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Deadlifting from the Ground Up

Deadlifting is a common exercise used to improve strength of the hamstrings and glutes. There are so many variations of deadlifting including two legged and single leg variations. A lot of the variations of this exercise have different intentions. When I prescribe this exercise as part of a home program or exercise program, the variation I recommend depends on the goal and the ability to execute correctly.

Girl Deadlifting
KB Deadlift

Mechanically, deadlifting teaches one how to lift weight from the floor and how to load weight from the foot up through the pelvis. These are great skills to have especially for laborers and Mom’s who lift children and toys from the floor constantly! I truly believe it is a great skill to have, however not every deadlift variation is for every person. This why have many variations, adaptations are great!

Another added benefit that may be under utilized is the effect the hinging movement of a deadlift has on the pelvic floor. At the maximal hinge point where the buttocks is pushed backwards, there is a slight knee bend, the weight is over the mid foot, and the backside of the pelvic floor is in a lengthened position under load. This helps teach the body and pelvic floor to lengthen and stretch this tissue. When the pelvic floor is tight in the back and symptoms are at play such as constipation, painful sex, urinary leakage just to name a few; learning proper deadlifting mechanics can be helpful. I also find that commonly when the pelvic floor is tight, hinging can be uncomfortable for the low back. The low back is typically compensating for the pelvic floor being unable to lengthen through the backside.

Let’s dive in a little deeper to this topic. Ideally when lowering down into the bottom phase of the deadlift, the pelvic floor has to lengthen to allow the pelvis to sit backwards and open up. The sacrum has to nutate, the knee needs to flex, shin needs to shift forward over the mid foot so the foot can pronate. Then as you push into the ground through your feet, you use the pronation and foot push to generate the force to come back up and extend through the hip joint causing counter nutation of the sacrum, then reaching knee extension. If the mechanics are correct, there should be little change in the curvature of the lumbar spine.

Check out this video for the visual representation of what I am referring to.

One compensation I typically see includes flexing the lumbar spine due to a lack of range of motion through the hips and pelvis to achieve positioning. Also I commonly see excessive extension through the lumbar spine to make up for lack of nutation through the pelvis or lack of strength to stabilize and pull the weight up by pushing down into the floor. You can visually see what I’m referring to here. Towards the bottom end of the movement there should be a stretching or lengthening sensation through the hamstring and the back of the glute pelvis. At times, one can only feel the hamstring stretch. This may be an indication of the pelvic outlet being unable to to open and lengthen. If that is the case, it should be a focus of treatment to optimize positioning and functioning of the movement.

Here is a list of many of the different two legged deadlift variations that I use:

  • Hex Bar Deadlift

  • Barbell Deadlift

  • KB Deadlift

  • RDL

Here is a list of some of the single leg or single leg dominant variations I use! What I mean by single leg bias is that two feet are still on the ground but one side is being utilized more than the other.

  • Kickstand RDL

  • Offset Deadlift

  • Single Leg RDL

  • Wall Assisted RDL

  • Single Leg Tap RDL

The movement and variation can be manipulated to assist with different ranges of motion or phases of foot/hip positioning. When I say phases, I am referring to the change in position of the foot/hip/pelvis during the different phases of gait or walking. If the goal is to work on force production through the foot with a propulsive phase, a kickstand variation make work best. If the goal is to potentially increase hip mobility and work on the earlier propulsive foot/hip position, the offset deadlift may be a better choice. Where the weight is held during the exercise can also influence range of motion at the hip. For example, if you are looking to increase hip internal rotation, the weight should be held on the contralateral (opposite) side to the affected hip. If the goal is to increase external rotation, then holding the weight on the ipsilateral side may be the best option. Adaptations can also be made such as raising the beginning height of the deadlift when beginning from the floor to accommodate mobility limitations and optimize execution. Here is a visual representation of some of these variations

The possibilities are endless with deadlift variations to find one that works for you! Not every variation works for every body. The way the movement is executed and what changes that option makes on the person’s body ultimately decides on what variation I like to recommend for the person in front of me! Happy Deadlifting!


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