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How To Get MORE From Your Deadlifts

ultimate sandbag fitness equipment

The  iconic line below from Batman the Dark Knight I think actually speaks to a lot of ideas and exercises in fitness. Spend enough time in the industry and you see exercises and ideas go from being heroes, to villains, back to heroes or vice versa. Probably the BEST example of this are deadlifts. When I began in the industry in the 90’s, it was VERY rare to see deadlifts being performed in any commercial gym and very few trainers would ever prescribe them. They were often held for the “meathead” and often thought of as the exercise that would kill your back. Fast forward to today and deadlifts are heralded with being able to “cure” just about any fitness or performance goal. Where we wrong then and right now or the other way around?

As with most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle (isn’t rationale thought so frustrating;). When people ask the inevitable, “are deadlifts good?” I have to reply with the following questions…

-For who?

-For what goal?

-In what form?

Deadlifts are a logical starting point of teaching our hip hinge pattern in a standing position as the weight is in a stable position and we are in a stable position. These are all elements of a great starting point for teaching the movement lessons we want to achieve and build foundational strength. However, what are those lessons we are trying to teach people with deadlifts?

-How to create force from the feet up.

-How to create stability by making connections (especially the feet, glutes, core, and lats)

-How to be mobile in the lower body and stable in the upper body.

-How to create a proper hip hinge with the pelvis and plank with the upper half

That is A LOT of really good things that we can teach in using deadlifts. Then we have to answer, what are the best tools and methods for teaching and where do we go from that foundational deadlift? If you have been following us for awhile, you know that I think barbells are sorely overrated. When we think of movement and how to teach it, the barbell tends to be way behind what tools like our Ultimate Sandbag and kettlebells can offer. “But Josh, the barbell can go so much heavier than those tools!” I realize that, but people get caught up in load way too much and miss some important bigger pictures.

What is that I am showing you above? Well, it is a study measuring lower body muscle activity in a two legged vs. one legged good morning (these are hip hinge exercises). If I ONLY told you that one exercise had more weight than the other it would be logical to think the exercise with the lower load had less muscle activity right? However, we see that when we increase the need to resist and produce force at the same time, we can actually increase the muscle activity of many muscles even though weight is lighter. If you look at glute max and glute med measurements above you will see the one legged good morning kicked the two legged good morning’s butt! My point is that most pole put heavier exercises at a higher value than single leg, that’s a mistake! This doesn’t mean two legged exercises are bad, but is also doesn’t mean that load is necessarily the most important variable in getting stronger.

So, how do we start? In our world, we like to begin with the Ultimate Sandbag because the wider handle placement and the ease in to which to engage the lats to have a better and safer deadlift is much easier. At the same time we want to teach how to use the lower body. When we teach how to engage the lats and feet, we actually teach how to use the core correctly as physical therapist, Jessica Bento breaks down…

Once we have the pattern understood by the lifter, we can challenge their ability to keep these connection and increase their drive into the ground as I show below…

You may be wondering, “Josh, what about kettlebell deadlifts, aren’t those good?” Barbell and kettlebell deadlifts aren’t bad (assuming they are used well), but the question I like to ask is, “what is better?” The arm position and the ability to create tension is better on the Ultimate Sandbag. Could you imagine if you were trying to accomplish something, would you want to do you were doing something that was ok or would you want to do what is better? Kettlebells especially offer some great options but stay with me!

Here is an example of how we combine kettlebells and Ultimate Sandbags to build hip hinge progressions. 

The exercises above give us plenty of time to practice building load and volume to have strength in the hip hinge position. However, people are right, at some point, the load of the Ultimate Sandbag can’t go higher. We done? Now it is time for the barbell? Not in my mind! Let’s challenge the body EVEN more by making that lat/core connection stressed as well as the glute and posterior chain strength by training these movements in new conditions as Sean Lettero shows.

People are SHOCKED when they experience this exercise and find when we discuss dimension in DVRT the impact it really makes. Okay, you have spent time building up your front loaded good mornings, NOW barbell time right? Listen, here is my thing with the barbell, if you WANT to do it that’s cool. However, it won’t be able to go where we are heading! Let’s now look at the fact we can deadlift in different patterns of movement. This challenge the fact that the BIGGEST muscles in our body have to produce and resist force at the same time. Plus, the bigger our movement vocabulary (ways we can express strength) the more real world impact we can have! Check out Jessica showing that deadlift matrix in this series of drills. Going to a more stable hip position with the load helps us use any one or all of these stepping patterns.

When you scroll through the above videos you can see that “do you like deadlifts?” starts to open a BIG can of worms asking, “which one?” Especially when you consider we can think about our body position, load position, plane of motion, and how different tools like kettlebells provide different opportunities.

When you see just the progressions that we can achieve in the progressions we show above, you see moving to JUST going heavier isn’t what makes us better. 

At THIS point is where I think kettlebells get to really shine. So far we have been using the Ultimate Sandbag to create deliberate tension for stability of the body. Because kettlebells are independent moving weights we can’t create the same stability as we have been using up to this point! While we still want to “crush” the handles, the reality is we have to be more reflexive with our strength, which is a HUGE part of being more real world strong.

Using a SINGLE kettlebell is actually in many ways more challenging than using two. Yes, I know that is confusing because two give us more weight. However, one requires us to RESIST more force as we also PRODUCE a great amount of force. You will see me break down THE most challenging deadlifts in our single leg versions. What this should show you is not just having more deadlifts at your disposal, but having a better system of progressing yourself and others in to learn how to be strong, but also move better!

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