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My Favorite Deadlift

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Many may attribute my lack of enthusiasm over barbell squats and deadlifts as just me not being good at them. The truth is that I was a HUGE barbell guy for awhile, especially when I competed in Strongman. I had adopted the philosophy (as was popular at the time) where just getting “stronger” solved everything. It was easy to think that if I just built up a great squat and deadlift, everything else that I wanted to develop in my fitness would solve themselves. 

While I was not threatening any records in either the squat or deadlift, I got some pretty solid numbers. Even with all my back issues I got well over a 400 pound squat (also not bad for being 6’3 and going for low) and my best deadlift was around 540 (deadlifting was always much easier for me probably because of my height). 

So, these are obviously not numbers worth shouting to the world, most would say they were pretty good. Did that mean that all my other fitness goals were fulfilled? What did that even mean my “other” fitness goals?

I loved the sport of Strongman because it wasn’t just about how much you could lift. There were aspects of speed, agility, endurance, and tons of unpredictability (much like Alwyn Cosgrove broke down in his interview HERE). It required that I had stability, mobility, reactiveness, power, speed, and yes, endurance. While the saying, “strength solves everything” is an easy sell, I just didn’t see it come to life. 

Even with these nice numbers in the squat and deadlift I found I wasn’t getting faster, I wasn’t getting more powerful, I had increasing low back discomfort, and my hip mobility was getting worse! Was this just a “Josh thing” or were other people having the same issues? First, I looked at the guys I was training with. They had even better numbers than I did but they were experiencing the same issues. 

The more and more I spoke to fitness professionals, I heard similar stories. They were focused on these lifts, but they didn’t translate to other things as well and they actually found they were hurting more and taking longer in their warm-ups. So, why did we all continue to do such things? Well, we just didn’t have better answers!

Since the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different result, I started to think about the real issue. What I discovered was that while the deadlift was a good exercise, there were several issues at hand. 

  1. It is really easy to cheat! How do I mean? Even when proper technique is reinforced, internally the body can make such small compensations in regards to how we are aligned and moving. Spinal expert, Dr. Stuart McGill discusses in his book “Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance” how powerlifters would actually experience these incredibly small changes in individual vertebrae movement that will cause the average person to experience issues in their low back. The numbers were crazy small, something like 5 degrees. 

What this meant to me was that as we chased simply going heavier and heavier, we probably did increase our risk of causing issues in our low back. While the deadlift itself doesn’t cause back issues, assuming we do them well, eventually the movement combined with high loads could! 

2. We weren’t making the body smarter! It would have been awesome if the idea of just building a stronger squat and deadlift made everything better too. I would have felt, performed, and been a better coach. The fact of the matter was it didn’t. Why? 

There is this term, yes a real science term, called “optimal strength” Basically the term means that a certain point, increasing performance in a specific exercise doesn’t yield any positive changes outside of the lift itself. This is why athletes are always careful not become powerlifters or Olympic lifters because they can quickly run into this issue. 

That was a big reminder, but so was just thinking about how our body is designed to move in life. While many will claim the deadlift has great carryover to every day activity, the reality is that few of us are lifting 500 pound implements that are perfectly balanced in a stable body position. We move reactively and are having to deal with objects that aren’t perfectly balanced and require us to move from different postures and directions. 

So, while I like the deadlift, to me it is only part of the start of the journey of making the movement of the hip hinge so much more effective and powerful. As I thought about all these issues I started to think about how we could make the deadlift better and discovered my actual favorite deadlift, our front load good mornings.

“Holy cow Josh, your favorite deadlift isn’t even CALLED a deadlift! What gives?!”

I know, at first glance you may have this thought, but let me explain. The front load good morning in many aspects is a deadlift. We have the hip hinge movement, the plank in the upper torso, and I often like to have people pause in the bottom position which essentially makes it a deadlift which refers mostly to the movement coming from a “dead stop”. 

Coach Emily Meyer shows not only how the Front Loaded Good Morning looks a lot like a deadlift, but the small things of positioning that make a big difference. 

Why is this DVRT movement become my favorite deadlift though? For one, the position, if we have the right intent in how we use the Ultimate Sandbag, allows us to help stabilize the torso and eliminate many of the issues we run into with the deadlift. Such as rounding thoracic spines and I believe stabilizing the smaller movements of the spine as well. This dynamic plank gives is the foundation to develop a better hip hinge and reinforces the functional training concept of being able to have stability at one area while mobility at another. 

Instead of creating a long lever arm on the low back, the Ultimate Sandbag version creates a nice stable plank so we work on the connection of the lats, core, and glutei instead of unnecessarily stressing our lumbar spine. 

I love this “deadlift” too because it exposes weaknesses in core strength, proper glute integration, and has great carry over to other movements. For many years, I have shown how the front loaded good morning can really improve kettlebell swings! 

Lastly, we can take the drill into the different positions and directions I spoke about where we have to learn to keep our plank and maintain our hip hinge under more challenging conditions. It amazes me all the time when I work with lifters who can barbell deadlift a ton, but you make them perform some of these DVRT front loaded good mornings and they completely fall apart. 

This helps drive home the reason we tell people that building a better movement vocabulary is so important. To me, it isn’t about the lift, but what the lift teaches us in how to use our body better while also helping us build a better and smarter body. Try these deadlifts out and see if they don’t quickly become a favorite!

Want to know more about how we build a system of functional fitness and movement strength? Don’t miss saving 30% on our DVRT Online Education HERE and our best selling Ultimate Sandbags and DVRT Workouts.