Deadlifts: How To

Deadlifts are probably one of my favourite movements ever. They target your entire backside from your calves all the way up your back, with a huge focus on your hamstrings and glutes.

They're one of the more complex movements in the gym, and not one we are taught from a young age unless you're in sports that specifically coach it.  I recently had a request to go over deadlift technique, specifically on how to *not* feel it in your low back in a painful way.

First off - if you're feeling more than just deadlifts in your low back, I would recommend seeing a physiotherapist to check you out. In my case, no amount of form correction was solving my low back pain, and it was because of other asymmetries and weaknesses pulling and shifting my pelvis.

Note: All the videos are demoing more of a Romanian (stiff-legged) deadlift. For each video I've done 2-3 reps with adjusted form, followed by a couple showing what *could* be giving you discomfort, followed again by a few adjusted reps so you can see the difference.

  1. Pelvic Floor Health:

    You know I can't get through a post without talking about your pelvic floor, so let's start there. Stop at neutral when you stand up versus thrusting your hips forward. I often see clients do this one thinking they are getting just a little bit more glute work out of it by doing the thrust. By thrusting your hips forward you're taking your core and pelvic floor out of alignment, which could mean putting added pressure or stress on your pelvic floor. That extra little hip pop is not going to give you mad gains, so stop at neutral and show your pelvic floor some love.

  2. Hip Hinging vs Squatting:

    Hip hinging is a hard movement to initially learn, so learning to load your hips and hamstrings and hinge at the hips will take some mind work and lots of repetition. Start unloaded, a few inches away from the wall and REACH your bum back to the wall. Feeling it more in your hamstrings now? Awesome! You've moved too far away from the wall if you can't maintain solid full foot contact on the floor, and you're probably too close if you're not feeling it in your hamstrings. Play with the distance until you find your sweet spot. I'll even have clients new to deadlifts perform all their reps this way (loaded) during a workout so they can feel it with each and every rep.

  3. Where is the weight in relation to your body?

    If it's way out in front of you, pull it back closer to your body. Those ridiculous looking high socks you see people wear on deadlift days? It's because the bar path should be THAT close to your shins. Hot tip: Use a yoga block or something similar as a target for your dumbbell or kettlebell - placing it directly in between your feet to remind you to drop the weight straight down, not out in front.

  4. Core Engagement:

    Are you allowing your midline (core) to completely relax, or are you keeping it engaged? Start from standing and lock in your core - ribs over hips, slight low back curve. Maintain this strong core position as you hinge, to keep your low back neutral (small curve) and not allow it to hyperextend (big curve). It's not that you are tucking your pelvis under (like in #1), you are finding neutral. This one is hard to see in the video, but there is a reason I used a lighter kettlebell for this one - I can feel it BIG time in my low back when I arch.

  5. Upper Body Engagement:

    Are you rounding through your shoulders and low back? Sometimes in an effort to get the weight lower, without the hamstring flexibility to get there, I'll see clients round their shoulders and low back in an effort to reach the ground. From standing, actively pull your shoulder blades back and maintain this position as you hinge.