift heavy loads and want to move up to the barbell that is great but not needed. Instead, I like the double kettlebell deadlift if you want to pull some heavyweight. For one, it challenges each side of the body and helps balance asymmetries and there is also less risk of injury since the bells are under you instead of the barbell being in front of you, which requires a lot more joint mobility. Since many of us lack joint mobility due to sitting, injuries, and other factors, the kettlebell will be your best tool.
How To Perform The Kettlebell Deadlift
Stand with the feet approximately shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell in line with the heels of the feet. Begin standing upright in a neutral stance position with the ear, shoulder, hip, and knee in proper alignment with the arms resting comfortably in front.
Perform a hip hinge pattern by flexing at the hips while maintaining a neutral spine. Once the hands are near the weight, grasp the handle tightly to promote spinal stability. Engage the hamstrings by slightly raising the hips, so that the knees are vertical. Once the hamstrings feel taut, begin to extend the hips forward until the proper posture is achieved. Pull your shoulder blades down and back as if you were trying to put them in your back pocket. This will help activate the lats and other back muscles. Throughout the movement, make sure the head and neck are neutral and there is no rounding of the back.
When lowering the weights back to the floor, it should be performed the same way as when picking up the weight.
If you want more of a challenge after you master the kettlebell deadlift, try the double kettlebell deadlift shown below. Remember it’s not always about the weight that you pull, but about the form you use. Stay strong and healthy, my friends!
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