When someone asks me what my favorite exercise is for X, 9 times out of 10 I can answer with a deadlift variation. The deadlift is a fundamental human movement that is also known as the hip hinge. This is the holy grail of strength and power….when you do them correctly of course, but we’ll get into that in a minute. So, want to know the best exercise for grip strength? Deadlifts. Core Strength? Deadlifts. Fat Loss? Deadlifts. Now this is obviously an over simplification. With all of these training goals you need other exercises to help assist the deadlift in whatever you are trying to accomplish, but you get the point. Now, when I tell you deadlift I’m sure two things that come to mind are powerlifting and bad backs. In the general public, the hip hinge will fall into one of these two categories, or both. Well, done right this wonderful movement doesn’t have to be done with 500lbs resulting in compressed discs. Let’s look at a couple of variations, then you can choose which hip hinge is right for you.
Of course there is the conventional deadlift done with a barbell. Even though this might be the funnest one to do it’s also the easiest one to screw up…..and 9 times out of 10 it is screwed up!
For a more conventional stance, feet should be hip width apart with toes slightly pointed out with your hands placed right outside of your knees. To start the pull you must sink your butt first, letting your hips get in place so that the pressure is taken off of your lumbar spine. Hips too high and you’ll eventually be laying in bed unable to move for a couple days. Your core needs to stay tight and rigid throughout the movement. I can’t stress this part enough! Flexion under heavy load has proven to be one of the highest causes of low back disorders so if your back in hunching over AT ALL, the weight is too heavy! And don’t think that just because you have a belt on you’re free of risk of injury.
Another variation, which is the bilateral version that I use with most of my athletes, is the trapbar deadlift. This can be considered the safe version of the bilateral deadlifts. With the weight inline with your body it requires less flexion of the spine so the load is moved by your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Feet should be set up just like your conventional deadlift with your back flat and your hips hinged. Same rules apply here as with the barbell dealift, if your back hunches over, the weight is too heavy.
Finally, we have the most difficult of the bunch, and probably one of my favorite unilateral leg exercises, the single leg deadlift. Now this can be done with a handful of different tools. I like to start people off with a kettlebell, placing the weight in the opposite hand of the leg that is down on the floor doing the work. With this weight distribution it makes you really concentrate on stability. The key with the single leg variation is to move your shoulders and back leg at the same time. I like to tell my clients they should look like a seesaw….yes, sounds elementary, but it works. This is also the safer of the three versions in this article because typically if the weights too heavy for you to move, it just won’t move….I’ve figured that out the hard way.
Balance is obviously key of this one, and odds are you will rarely have a perfect set without a balance check or two, but with practice this move will slowly have a more natural feel. Make sure to have a slight bend in your knee so that your glutes get some action. With a completely straight leg your hamstring takes on almost all of the work.
Give these deadlift variations a try and you won’t regret it. Whether you’re looking to build strength, burn fat or just look better for the summer, you can’t go wrong with one of these moves. If you have any questions send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week!