Dead-Lifts Are Not the Enemy

Jun 22, 2023

 by Liz Rodriguez

When I worked in commercial fitness and we had a new trainer start we would do a bit of an initiation at our first trainer meeting.  We would put them in the hot seat and ask them questions such as their favorite cereal growing up, what their first car was, and of course, every trainer's favorite question; what is your favorite exercise?  We would get a wide array of answers including the squat, push-up, plank, bicep curls, and of course, the dead-lift.  

If you ask the average person if dead-lifting is good for you, 9 times out of 10 you'll either get a blank stare or the answer of course not, those are terrible for your back!  When we look at the major movements we do on a regular basis, we can recognize pushing (a stroller, grocery cart, a car door), pulling (things out of your backseat, moving furniture, taking the trash out) and squatting (lowering down to pick up an object or child, getting into a chair, reaching for something on a bottom shelf).  But many people aren't as familiar with hinging which is the movement we execute during a dead-lift.  

The hinge movement pattern is (at least in my opinion after training for 18 years) one of the most difficult things to teach a client.  We are programmed to pick things up with our backs rounded and transfer the load into our spine which can lead to "tweaking your back" or throwing it out entirely.  So what is this hinge pattern I'm referring to?

The hinge movement pattern is where the thoracic and lumbar spine and pelvis stay in a relatively neutral position while the subject bends forward. The movement comes from the hips which is where the force is produced.  Let's give some examples so you can visualize the movement.  The easiest way to teach someone a hinge pattern is to have gravity on their side.  So we look at the bridge (pictured below).  This is a simple floor exercise where the persons knees are bent, feet are flat.  They start to lift their hips until there is a straight line from shoulders to knees.  Essentially they are extending their hips towards the ceiling. 

If we wanted to make it a little more difficult we would put their upper body on a bench or box and perform the same motion driving their hips towards the ceiling.  In fitness world we like to call that a hip thruster (see below). But it's the same movement pattern. We are hinging our hips towards the ceiling.

If you watched a video of a person deadlifting you would see them palce a weight in front of them and hinge forward picking up the weight and standing up.  This motion teaches the person how to use their hips, glutes and hamstrings along with muscles in their lower back to pick something off the floor.  To take it a step further, dead-flits also facilitate core strength, hip mobility and even grip strength (depending on how much you are lifting). The picture below shows a person poised to pick the bar off of the ground. Their back is flat, their feet are gripping the floor and the core is tight.

The problem is most people don't understand proper form and dead-lifting with bad form versus say a squat or a push-up could lead to bigger problems and injuries.  So how do you know where to start?  I just showed 3 different examples of what the hinge pattern is.  So start at square one. Start with bridging and get used to how the pattern feels.  As you move into the hip thruster you can add weights, but most importantly, just get used to the motion of driving your hips towards the ceiling.

In conjunction with learning this movement pattern it's also super important to strengthen the mucles helping you.  That means strengthening your core (such as doing planks and crunches), your hamstrings (such as hamstring curls and incline walking) as well as other lower back exercises (such as prone extension or back extension).  All of these will help in strengthening the muscles that help you to execute the hinge.  

So why is this all so important?  The reality is we are going to continue to run into the hinge pattern in daily life.  Whether you are picking up heavy boxes, trying to shut a heavy door or picking up a child, you are going to wind up hinging!  And because it tends to be the movement pattern people get hurt in so easily, it's in your best interest to learn about the pattern and incorporate it into your strength training routine.  It also transfers to tons of sports including running (having strong glutes, hamstrings nad core muscles will make you run more efficiently), soccer (improving lower body strength), cycling (more powerful legs), or hiking (stronger core and lower body). 

I hope I helped to break down the movement pattern and given you a clearer picture of how to begin learning more about how to hinge properly.  If you are looking for more information on how to lift properly feel free to set up a free strategy call here.