Building a Bigger & Better Deadlift

December 27, 2019

By: Jared Blincow

With December comes DEADcember and another opportunity to build and develop one of the big three lifts! The deadlift is one of the most important lifts in our training arsenal and comes with a handful of benefits. The posterior chain of the body often gets neglected by gym goers even though our largely sedentary lifestyles means we need to train and strengthen this part of the body more than ever.

The posterior chain is a group of muscles on the backside of the body, including the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, and upper back musculature. The posterior chain also plays a fundamental role in postural integrity and health.

A stronger posterior chain can reduce lower back and knee injuries/pain and is the foundation for a strong, healthy lifestyle. Here’s a few exercises you can add to your training to build a bigger (& better) deadlift this month:

RDL

The RDL is on the of the most important and fundamental movements to master. Learning how to properly hip hinge with a neutral spine will not only strengthen injury prone areas due to sedentary lifestyles but also enhance almost every other lower body lift you are already doing in the gym. The RDL is a true hip hinge and will have a direct impact on your deadlifts. It’s important to focus on keeping a neutral spine throughout the entirety of this movement and the movement is being initiated through the hips and not the lumbar spine. Keep the barbell as close as you can to your body as you push your hips back and focus on coming up explosively, finishing the movement by squeezing your glutes. The video here shows a barbell RDL but this movement can be done with dumb bells, kettle bells, and bands for variety.

Barbell Bent Over Row

The barbell bent over row is essentially an RDL that now includes a row. Forcing your body to hold a hip hinge while going through some dynamic movement will build some resiliency in your hip hinge while strengthening the upper back in the process. A strong upper back/lats will allow yourself to keep tension in the body and stay tight while we are deadlifting off the floor. I like to deadlift the barbell off the floor first and then RDL into position in order to ensure I’m set up correctly before I start rowing. Focus on keeping your back flat and as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Pull the barbell up into your belly button, squeeze your shoulder blades, and slowly control the weight back down between reps. 

Glute Drive/Hip Thrust 

 The glutes and hamstrings are the primary movers in hip extension and the glute drive/hip thrust is a great movement to directly train this muscle group. We use hip extension every day to stabilize our hips as we walk, run, jump, sprint etc. and most of us don’t extend our hips enough on a daily basis due to our sedentary lifestyles. Strengthening both the glutes and hamstrings can build a more resilient lower back and reduce some nagging lower back pain/injuries. The lockout portion of the deadlift involves a strong hip extension and weak glutes can force your lumbar spine to take on a greater portion of the load than it needs to. While performing the hip thrust, focus on pushing through the heels and driving the hips as far forward as you can. The hip thrust is a fairly simple move to master and can be progressively loaded quickly but it’s important to focus on a full hip extension every single rep and try to hold each rep at the top for 1-2 seconds before coming back down. If you are feeling this movement in your quads more than your glutes try dropping the weight down and really focusing on squeezing your glutes as hard as you can at the top of each rep. 

Suitcase Carry

Nothing gets more functional than picking up a heavy weight, walking with it, and then setting it back down. Carrying a heavy weight in one hand forces the core to stay engaged in order to maintain an upright posture without swaying from side to side. The suitcase carry targets the core, upper back/postural muscles, lower body, and grip strength, all of which are important factors to a strong deadlift. Just like any exercise, it’s important to choose a weight that is challenging but still allows you to maintain proper form and posture. Focus on keeping the kettlebell/dumbbell locked into place using the core while packing the shoulder down and back.

KB Swing

The KB swing can help bridge the gap in the hip hinge continuum. While the deadlift is primarily used as a pure strength developer, the KB swing is a more dynamic and ballistic movement that can aid in the lock out portion of the deadlift. Before adding KB swings into your training routine, make sure you’ve got your hip hinge technique dialed in before you start executing it in a dynamic fashion.