Deadlifting. It's just picking weight up from the ground, right?
Not quite. You should think of deadlifting (and pretty much any exercise) like driving, there's more to staying safe than just turning the steering wheel. Deadlifting is a compound (multi-joint) movement, involving multiple muscle groups in both our upper and lower body; specifically our rear extremities (muscles in the back of the body). Whether you are at the gym working out, or on Hermosa Beach Pier picking your keys (or kid) up from the ground, the last thing you want is a pulled lower back. The key to properly executing the movement without injuring ourselves is to take each muscle's responsibility into account.
Deadlift vs Squat - What's the difference?
Both squatting and deadlifting are lower body exercises involving some sort of lowering and raising. So what is the difference? When performing the concentric / lengthening stage of a deadlift our torso drops (while maintaining a flat back), while we push our hips push directly behind us. On the other hand, our torso should stay up for the most part while performing a squat. Additionally, the deadlift involves the hips going backwards and forwards. During the concentric stage of a squat we sit the hips both back and down.
Perhaps the biggest differentiator is the fact a deadlift is more hip-dominant, versus a squat which is more knee-dominant. "Hip-dominant" meaning the movement is through the hips. In fact, deadlifting has very little, if any movement through the knee (depending on whether you are doing a traditional, Romanian, or other type of deadlift variation). Whichever variation you decide to choose, when properly executed, deadlifting is a great alternative for exercisers with knee injuries.
Since we pick things up every day, learning the proper way to do so is essential to keeping us out of the doctor's office. One of the most important benefits from deadlifting is a greater range of motion. Deadlifting can help train us how to properly pick up objects from the ground, move around, bend over and other basic daily activities.
Deadlift Best Practices
Keep lats (back muscles) engages WHILE hinging (bending) through hips. Be mindful of upper back engagement and grip, it helps keep the resistance in our hamstrings, and out of our lower back.
Weights should be lowered down directly over shoe laces. Keeping the weights as close to our legs as possible will help prevent lower back strain. Powerlifters say the weight should "rub against your shin" as it travels up. If you're wearing new leggings, just keep the weight as close to your legs as possible. An easy way to ensure this is by continuing to push the hips back as you lower.
Never round your back to get lower. Hinge should only go as low as your hamstrings allow. We recommend that you avoid hinging past your chest being parallel with the ground for optimal hamstring contraction and effectiveness. Why? Because 99% of the time going farther down will put extra strain on your hamstrings and/or lower back. But if you have to and because you have to put the weight down at some point. Once the weights pass your knees drop your hips straight down and lower the weight (similar to a squat). Remember to keep upper back muscles engaged.
Keep your neck neutral throughout the duration of the exercise. This means that as your chest falls, you should start to look down. If you are still looking forward at the bottom of the motion you will be putting strain on your neck and cervical spine. Keeping a neutral neck and spine also ensures optimal hip flexion (pushing hips back) and hamstring engagement as you come back up.
The Perfect Deadlift Warm Up
For optimal deadlift (and hamstring workout) results, warm up with a combination of these dynamic and static stretches. We suggest one minute for each exercise at a slow-controlled motion before your workout.
Part 1 - Dynamic
Supine Knee Flexion (w. Hip Flexion)
Start in supine position (on back), with leg at 90 degree angle.
Extend leg to straightened position, while pushing through heel.
Hold for a beat, then lower back to 90 degree position.
Standing Dowel Hinge
Start with feel hip distance (narrow stance) with dowel held along spine.
One hand should grip the dowel behind the neck (palm facing head). Other hand should grip around the lower back (palm facing away from the body).
Slowly hinge at the waist. Dowel should stay in contact with the back of the head, shoulder blades and lower back through the entirety of the motion.
If the back of your head, shoulders or your lower back start to pull away from the dowel, that is the lowest you should go.
From bottom position, extend back up though hamstrings to starting position.
Tall Kneeling Front Weighted Hinge
Start in a kneeling position with weight held up to collar bone (upper chest).
Slowly hinge at waist (push hips towards heels) as your chest falls.
Make sure to keep your head, neck, and back in alignment (like during the previous dowel hinge). Engage upper back muscles to prevent shoulders from slouching.
Once hips are pushed back as far as they can go, then drive hips forward through hamstrings to come back up.
Keep core engaged to prevent lower back strain.
Standing Barbell Wall Hinge
Start with feel hip distance (narrow stance), with back about a foot away from the wall.
Slowly hinge at waist, pushing hips towards wall and lower weight (keeping weight close to shins).
Once glutes tap the wall, extend back to starting position.
If your glutes are unable to tap the wall, take a small step closer and repeat.
Prone Floor Towels Pull Ups
Start in a prone position (on your chest) with arms stretched out to full extension with towel in hands
Slowly bring the towel towards your upper chest, while lifting torso slightly off the ground. Keep neck neutral and eyes towards the ground.
Tap the towel to the upper chest, squeeze shoulder blades, then retract back to starting position.
DO NOT LIFT YOUR LEGS, IT WILL PUT UNNECESSARY STRAIN ON YOUR LOWER BACK
Part 2 - Static
Half-Kneeling Single Leg Hamstring Stretch
Start by kneeling on one knee and extending your other foot out.
The extended leg should have a flexed toe (toes pointed towards you)
Reach towards the outside of the foot for stretch.
Band/Towel Around Arm Single Leg Hamstring Stretch
Start lying on your back, in a supine position
With one leg fully extended on the floor, extend other leg up to the ceiling.
Wrap towel around the arch of your foot and gently pull down to increase stretch.
Start on all fours with your shoulders over wrists and knees under hips
Slowly slide knees outward with knees bent at about 90 degrees
Slowly push hips back as far as your body allows, and then back forward
Sprinter's Stretch (ankle)
Start in a single leg kneeling position (like you're stretching your hip flexor)
Lean over front foot and move foot in every direction/angle to warm up the ankle
Slide one leg in front of you, bending knee outward so the inside of your shoe is facing upward.
Bring back knee towards the heel of the front leg.
Lengthen your lower back by pressing your tailbone down and forward to elongate your spine.
Your back thigh should be rotated inward, press toes on your back foot onto the floor
Place hands on the floor on either side of your bent leg.