Exercise progressions: Learning to move
The deadlift is an awesome exercise, but in order to lift the heaviest loads possible, patience and progression is important.
For those with little experience using free-weights, employing a progression plan can help improve movement skills and overall body awareness with a barbell before getting into the heavy stuff.
As a hybrid exercise that involves both hinging at the hips, as well as squatting through the hip, knee, and ankle, the deadlift can benefit greatly from learning how to hinge and squat separately.
The Romanian deadlift (RDL) targets the hips, hamstrings, and low back as a pure hinge exercise. It’s a great learning tool for the deadlift because the setup and barbell position are the same. It offers exposure to similar skills and demands without the complexity and stress of squatting down to the floor.
The RDL starts with the same stance and grip, standing tall and strong, shoulders back, chest up, eyes forward, and stacked with the torso and hips engaged. Maintaining a rigid spine, braced torso, tripod foot pressure, and tight-bodied bar path throughout.
For the descent of the RDL, the movement is initiated with pushing the hips back. The back stays extended, rigid, and flat throughout, and the barbell remains in contact with the body, sliding down the thighs as the hips travel back.
Where the deadlift requires a greater range of motion at the knee, the RDL simply involves a constant slight knee bend throughout the lift, keeping the legs long and hips high.
With the hamstrings, hips, and low back targeted through the RDL, the squat — arguably the king of leg development — can also be a great exercise in developing a solid deadlift.
The squat targets hip and ankle mobility, as well as strength through the quads and hips, which will help when deadlifting massive loads from the floor.
We won’t cover the ins and outs of the squat, but here’s a great source if you need some advice.
What NOT to do
The piece that enables a safe and effective deadlift over any other factor is proper loading.
This means never sacrificing technique for load – for first timers, keep the loads extremely light, using 5-10 kg training plates to learn the basics (stance, grip, body position, and bar path).
Also, to help maintain quality reps, avoid trying to do more than six reps in a given set.
Here are some of the other most common errors made when deadlifting:
- Squatting too deep – stay strongest with your hips above your knees.
- Not squatting deep enough – keep your hips below your shoulders.
- Rounding the back – lift with your legs and always maintain correct posture.
- Knees crashing together – push your knees towards your forearms and maintain that tripod foot pressure.
- Leaning back (hyperextending spine) at the finish – contract your abs to keep the ribs from flaring out, and glutes to keep your hips and back in a solid lockout position.
- Jerking the arms to start – create tension and remove any slack in your arms, apply pressure and accelerate the bar.
- Bouncing the plates off the ground – allow the plates to come to a dead stop prior to each lift off, but always maintain grip and tension.