Secrets To Mastering the Deadlift: Part 1

By Molly Galbraith

No matter what your training goals are, whether you're interested in losing body fat, gaining muscle, getting stronger, or being more athletic, deadlifts in some form should absolutely be a part of your regimen.

Keep in mind that there are dozens of variations of deadlifts, and it's important to master the basics of the movement before you try a more advanced variation.

The most important thing to remember when performing a deadlift (DL), which is a hip hinge movement, is that form is king. That said, your form might not look exactly like someone else's and that's OK.  As long as you follow a few basic  principles, you should be good to go.

Also, because deadlifts are such a complex movement, most people can't jump straight into deadlifting from the floor on Day 1.

We generally subscribe to the following progression of hinge movements:

Broomstick Romanian Deadlift → Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift → Kettlebell Deadlift → Trap Bar Deadlift → Barbell Deadlift

That is, someone must master a Broomstick Romanian Deadlift (RDL) before they can add a kettlebell. Then they must master the movement with a kettlebell before they can do a Kettlebell DL from the ground, and so on.

Today's video shows you the first three movement variations in the hinge family: the Broomstick RDL, Kettlebell RDL, and Kettlebell DL.

Here are some things to keep in mind when performing your hinge movements:

1.  Keep your core braced and ribs down.

Before you perform a hinge movement, it's important to make sure that your ribs are down, and that your core is braced circumferentially (360 degrees). Generally, the easiest way to do this is to take a deep breath in, blow your air out all the way and get your ribs down, and then take another breath in to fill back up with air before your perform the movement.

2. Push your hips back.

Its crucial to remember that a deadlift is not a "bending at the waist" motion, but rather a "hinging at the hip" motion. You should be pushing your butt back and tilting your torso forward from the hips in a deadlift. One easy way to cue this or to double-check yourself is to stand approximately six inches away from a wall and push your butt back in a hinge motion until your butt hits the wall.

3.  Keep your chin tucked.

Many people have a tendency to look up and hyperextend their neck throughout their deadlift. Not only does this prevent you from pushing back into your hips as deeply as you could, but it encourages your lumbar spine to hyperextend as well. Keeping your chin lightly tucked and your neck neutral makes it easier to push back into your hips deeply and maintain a neutral spine.  Speaking of that...

4. Maintain a neutral spine.

In the video above, I demonstrate doing an RDL with a broomstick to ensure that my spine stays in a neutral position. With a bit of practice, you should no longer need the broomstick, and simply keeping your ribs down, and keeping your chin tucked will encourage this neutral spine position.

5. Bend your knees slightly.

When it comes to deadlifting, people have two tendencies — they either lock their knees completely out and keep them super straight, or they squat down way too much and turn their deadlift into a squat. The best way that I've found to explain the squat and deadlift is this: the squat is a knee bend with a little hip hinge, and the deadlift is a hip hinge with a little knee bend.

In general, a good way to approach the deadlift is to push back into your hips until you feel your hamstrings "catch" and then bend your knees as you continue pushing back into your hips until you hands can grab the kettlebell or barbell.  Of course, if you're hypermobile, this likely won't work as your hamstrings won't feel like they "catch." Just make sure that your knees are slightly bent and most of the bend comes from your hips.

6. Keep your weight on your heels.

Yes, your entire foot should be firmly planted on the ground, but shifting your weight back onto your heels a little bit allows most people to recruit their glutes and hamstrings more effectively and encourages you to "pull back" on the weight to pick it up instead of simply "picking it up."

If you've never performed a deadlift before, getting started with an exercise like a Broomstick RDL is a fantastic idea to teach you the movement before adding weight and moving on to a Kettlebell RDL.  If you're a more seasoned deadlifter, use the techniques tips above to ensure that you're nailing your form so that you can stay healthy as you're lifting progressively heavier weights.

Please note that there are other important cues and form tips to keep in mind while deadlifting, and we didn't forget them!  We cover those in Part 2 of this series.

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About the author:  Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, a global movement of 800,000+ folks passionate about women’s health, fitness, and empowerment. She’s also the creator of the The Girls Gone Strong Academy, home of the world’s top certifications for health and fitness pros who want to become a Certified Pre-& Postnatal Coach or a Certified Women’s Coaching Specialist.   The GGS Academy is revolutionizing women’s health and fitness by tackling critical (and often overlooked) topics like body image struggles, disordered eating, menopause, amenorrhea and menstrual cycle struggles, PCOS, endometriosis, osteoporosis, pre- and postnatal exercise, incontinence, diastasis recti, pelvic organ prolapse, postpartum recovery, and much more.   Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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