The deadlift is a fundamental lifting technique in the manipulative category of Natural Movement skills. Often referred to as “the hinge” or hinging, it is useful whenever you need to lift or move something that is resting on the ground. It is the “go-to” movement if you need to free something stuck by a heavy object, move such an object to the side, lap it so you can change your grip before carrying, or swiftly transition to “cleaning” the object up to your chest or shoulders. Even if you just need to pick up a child or a bag of groceries, the deadlift is often the simplest and most efficient movement pattern for the job. Given that we perform lifts like this on a daily basis, it is well-worth learning and mastering the most efficient technique so we can enjoy a lifetime of benefits.
Apart from the everyday practical benefits, as you deadlift increasingly heavier loads, and more forcefully, the strength and power gained transfer directly to faster sprints, greater distance broad jumps, and similar benefits to both locomotive and manipulative skills. If done right, it will tremendously strengthen your back, improve your posture, and help prevent back pain. It also lays a strong foundation of both skill and conditioning for the many other lifting skills such as lapping, cleans, and snatches. Thus, it’s no surprise that the deadlift is often employed in professional strength and conditioning programs.
There are many items you can use to practice deadlifting, such as kettlebells, sandbags, medicine balls, barbells, dumbbells, stones and logs, among others. Every object will present unique characteristics based on its size, weight, shape, and the availability of gripping options. If you are new to this technique, make sure to practice with a very light weight first, and preferably something that has a comfortable and secure place to grip.
The use of the kettlebell is a superb choice for beginners and people lacking hip mobility, since the handle allows you to securely grasp an object that is also elevated well above the ground/floor level. This way, you won’t have to hinge too low to get into the starting position. If you don’t have a kettlebell, you can improvise with other equipment; for instance, wrapping a towel or strap around a stone, so your grip is a bit higher than the floor.
Stand with your feet close to the kettlebell, on each side of it. Ideally, the grip (or the center of mass) should be exactly between your two feet. As you look down, you should see your hands vertically aligned with the handle.
Initiate the “hip hinge” by bending your knees and reaching your rear backwards while keeping a neutral spine. Your spine should form a straight line from your lower back to the crown of your head; chin tucked, and your back is not rounded or arched. Your shoulders should be straight and aligned with the spine as well; neither elevated/shrugged or retracted/pinched together. Once you are in the starting position, grip the handle firmly with arms straight.
Breathe in through the abdomen and “brace” (hold your breath). Start contracting your lats, lower back, abs, hamstrings, and glutes to prevent losing posture and balance as you slowly start pressing your feet into the ground with a mid-foot balance. Immediately drive your hips forward, which is the most important part of the motion. Keep your spine, shoulders, and arms straight throughout the full range of motion. Begin to slowly exhale as you start lifting the load.
Keep extending your legs and driving your hips forward, while maintaining postural integrity. As the load passes the knee line, accelerate the motion.
Finish the movement by standing straight, arms fully lengthened and relaxed, and shoulders down. Contracting your glutes will help you maintain a strong standing position, especially as the load becomes heavy. From here, you want to bring the load down (following the same path you lifted it up) in a controlled manner, but not too slowly. If your position is good from beginning to end, the path the kettlebell follows is strictly vertical, without moving forward or backward.
If you are new to the deadlift movement, keep these key points in mind.
- Maintain a neutral, lengthened spine throughout the full range of motion.
- Drive the motion through the hips by pressing your feet into the floor with a mid-foot balance.
- Keep your arms straight and shoulders stabilized.
- Rounding of the back or arching of the lumbar spine
- Bending the knees too much (i.e. squatting instead of hinging at the hips)
- Tilting your head backwards too far
Here are some ways to increase the challenge once you’ve mastered the basic technique.
- Increase the weight or your total volume of training (e.g. more repetitions or sets)
- Incorporate the deadlift into other lifting skills (e.g. Lapping, Cleans, Waist Carry, etc.)
- Use an object that is more difficult to grip or requires a lower hand placement, and thus, a deeper hip hinge (i.e. increase the range of motion by using a natural stone instead of a kettlebell).
Like many movement patterns, there is so much more that could be said about the biomechanics of this technique for it to be optimally efficient. It is often the case that movements that seem simple are in fact surprisingly sophisticated, which is why the MovNat Certification Program goes into such depth on these fundamental movement patterns. In the case of the deadlift, as the load increases to being quite heavy relative to your strength and body weight, the little details matter more and more.
Every time you have to lift something up from the ground, you have an opportunity to practice this movement. Even if the object is quite light, if you make a habit of deadlifting with efficient technique, you are much more likely to enjoy a lifetime of strength and postural benefits with a lower likelihood of back pain.
Start Moving Naturally At Home
Our e-course, MovNat Level 1 Fundamentals, is a perfect resource for beginning your Natural Movement Fitness journey at home! If you want to build your movement and fitness from the ground up and regenerate your body using practical, natural movements that enhance fitness, function, and physical capability, learn more at the link below.
- How To Get Ridiculously Strong with Natural Movement
- The Waist Carry
- 12 Natural Movements For Better Hip Mobility
Note: This article contains material from Erwan Le Corre’s book, The Practice of Natural Movement.