The deadlift is often hyped as one of the very best exercises that can be done. It is hard to argue that the deadlift can’t be very effective, however, the issue is that we have often missed the types of deadlifts that can be SO effective for our fitness goals.
The foundation of the benefits of the deadlift stem from teaching the hip hinge movement pattern where we learn to use our hamstrings, glutes, and low back (our posterior chain) in a synergistic manner that helps us use these powerful muscles instead of primarily our low back. Learning such a movement doesn’t just help with lifting things from the ground more effectively, but leads to increased power of the body in other actions like running and jumping for example.
One of the other great benefits of the deadlift is that we learn to dynamically move through the hips while we hold a “plank” in our trunk. Learning how to be mobile at one area and stable at another is REALY important for being real world strong and fit.
So, how do we miss the benefits of the deadlift? Typically people think of the deadlift in three forms, that would be a standard barbell (hex bar can be used or even sumo), sprinter stance, and single leg. While those all can be helpful, it leaves A LOT of other deadlift variations out and missing HUGE opportunities to build strength and resilience.
Moving In Different Planes Of Motion
Why would moving in different planes of motions (different directions) unlock greater power from our deadlift? After all, we use less weight and that means we can’t build the same amount of muscle or strength right? Not so!
First off, research shows us that when we get to more unstable positions we actually use MORE muscles (see below with a great hip hinge example). So, load by itself can be misleading.
Especially seeing how glute max is way more active single leg, shows this is of great value to building muscle.
What about strength though? It is true that we can always produce more force when we are more stable. However, if we took that approach to building strength we would never leave using machines (machine training is more stable than free weights).
This isn’t just one study, another 2021 study looked at single versus two legged deadlifts and the following was stated, “One of the primary goals of fitness coaches is to increase the strength and performance of their athletes while minimizing the risk of injury during training. In this context, it has been argued that lower back strength is the weakest link in DL, which is why powerlifting at maximum strength often results in a rounded lumbar spine (5, 19, 29). However, under high loads, flexion of the lumbar spine represents a risk of injury to the lower back (7). Based on the use of lower loads, unilateral lower body exercises would have the advantage of avoiding the potential limitation of the lower back (5, 19).”
You can see only in the measurement of the low back muscles did the single leg deadlift not stimulate more muscle activity. So, if we want a stronger posterior chain, moving to more unilateral based movements is key.
Of course the issue is that going truly single leg is difficult for a lot of people and even if we do, we miss opportunities in horizontal acceleration and deceleration that going single or two legged doesn’t offer. Below are some great examples…
You can see the many ways we can progress the deadlift and by using the Ultimate Sandbag and pulling the handles apart we engage the lats easier and stabilize the core making it easier to use the posterior chain.
Using these progressions makes our training more effective by not relying on artificial stability as physical therapist, Jessica Bento and I explain below…
When we can combine our hip hinge and moving with acceleration and deceleration we get so much more muscle, strength, stability, and expand our movement vocabulary so that our strength training actually translates to real world performance and injury prevention so much more effectively. All the meant time we also create better muscle building programs and injury resilience, the question becomes not “why do these deadlift progressions”, but rather, “why aren’t we use these deadlift progressions?” The answer to the second is that we have a generally poor understanding of how the body works and how to optimize our training, that is what motivates us to keep sharing posts like today’s!
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