In 1987 at the World’s Strongest Man Competition in Scotland, the first ever four-time champion of the event, Jon Pall Sigmarsson, famously shouted, “there is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift!” He was able to scream these words while holding 1153 pounds. You should watch it here. In that short clip, there is a lot to talk about, but in this post and video we will cover why it is important to deadlift and some tips on how to get started.
Having been involved in strength training and fitness for a while now, it seems that the fear of deadlifting is beginning to subside. In the past, if you were not into powerlifting or strongman, or trying to be strong, performing the deadlift was a scary proposition. People would only hear the word “dead” and think that performing this exercise was going to kill you and destroy your back. As people are starting to learn, this is the exact opposite of the truth. The deadlift trains a very important movement pattern, the hinge. It requires bracing of the midsection and thoroughly activates the posterior chain. If done heavy enough, almost every muscle in the body becomes a contributor, which is why the deadlift is thought by many to be the truest test of full body strength. From middle school to the elderly, the deadlift, or some form of it, should be in your training regimen.
The following training advice will refer to teaching someone how to deadlift with a barbell. Yes, there are other tools that can be used like a kettlebell or trap bar (or gigantic train wheels with a square axle like Jon Pall) but the barbell is king. They are easy to find and easy to use, especially in the step-by-step progression we are going to teach you.
When beginning, there are two lessons that need to be understood. The first is how to hinge. We have written many articles about how to load the posterior chain when doing KB swings and drills that can be used to teach the hinge movement pattern. All of those drills will prove valuable in your trainer tool kit. See one of our many recommended drills here.
Things start to change though when weight is added, which is why you also have to teach lesson two, how to load tension throughout the body/bar system. The easiest way we have found to teach both of these things at the same time, is the “rack pull” or deadlift off of blocks.
The bar height, instead of roughly around the mid-shin when lifting off the floor, will be around the knees, just like it is in the Jon Pall video. One of the characteristics of a deadlift is a more horizontal than vertical spine. In the video, Jon Pall drives his knees under the bar and with a vertical spine extends the load off the ground using his knees. When teaching beginners off the blocks we do something slightly different. We coach people to have a smaller knee bend and a more horizontal spine, which pushes the load to the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and lats. Just to be clear, we are in no way being critical of Jon Pall’s technique, that would be ridiculous. He used more of a squatting technique for a specific reason just as we are using more of a hinge. Watch the video below for specifics of how we use the short range of motion deadlift to teach beginners the basics of pulling well and pulling heavy.
There is much, much more to come on this topic and other barbell exercises so stay tuned!