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Why You Need to Deadlift

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

It’s Sunday, and you’ve just parked the car after grocery shopping.

Now you have to get all those bags from point A, the car, to point B, the kitchen.

Bend over, load up, lift and carry.

No big deal, right?

What about bending down to pick up little Johnny, who isn’t so little anymore? Lifting the corner of the couch to search for that hidden treasure? Searching the back of the cupboard for that hidden cleaning supply? Tying your shoe? Putting pants on? Walking under a low-hanging tree branch? Exploding from a ready stance to sprint, jump or catch?

Every one of these activities has one thing in common: “The Bend”

And for every human being, being able to perform this movement with strength and stability IS a very big deal.

Why “The Bend” is such a Big Deal

According to the Gray Institute of Functional Movement,[i] all human beings’ bodies are designed to learn and perform 6 basic movement patterns:

Squat, bend, lunge, push, pull and twist.

In a nutshell, the functional movement school of thought is this: dysfunction of the body’s movement system (e.g. joint pain, tendonitis, excessive synovial degeneratioin, stiffness, etc…) stems from an underdevelopment of these movement patterns in sports, in the gym, and in everyday life.

The bend, also called the hip hinge or hip flexion and extension, is arguably the most important of the six because it’s involved in literally EVERY full body movement either by generating strength and power through the hips or keeping that area stable during movement.

Since it’s such an important movement for literally everything your body does, it’s important you perform it in the most biomechanically efficient, least degenerative way possible.

Everyone needs to be able to bend with strength and stability.

The truth is, however, most of us are doing it wrong.

The Wrong Bend

When you bend over, where do you bend?

This might seem like a silly question, but if you want to train your core, back, legs and movement patterns to be strong, endurable and healthy it’s a very important one.

You truly have two options: bend from your spine, or bend from your hips. Want to hazard a guess as to which one should be your primary m.o.?

Most people bend from the spine, rounding their backs and imposing pressure on their lumbar discs.

The correct and safe way to bend, however, is from the hips with a neutral, unrounded, naturally-arching lower back.[ii]

Your spine, though flexible, is actually quite flimsy and prone to injury when flexed and extended under load. You only have one, of course, and you should take great care to ensure it lasts you as long as possible.

Your spine’s job is to house the fragile but all-important neurological system that connects body and brain. It’s not designed to bear weight.

Your hip joints, on the other hand, are made to bear weight all day, every day. The evolution of bipedalism required a powerful and stable system of gravity defiance, and man did it deliver! Consisting of the thickest, densest bone in your whole body, with hundreds of points of connective tissue, acted on by over 30 muscles, your hips are powered by the biggest, strongest fiber bundles in your body – your gluteus maximus.[iii] Your hips are literally made to carry the load.

In short, your spine is the Internet cable made to relay information. Your hips are your powerhouse made to MOVE YOU with that information.

Want to see just what human hips make possible? Watch world-record-setting sprinter Usain Bolt’s hips in slow motion for the perfect picture of how powerful your hips can be.[iv]

You don’t need to be the fastest man in the world, however, to teach your body to bend with your hips and to support your spine.

All you really need to start making a big difference in your health, performance and stability is the Deadlift.

But Why the Deadlift?

The Deadlift is the single most effective exercise to teach the body strength, endurance, and proprioception during a bend while protecting the spine.

There are countless online how-to’s, and while I can cite some of my favorites,[v][vi][vii][viii] I don’t suggest you seek to recreate them here. In fact, if you already bend dysfunctionally or have limitations in your back, hips and knees, I believe it’s nearly impossible (or at least less-than-optimal) to teach yourself from an article.

I’d much rather you come to our next Deadlifting Workout Workshop to get some hands-on, in-person guidance. Consider this a personal invitation, by the way!

That said, from the Stronglift blog cited above, here’s the basic description: “Proper Deadlift form starts with the weight on the floor. Pull the bar until you’ve locked your hips and knees. Return it to the floor by moving your hips back first and then bending your knees.”

Sounds easy right?

You might be surprised at how many people are scared to perform this lift. Maybe you’re one of them.

Let me dispel your fears.

You already Deadlift.

I started this article with a brief list of everything we do that mimics the hip flexion and extension inherent in the Deadlift. The average person performs a Deadlift-like movement nearly 100x/day without even thinking about it!

With that in mind, there’s no reason that adding a conscious 3 sets of 10 in the gym should be scary. If you need instruction, by all means get it. But as long as the weight is appropriate, I would be way more scared of how your body is moving when you AREN’T thinking about it.

You need a stronger core.

Planks, bridges, pilates, crunches, leg lifts, machines, TRX…the list of core-activating exercises goes on and on. We all need to build and maintain a stronger “core,” right? Tell us something we don’t know, Alex!

How about this: A surprising study showed definitively that the full-body movement of the Deadlift activated the core 2-3x more than every single one of the popular “core” exercises I just listed![ix] In other words, 4 sets of well-executed Deadlifts is worth 8-12 sets of even the most-focused, well-intentioned core routine.

Since it also strengthens lats, traps, hamstrings, quads, calves and arms at the same time, I would argue that if you’re doing 8-12 sets of core work and aren’t currently doing deadlifts, you’re wasting a lot of your gym time.

Modifications abound. 

Lack the flexibility to bend over? Does your back hurt with even a light weight? Do you have scoliosis or previous back surgery to work around? Never fear!

As I said before, you’re already deadlifting daily whether you mean to or not. There are innumerable ways in which the Deadlift can be modified to accommodate your limitation while still teaching your body the correct movement pattern of the bend.

Using a kettlebell will allow you to start with a shorter range of motion and a lighter weight. Even in rehab situations,[x] using a hex bar allows the arms to stay at your sides so that less stability and flexibility is required to build strength and proprioception. There are others, but unless you’re in the 3-6 month period following a major surgery or injury, there is at least 1 version of the deadlift within your capability. I promise.

Deadlifting for Life

There’s an old Chinese fable I heard as a child while studying martial arts under a Shaolin master. It compares the humble resilience of the weeping willow to the hardy arrogance of the red oak. One night a storm brutalizes the meadow where the trees are rooted. The morning finds the oak shattered and dead, but the willow still stands waving in the breeze. [xi]

The moral of the story (and incidentally of my article) is this: “Bend and survive.”

As long as you live, you will need to be able to “BEND.” Learning and perfecting the Deadlift will ensure you bend – and live – with strength and stability.

Are you interested in adding the Deadlift to your workout routine? Talk with a fitness professional, who can offer his/her guidance on proper form as well as personalized ways to incorporate the deadlift into your current workout plan.

If you want to learn more about how we design our programs to support fitness and performance using our Core 3 Training™ methodologies

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

Thanks for reading. If you learned something new, please share the post on your favorite social media channel.

[i] Movement. Grayson Cook. 2010

[ii] Ten Rules for Mastering the Deadlift. Charles Poliquin, 2013. http://www.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1068/Ten_Rules_for_Mastering_the_Deadlift_.aspx

[iii] Hip Anatomy Animated Tutorial. Dr. Randal Sechrest. Aug 5, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlCvKEOZtpo

[iv] Usain Bolt Sprint Analysis English subtitle. August 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Og3DahGtKXU

[v] http://oldschoolstrengthtraining.com/strength-training/how-to-deadlift/

[vi] http://stronglifts.com/deadlift/

[vii] http://www.jtsstrength.com/articles/2014/07/15/5-tips-take-deadlift-next-level/

[ix] Hamlyn N, J Strength Cond Res.  Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. 2007 Nov;21(4):1108-12.

[x] Colado, J., Pablos C, et al. The Progressions of Paraspinal Muscle Recruitment Intensity in Localized and Global Strength Training Exercise Is Not Based on Instability Alone. Archives of Physical and Medical Rehabilitation. 2011. 92. 1875-1883.

[xi] The Oak and the willow, a fable. Author Unknown. Published: Unknown. http://bigclosetr.us/topshelf/fiction/19008/oak-and-willow-fable

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
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