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Deadlifting - Your Definitive How-To Guide

Written by Brandon D'Orazio

Edited by Rebecca Payne

Why should we deadlift, how to deadlift safely, and the different variations of deadlifting:


The deadlift is one of the most popular exercises among athletes and coaches. The reason why it is such a popular movement is because it is incredibly functional and has the ability to work so many muscles in just one exercise. It is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. You can see it as an individual sport such as powerlifting where you are searching for every biomechanical detail or you may see it as picking up an item up and placing it back down in day-to-day life. Read more to learn about the variations of the deadlift, how to deadlift, as well as which of these variations you can use to start deadlifting at that best matches your level of experience.


For those of you who don’t know what a deadlift is or what it does, it’s a complex compound movement (meaning muscles across multiple joints are being used simultaneously) using all of the muscles in your lower body, mid-section, and upper body. This total body exercise strengthens and activates many muscles, so it’s a great exercise to use for hypertrophy (to build the size of the muscles being used), to build strength (the force created by each muscular contraction), and to develop total body coordination.

PEAKS Lifestyle makes it a priority to provide the education that our Members need in order to be self-sufficient and safely perform their exercises at all times.

So, we like to begin by teaching the fundamental mechanics and really focusing on the importance behind certain hip-hinging mechanics to protect your spine while moving through different movements as a deadlift. Sounds complicated, but all this means is we teach you how to utilize bigger, stronger muscles such as the ones found in your thighs instead of moving incorrectly and using the smaller muscles found in your lower back. Want to try it out for yourself? Start with the entry-level deadlift.


Entry-level Deadlift for Novice Lifters:


Our first style of deadlift uses a kettle bell and potentially a yoga block depending on your level of mobility. We begin by standing directly over top of a single kettle bell. If you have the habit of standing with your knees hyperextended (meaning the joint has over extended into a weak and unhealthy position), you will have to learn to unlock your knees (keeping a very slight bend in your knees) and then push the hips back behind your shins. As this happens, your shoulders will pivot forward in front of the hips and over top of the weight of the kettle bell. Gradually begin to lower your hips down while keeping your shins perpendicular with the floor until you can reach the handle. Double check that your spine is still in a neutral position and begin to build tension through the knees and engage your hips to create tension through the body, which responds as movement. As we focus on moving our hips forward rather than pulling the kettle bell with our back, we begin to stand back into our starting position where the body is in a vertical position. As coaches, we look for faults or postural changes through the spine as you move through this pattern. Now, you may be wondering why we mentioned a yoga block? Well, if you cannot get into a strong enough position and maintain good posture with the steps described above, pop your yoga block (or other sturdy support) beneath your kettle bell to lift (or “block up”) the weight higher off the floor. This will help you find a comfortable starting position, allowing you to learn how to properly execute the movement with proper mechanics while still getting the benefits of using this exercise. As you find more mobility, you can reduce the height you are “blocking up” with and eventually begin the movement right off of the floor. The reason why we start with this movement is because its centre of mass is closer to the midline of the body, which allows for less awkward pulling movements. As we progress to our next piece of equipment the way the load is distributed across the body will change making the movement more challenging and next in line for our progression.


Intermediate Lifters and Active Athletic Populations


At PEAKS Lifestyle, we find a majority of our members enjoy the use of a trap bar deadlift. The trap bar deadlift is an excellent piece of equipment with a wide range of use for experienced athletes as well as novice level lifters. The trap bar allows you to stand inside the bar allows for better distribution of weight across the body and makes it easier for the user to apply mechanical force in a more efficient way. It also allows for you to use a neutral grip that assists in shoulder positioning; this allows for the spine to stay in a neutral and braced position with less effort. Here you will stand in the centre of the trap bar. Unlock the knees with a footing placement of hip width or slightly wider apart. From here you will drive the hips back making sure the shoulders remain more elevated than the hips. With a neutral spine and pulling the slack out of the bar by rotating your shoulders down and back you can begin to push through your feet and drive your hips forward until you have fully extended your hips.


Conventional, Sumo, Romanian Deadlifts for Sport Specific Training and How to Use Them Correctly in Your Program:


The most difficult deadlift is also the most traditionally seen deadlift in pictures from Venice beach or what we would think of seeing at a strong man competition. However, just because we see it often does not mean that it is the right movement for everyone, because there is a high degree of mobility and body awareness required to complete this movement with minimal risk of injury. The reason why this lift becomes so difficult is because of the path required for the barbell to travel in as it leaves the floor and makes contact with the front of your pelvis at the end of the lift. Your centre of mass moves in front of you changing the distribution of forces on the body making bracing that much more important and complex. In order to complete a conventional deadlift we need to start with the middle of our foot or laces underneath the bar.


Wondering how to program it into your gym routine? Let's talk about different sets and reps!


For beginners:

You are learning how to perform the movement with a lot of quality rather than a great deal of intensity. At PEAKS we recommend 3-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions right after your warm up. Lift light to moderate loads focusing on body awareness and movement corrections. You especially want to practice on bracing and keeping that neutral spine as you push through the workout.


Strength – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations:


The deadlift should be programmed towards the beginning of your workout due to the demands it has on your body’s nervous system and musculoskeletal system. To develop maximal strength we recommend the following to be implemented into your program:

3-5 sets of 3-5 reps with heavy weight and longer rest periods as needed to promote maximal recovery between sets and to ensure you can use maximal intensity!


Hypertrophy – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations:


You are looking to complete 3-5 sets of 6-12 repetitions with shorter rests from anywhere in between 45 seconds to 90 seconds. You want to train the muscle under time and tension. What this means is you are looking at the total amount of time it takes you to complete a set, so if we move slower during the repetitions the muscle will spend more time working while contracted. This is why you want to keep the reps moving together spending more time during the eccentric portion of the lift (as we return to our starting position the muscle is lengthened but still under exertion) and produce more force during the concentric section of the lift The start of the lift from when you lift the weight off the floor to the finish of the movement. This can be described as tempo and written out as a ratio. For example if your program asks for a 3:1 tempo the three will represent the eccentric portion of the lift or the recovery, the 1 will describe the concentric part of the lift putting force into the floor to complete the repetition.


Endurance – Reps, Sets, and Weight Recommendations:


If you are looking to increase your endurance keep reading here! You will want to add more volume into your training, which means a rep range between 12-20 repetitions with a light to moderate weight. Because we are looking for endurance the rest in between sets will be 30 to 45 seconds.


Remember depending on your experience everyone may use different variations or progressions. It is important you don’t progress too quickly; even if you have been lifting for years we encourage you to start back at the basics and re-master the fundamentals of the deadlift and gradually progress your lifts. Keep an eye on our blogs for our next new post coming out soon! If you enjoyed reading our blog make sure you stop by Peaks Lifestyle so we can continue to help you grow and meet whatever your fitness goals may be.

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