Lift Better: Understanding How to do the Deadlift Safely
In this second part of our lifting series, we share why the deadlift should be a part of your exercise program regardless of your age, and 3 common mistakes people make.
Why the Deadlift?
Like the squat, a deadlift is a compound exercise, involving movement across multiple joints. Unlike the squat however, it involves engaging muscles throughout the entire body—both in the lower and upper extremities.
As such, deadlifts are extremely functional—they translate to essentially any activity where we need to bend over. For example, picking up a basket of laundry, lifting heavy furniture, and grabbing your groceries from the ground.
Similar to squats, there is often a fear around deadlifts of hurting one’s lower back. However, if done properly, they can help build strength and tone through the legs, hips, trunk, shoulders, and arms, as well as helping to protect the lower back. It’s a great, functional exercise for almost any age.
The Basics of a Deadlift
A deadlift is essentially a “hip hinge.” This differentiates it from a squat: whereas a squat involves both full hip hinging and knee bending, a deadlift focuses on the hip hinge, and knees bend minimally.
A good way to begin is to hold a dowel (instead of a weight bar) to iron out your form before loading the exercise. Better yet, set up your phone camera to selfie mode, and film a few repetitions so you can critique your own form if you don’t have a trainer or workout buddy to help you.
Begin by holding the dowel with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing backward. Place your feet shoulder-width apart, or slightly wider. Hinge forward, sending the hips backward so that the dowel hovers just in front of your ankles. Your hips should be higher than your knees, but lower than your shoulders. This is your start position.
Look slightly forward—this will help bring your shoulders up and make sure your back is straight. Build tension by pressing your feet into the ground, and then, keeping a straight back, pull the dowel directly upward, as close to your shins and thighs as possible. At the top of the lift, drive your hips forward, and squeeze your glutes. Slowly reverse the movement, sending your hips backward and lowering the dowel back down to the start position.
Once you have mastered the movement, move on to a weight bar (without weights on it), and finally you can begin adding plates. For a visual representation and tutorial, check out this video.
3 Common Mistakes & Their Remedies
1) Bend Through Your Hips, Not Your Back
Rounding at the back can transfer stress into the lumbar spine, rather than into the muscles that we want to grow. It’s a common mistake to either round into the lower back, or to drop the belly button and arch the back while lifting the weight from the floor. Either will cause compression in the spine. Make sure your abdominal muscles are braced, and you are looking slightly in front of you before lifting. Remember that this is not a squat—in comparison, your knees shouldn’t be as bent, your hips should be higher, and your chest lower.
Key Tip: At the top of the lift, your back will be neutral; avoid hyper-extending the low back and leaning the shoulders back. Instead, think about squeezing your bum muscles.
2) Keep the Bar Close
To begin the movement, the bar should be positioned a few centimeters from your feet with your arms hanging straight down with your shoulder blades slightly retracted. During the movement sequence, the bar shouldn’t be further than two to three centimeters from your legs. Being in this optimal position will prevent increasing the leverage in the forward direction and again adding stress into the back.
3) Don’t Jerk the Bar
Jerking the bar to lift is a common mistake that people will do to try and create momentum in order to lift heavier weights. Unfortunately, this prevents you from properly activating all the needed muscle groups before beginning the deadlift. To avoid this, think about building tension by pushing down into the floor and gently pulling up on the bar before lifting, to “take up the slack.” Once you feel that your muscles are engaged, slowly ramp up the power to lift the weight off the ground. Think about bringing your hips to the bar, rather than pulling the bar up. Lower in control.
Are you struggling with your deadlift in the gym, or having difficulty with everyday lifting? Then you might benefit from having your deadlift and biomechanics evaluated.
Book an appointment with one of Innovation Physical Therapy’s experienced physiotherapists by calling one of our 6 clinics located throughout Edmonton & Sherwood Park including Riverbend, Meadowlark, Belvedere, Namao, Sherwood Park or our newest clinic in West Henday.