Why listen to me?
Why on earth should you listen to me about deadlifts? I have never won a powerlifting competition. My legs are under developed when compared to my upper body (Does Scooby do legs?). Why not take the advice of experts like Jonny Canidto? Great question! If you are young, coordinated, and have no joint problems then you dont need my advice. Head on over to Jonny Canidto’s website, he is a good guy and knows his stuff. On the other hand, if you are older, a bit un-coordinated, or have knee or lower back issues then a slower approach like I suggest here is called for.
You see a lot of bad form in the gym when it comes to deadlifts and the Crossfit folks have made it worse. So many these days just seem to “grab and yank” which might work for an 18 year old but its suicide for anyone above 30. I’m old, and like a lot of older people I have a number of joint issues – lower back being one of them. When starting deadlifts, I needed to use a very careful progression to avoid injury. If I can deadlift, anybody can. Remember, you dont have to lift a lot of weight. Here is the process I used to deadlift:
Stiff Legged Deadlift. Before you even *think* of doing a deadlift, spend at least 6 months of just doing SDL. Getting the spinal extensors strong with a simple, smooth, and exercise that easy to use proper form. This is what everyone skips and its THE most important thing to keep you from getting injured. You have to practice keeping the lower back in the neutral position before you go adding leg motions. You must have the back position seared into your muscle memory because once the legs start moving, its tough mentally to keep everything going correctly and it just takes on single nanosecond of forgetting about the neutral lower back position and KA-THWAP – your back is out and you cant do lifting of any sort for months and months. So please, practice SDL until you can do it in your sleep. Then video yourself doing it and make sure your back is locked into the neutral position. Only then start slowly moving up in weight!
The baby deadlift. This is not a real deadlift because its not a fluid motion and the mechanics are different but its easy to master with safe form. Its easy to think of one thing at a time and thats what this exercise is, just one simple thing at a time. First, using the quads only straighten the legs (with the upper body stationary). Next do a SDL until you are vertical. Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Reverse the process to get the bar down. This looks a little like a deadlift but its simple because its the coupling of two very simple motions that you cant screw up :)
Hex Bar Deadlift
There are two great deadlift type exercises that can help you with real deadlifts. The reason I like the hex bar deadlifts as a training exercise is that you can focus on the weight distribution on your feet without worrying about the bar clearing your knees. When I do this exercise, its all about the center of gravity – I try to keep it over my insoles. Its really important to be able to feel where the weight is centered on your feet and this exercises helps you hone that sense.
This is the other deadlift type exercise that can help you work up to real deadlifts and its also something easy to do in a home gym if you dont have an olympic bar. The reason I really like this is 1) you have to go down a lot further than with a deadlift and 2) It allows you to be perfectly balanced! In the down position if the dumbbells are just hanging from your shoulders, they will naturally end up beside your feet. This allows you to have a very natural and comfortable solid stance that feels weirdly wonderful.
Great example of the value of videoing yourself. My lower back is nice and neutral but I am letting my shoulders droop toward the floor so that the upper back is rounding – I need to be holding the shoulders back in the packed position.