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Bottoms Up: The Deadlift

A lot of trainers (and even some strength and conditioning coaches) seem to shy away from the deadlift.

I understand their allergy, as this CAN be a dangerous lift is the wrong client/athlete is performing it, if the coaching is bad, and if the technique goes out the window.

I have been using the deadlift, and I like to teach it to people (when I feel they are ready) and here are some of the ways I like to use it to make it a little more “fan friendly” and “safe”:

1)Start with a kettle bell between the legs – This is a great version for starting people out with picking things up off the floor. It allows them to get in a solid position with the load between their legs and work on learning the appropriate deadlift pattern. If you don’t have a kettle bell, then place a dumbbell on the floor. With one side of the bell flat on the ground, you will grasp the other side of the bell (fingers grasping under the weight plate) and lift from there.

2)Trap bar deadlift – I am a huge fan of the trap bar as it places people into a more natural posture since the weight is not in front of their body as it would be in a barbell deadlift.

3)Single Leg RDL – Performing this exercise is a really great test in balance and stability. Hold a dumbbell in the opposite arm of the working leg to load yourself and have at it.

4)Barbell Deadlift – I am still a fan of the barbell deadlift, but I think you really have to be specific with what clients/athletes you have perform the lift. You have to be very specific with your technical cuing and you can’t accept any little slips in technique. Once fatigue sets in and things are starting to get hairy, the set is over. I like to use the pick-up and put-down method explained below) to ensure that the individual is always in a good set up position and ready to break the bar from the floor.

Pick-up and Put-down method

The reason I use this technique is because I was always seeing people either:

a)Bouncing the bar of the floor – this is never good, as you are at risk of torquing your back since you have no idea how (or where) that bar will bounce of the ground and you may start to rotate towards once side or the other.

b)Not getting set up enough before breaking the bar from the floor, ending in an awkward or less than desireable pull.

The way the method works, is the person approaches the bar, squats down and gets into a nice tight position. They perform their repetition and then set the bar down and stand up without the bar in hand. They then squat back down, re-grip and perform their next repetition. I like this because it allows them to concentrate and be totally certain they are always getting into a good start position before performing the rep. I even have people start out their single leg deadlifts in the same way. I set up a low step below them and have them lift the dumbbell off the step, set it down and then come back up (unloaded) before repeating the repetition.

This method is a little more tiring, since you are standing up in between each rep. For example, instead of getting 6-8 repetitions at a given weight, I may only get 3-4 repetitions. But, I can live with that, knowing that I am really focusing on getting a solid start position and maintaining technique; rather than just worrying about how many reps I can get (regardless of how it looks). I would rather focus on quality over quantity. I typically wont have people doing more than 4-5 reps on the barbell deadlift anyway, so the rep range is right were I like it to be with this method.

Hopefully this gives everyone some ideas next time they go to deadlift (or teach the deadlift).