The importance of incorporating the deadlift into any training or exercise program can’t be overstated. Whether you’re simply bending forward to pick up your kids, pulling the laundry out of the dryer, or doing something far more strenuous, like competing in a powerlifting competition, the deadlift is essential to strengthening key muscle groups and preventing serious injury. Yet we see a lot of people shy away from integrating deadlift training into their routine. Whether they are just not comfortable performing the exercise or fear it because they’ve been hurt doing it before, many clients remain critical of this exercise. While we understand the frustration if they’ve gotten hurt deadlifting before, rarely should an exercise so important be completely omitted from a training program.
Despite what clients may think, deadlifts are actually a full-body exercise and can go a long way in mitigating a lot of nagging problems—if the exercise is performed correctly. We’re going to discuss some common issues people have when performing the deadlift and then go over ways you can set up clients for success in performing, and benefiting from, this important movement.
Common Deadlift Mistakes
Squatting the Movement
The deadlift is a hip-dominant movement, not a knee-dominant movement. So while the knees will bend slightly when performing the exercise, they should not initiate the movement. You’ll hear a lot of clients who squat the movement complain of the bar hitting the shins on the way up and the way down, and that’s because they bend their knees throughout the movement. This leads both to the bar scraping the shins as they pull it off the ground and the bar traveling over the thighs and down the shins, which can be awkward and uncomfortable.
Not Enough Tension on Initial Pull
Bracing and maintaining full-body tension can also get overlooked. If a client attempts to pull the weight from the ground without the proper bracing, there inevitably will be some initial rounding of the back to help make up for the slack in the bar. This is an invitation to injury.
Choosing the Wrong Deadlift Variation
Anatomy plays a big part in determining what type of deadlift variation a person should be doing. If someone has really long legs, then pulling from the ground in a conventional setup might be challenging. If someone has some anatomical variances in their hips, then a wider stance, such as the sumo position, is preferable. In other words, the prepared coach assesses which variation of the deadlift woks best for a client’s unique physique so that client is comfortable performing the movement.
Setting Up the Client for Deadlift Success
Teaching the Hinge
Regardless of which type of deadlift is to be performed, start with properly coaching the hinge pattern first. If a person can’t grasp the hinge position, then they need to start there before even thinking about pulling any weight from the ground. The key here is to keep it simple! Don’t over complicate this and don’t over-coach it. We like to use the example seen in the embedded video, as it has a tendency to click with our clientele.
When clients struggle with bracing or maintaining tension before the initial pull from the ground, use a resistance band to teach them what that tension should feel like. The band attempts to pull the bar away from the body, so the client has to maintain good tension in the upper body and torso throughout the movement to keep from losing control of the bar.
Finding the Right Variation for the Client
As discussed above, the importance of determining the right fit for a client when it comes to hinge-based movements cannot be overestimated. A client may be able to do a conventional setup in the deadlift but feels too much discomfort in their lower back when doing so. Whether it’s pulling from an elevated surface, changing the variation completely to something like a sumo stance, or regressing to something like a kettlebell, becoming skilled in performing the movement comfortably, mastering form, is what really matters. This is where the right coach’s intuition, experience, and assessment skills are invaluable.
Opinion varies widely among coaches, trainers, and medical professionals when it comes to the subject of the deadlift. Some love it; others, not so much. We, however, gravitate toward incorporating some hinge-based movements, including deadlifts, into every program to ensure that clients cultivate body awareness and learn not to think of the exercise as inherently scary or dangerous. There are always exceptions among clients depending on health history, and you may conclude that a particular person should not perform the deadlift. But teaching all clients to perform at least some regression variation (as with the kettlebell) is still pretty important if they’re to be successful not only in their training but also in performing the simple chores of daily life.