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Should Everyone Deadlift?

Many people have called the deadlift, “the king of all exercises.”  And rightfully so, as there may not be a bigger bang-for-your-buck exercise out there.

In my opinion, the deadlift is the most underutilized exercise in rehabilitation.  Perhaps the move is intimidating?  Perhaps people are afraid of barbells?  Perhaps people are worried patients may hurt their backs?  Perhaps rehab professionals don’t know enough about strength and conditioning?

I always say that I am a much better physical therapist because I am also a strength coach, and always keep learning from many great strength coaches.

As the gap between rehab and performance continues to narrow, the deadlift may be the final exercise to cross the chasm.  We shouldn’t be afraid of the deadlift, however, we also need to understand the the conventional deadlift is not for everyone.

 

Why Everyone Should Deadlift

should everyone deadliftOne of the most important trends in rehabilitation and strength and conditioning over the last decade or two has been the move away from muscle-based exercises and shift towards movement-based exercises.  Rather than work on quad strength, work on squatting, for example.  (Photo credit by the man, the myth, and the deadlift legend Tony Gentilcore)

The deadlift is essentially a hip hinge pattern, which is extremely functional and equally elusive for many people.

Put simply, people can’t hinge anymore!  It’s amazing.

As our society changes and relies more on poor posture patterns, prolonged seated periods, and things like excessive use of smartphones, I’m amazed how it seems even kids can’t touch their toes anymore.

Working on a poor hip hinge pattern is extremely helpful for so many different issues that I see every day.  From back pain, to knee pain, to even poor sport performance.

We have become so anterior chain dominant.  Luckily, the deadlift hits the entire posterior chain in one big lift.  

So the the deadlift really helps with the hip hinge pattern, but there are so many other benefits including working on better posture, glute development, lower extremity power development, a stronger core, stronger lats, and even enhanced grip strength.  

You can see why it’s such a big bang-for-your-buck exercise.

 

Why Everyone Shouldn’t Deadlift

Wait a minute…

I just spent the first half talking about how beneficial the deadlift is for so many people.  Why shouldn’t everyone perform a deadlift?

Let me clarify – I’m talking about the conventional barbell deadlift.

Take a step back and remember that we are more concerned about movements, than muscles, right?  So luckily there are many variations of hinging, and even deadlifts, that can be utilized to achieve all the above great goals.

Perhaps the deadlift is so underutilized in the rehab setting because everyone just looks at the conventional barbell deadlift.  That’s like going straight to the top, saying that there is no way you can perform that exercise, then just scrapping all forms of deadlifts and hip hinge exercises.

Most people that walk into the door at Champion have no chance at being successful at a conventional barbell deadlift.  Among other things, you need:

  • Good mobility
  • An understanding of the hinge pattern neuromuscular pattern
  • The ability to load, essentially lift a weight with intent

Most people don’t have at least 2-3 of these qualities.

We’ll try to get them there with the right blend of mobility drills, corrective exercises, and manual therapy, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait to start deadlifting.  We just need to start at a more regressed level.

So, don’t immediately scrap the deadlift, find a way to incorporate it.  Work within your mobility and limited range, try a variation using a kettlebell or sumo stance, and use submaximal loads until you can groove a proper hip hinge pattern.

deadlift variations

One of my favorite resources on deadlift technique and variations is this excellent article by Mike Robertson.

As you improve, you can incorporate more advanced forms of the deadlift, but don’t simply scrap the deadlift until then, modify!

 

3 Ways to Modify a Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

If you want to learn more, I have an Inner Circle webinar on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift, the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and really underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform them.

To access this webinar:

3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform is now available.

 

 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform

3 ways to modify the deadlift so anyone can performThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on 3 Ways to Modify the Deadlift so Anyone Can Perform.  In this presentation, I break down the 3 most common reasons why people often don’t perform a deadlift: the inability to load, poor hinge patterns, and altered hip anatomy.  Deadlifts are great, and especially underutilized in rehab, but with these 3 modifications, anyone should be able to perform.


This webinar will cover:

  • Why deadlifts are so important
  • The 3 most common reasons why people can’t deadlift
  • How to regress and vary the movement
  • How to include at any stage of the rehab and performance spectrum


To access this webinar:

 

Kneeling Hip Thrust

The hip thrust exercise has become a common exercise for strengthening the gluteus maximus. Described by Bret Contreras, The hip thrust has gained popularity over the last couple of years thanks to it’s simplicity and effectiveness. Here is a great clip of Bret demonstrating the proper hip thrust technique:

While a weighted bilateral hip thrust is an excellent exercise, I have found that some people have difficulty performing the exercises in the rehabilitation setting.  You could start the hip thrust exercise with just body weight, but some people will still have difficulty disassociating hip extension and lumbar spine extension, making the standard hip thrust difficult to perform with proper form even with little to no weight.

In the rehab setting, I typically need to start working on glute training in most patients.  I am a big believer in strengthening the glutes and training them to extend the hip so that the hamstrings and low back take less stress.  However, sometimes I wonder if we are guilty of  jumping right into a glute strengthening exercise, like the hip thrust or a even a single leg deadlift variation, before the patient is truely ready for the movement.  To me, this where the need for glute “activation” prior to “strengthening” comes to mind.

I am always looking for great exercises to “turn on” the glutes and activate proper hip extension firing, so the hip thrust is an intriguing option.  I have started to perform a variation of the hip thrust in the kneeling position. By performing a kneeling hip thrust, it becomes a better activation and lower level strengthening exercise for the more basic patient.

 

Kneeling Hip Thrust

Below is a video demonstration of the kneeling hip thrust, followed by some coaching techniques:

Kneeling Hip Thrust Technique:

  • To perform the kneeling hip thrust, I most commonly use a dowel with tubing. I will use tubing with handles on both ends so that I can wrap the tubing around a stationary point and slide the dowel through the tubing handles.
  • Position yourself in the kneeling position with the dowel over your lower abdomen and pelvis area. I usually hold on to the dowel for comfort as well.
  • You can also try using cable weights or Keiser resistance as well, but there is a limit to how much weight you can add before the weight is just too much and pulls you backward. Realistically, if you want to weight the hip thrust this much, the kneeling position isn’t for you. This is ultimately an activation and basic motor recruitment exercise that I often use to turn on the glutes before performing or progressing to more advanced glute strengthening, including the traditional hip thrust that Bret describes.
  • Place your knees about shoulder width apart with your feet together.  Your feet and knees should form a triangle.  I will describe the reason for this below.
  • Begin by sitting on your feet and then lift your body up and out, extending your hips.
  • You should squeeze your glutes together at the end range of movement, while avoiding hyperextending the low back.

Benefits of the Kneeling Hip Thrust

I really like the kneeling hip thrust exercise and have found it to enhance our ability to engage the glutes to extend the hip. I find the kneeling hip thrust takes lumbar extension of the equation much more than in the traditional supine bridge position, allowing you to focus on hip extension and glute activation without worrying as much about compensation at the lumbar spine.

As described above, I usually perform the kneeling hip thrust with my feet together, thereby placing your hips in slight external rotation. This is a common modification for the bridge exercise that I utilize for people with tight hip flexors. The greatest amount of glute firing is going to occur towards the end range of hip extension. If the hip flexors are too tight to allow full hip extension, compensation often occurs in the low back with lumbar extension.  You’ll also be able to get a better “glute squeeze.”

In many people you will find that they quickly master the kneeling hip thrust technique and will be ready to move to a more advanced glute strengthening exercise using much better form with less compensation.

Try working this kneeling hip thrust into your rehab programs or as part of your dynamic warmup and let me know what you think!