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Should We Re-Think Deadlifts

It is really hard for me, when I hear fitness statements like “deadlifts are the best way to help your low back!” I just have a hard time. It isn’t that I am completely against the statement, it is that such common sayings are just too vague to buy into fully. Sure, they will get you a million likes on social media, but that isn’t what we are about.

Before you freak out that I am questioning how we see deadlifts, let me clarify. I think deadlifts are good, I think they are essential, I also think we over do it! Now, I don’t have any fancy science to prove this, but 25 years of experience and having a severe back injury makes me have a different perspective. I’ll throw it out there now, I think once you can deadlift your bodyweight, we should take a different route. This is also a result of me becoming increasingly frustrated hearing about fitness coaches hurting THEIR backs with heavy deadlifts. Please don’t come at me with “it is just a form issue”, I’ll explain how it is bigger!

What?! How could I say such thing? Well, I do so for two reasons. Many uses deadlifts to improve glute and core function. That means we have to understand how these muscles actually function! They are both designed to produce and resist force at the same time because our bodies are really designed to move through space, not just lift things from the ground. That is because we move through three planes of motion.

As functional training godfather and physical therapist, Gary Gray has said, navigating gravity is one of the most important qualities we can teach. That means when we move through space we need to deal with all three planes of motion. We assume that this is an automatic carryover when we keep going heavier, but that simply isn’t the case.

Spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill points out, “the high lateral glute is developed with loaded carries or with most one-legged resistive squat exercises.” Why do I bring that up? Because both the core and glutes require ability to stabilize and be strong at the same time. Funny how walking and single leg exercises have some commonalities when it comes to deadlifts.

Definitely no glutes or core training going on here! 

For one, they bring into the important role of the foot/ankle. No one really talks about how your body is so reliant upon your feet, but those with bad feet know this from experience. Science tells us that any damage to the foot/ankle complex actually changes how our glutes work! In other words, most people aren’t really training their low back to be more resilient by just going heavier in their deadlifts because they aren’t building the lower leg stability that makes a big difference!

I know, I know, you started doing carries. Here is the problem, most people don’t walk well, so we decide to load them? This seems to go against the ideas that movement experts like Gray Cook promote when they say don’t load dysfunctional movement. So, unless you are screening someone’s gait, loaded carries could be doing damage instead of helping your body.

The answer lies in getting to single leg deadlifts. Yea, you just sighed, rolled your eyes, etc. I would have done so years ago too, you know why, cause I am TERRIBLE at them!

It is human nature to hate what we are not good at. Hey, let’s face it too, it is way easier to build up deadlifts with two feet than it is to get people good at single leg deadlifts. That shows us there is a gape in what we are doing with people. However, you REALLY have to understand why I am taking this stance.

Images like the one below show you how our body is made for movement and how much we miss when JUST weight is our focus. We don’t actually build the resiliency that many of us think!


Why is this so important and how will it help you look better? Dr. Stuart McGill, world leading spine expert, discusses why lateral strength is so important for real world strength….

“All of his strength training has been performed with two legs on the ground. All of the pulls, lifts and presses never trained the core in 3-dimensions. The weak link is limiting his performance and causing stress and pain. Addressing this with loaded carrying exercises produced more lateral spine stiffness in his core. His pelvis and spine produce appropriate proximal stiffness (proximal to the hip joint) so that more velocity of all of the muscles that cross the hip joint works on the distal side of the joint resulting in faster leg speed. Further, the spine does not bend, the stress concentration at the joint is eliminated and the pain is gone. This example demonstrates that the hip muscles were limited by a weaker lateral core.”

Sounds pretty important right? That’s why Dr. McGill uses the side plank, not front, as a key test of core stability.

The solution is creating success to moving to single leg deadlifts is progression! Sadly most of us are taught deadlift variations, but not progressions. That is where DVRT is so different. We aren’t about just saying, “hey, look at this cool new version of deadlifts”, rather we want you to see where the progression fits into the continuum of movement!

I know the power of progression myself. Having lost full use of my right leg, I had to build back function through problem solving and knowing how the body works best! That is why in DVRT we not only have the ability to use deadlifts in different directions and movement, but we can change it completely by altering how we hold the Ultimate Sandbag. That now amplifies the upper body and core connection to the glutes.

Hopefully you realize that this is all about making YOU better! That is why we built a system of movement rather than a program of exercises. Having purpose and intent behind your training elevates what you can accomplish to another level!

Love innovative functional fitness ideas like this? Don’t miss the chance to find out how DVRT is changing the way we think about real world strength and fitness. Save 30% all throughout DVRT (except on live events) with coupon code “holiday” HERE