In part 1 of my how to deadlift series, we addressed increasing mobility at the ankle, hips and thoracic spine. Now that you are a more mobile athlete, you can just “grip and rip” the bar from the floor, right? Probably not. Even though I consider deadlifting one of the most basic lifts (after all, you are just picking up heavy stuff off the floor!), there are technical aspects of the lift that continuously need to be addressed.
The next step in learning the deadlift is to drill the main movement pattern of the movement – the hip hinge. The hip hinge is one of the most important movements an athlete can learn. It is an essential part of the not just the deadlift, but of the snatch, clean and good morning. It is also a vital part of teaching correct jumping mechanics. If every athlete knew how to do a decent hip hinge, we would have a lot more fast and strong dudes running around!
The lack of a solid hinge is probably the cause of many lower back injuries. People shouldn’t bend at the waist or knees. They should think about moving at the hips! The goal of the hip hinge is to push the hips back, which will load the hamstrings and glutes, while maintaining a neutral, flat back. We do not under any circumstances want to have lumbar flexion under load. The hip hinge allows the prime movers, the hamstrings and the glutes, to power the movement.
Hip Hinge Progression
1. Hand Cuff Good Morning
Your feet should be in a “jumping width” (knees and ankles in line right under your hips) and your toes should be slightly turned out. This stance will allow you to put optimal force into the ground. Pick up a dumbbell or a kettlebell, hold it behind your butt and take a breath to tighten your abs. Your torso should be completely vertical, and your knees should be slightly bent. Next, push the weight backwards, using your hips to move it. Try to keep your shins as vertical as possible. The knees should minimally move forward. Keep pushing your hips back until you feel your hamstrings stretching. Reverse the movement by squeezing your glutes and extending your hips back towards the starting position.
Coaching cue: Imagine a rope tied around your waist, and your training partner is pulling you backwards.
2. RDL (Romanian Deadlift)
The next step is to put the barbell into your hands. We are almost at a deadlift, I promise! The Romanian deadlift is a weighted hip hinge. Rack the barbell at a height near your knees, and load up a barbell with some weight. Grab the barbell with a pronated (double overhand) grip, take a breath and tighten your core, and lift the barbell up off the supports. Take a step back from the rack. The starting position will have your feet again in jumping width, toes slightly turned out, knees slightly bent, and your torso vertical. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backwards, just as you did in the handcuff good morning. Keep your weight on your heels at all times and keep your chest up! Do not fall forward. While moving your hips back, slide the barbell down your leg, keeping it as close to your body as possible. When you feel your hamstring stretching, reverse the movement with a glute contraction. Extend the hips all the way back to the starting position.
Coaching cue: Actively squeeze your lats. This will prevent the bar from drifting away from your body, thus creating a longer lever arm, leading to more stress on your lumbar spine.
3. Deadlift from pins
We are almost ready for the real thing! After the hip hinge has been mastered, we will move on to deadlifting from pins. This is effectively just a shorted ROM of a conventional deadlift. This will allow you to progress to the floor by gradually lowering the height of the pins. The key point to watch is if you can keep your weight on your heals, and if you can keep you back flat. If you meet that criteria, feel free to lower the pins. If you really hammered away on the mobility drills from Part 1, you can be aggressive with the progression on this exercise.
Set up with your feet in jumping position, feet slightly turned out. I recommend using a pronated grip until grip becomes a limited factor. Start with the bar just above your kneecap. Hip hinge down to the bar. Take a breath, brace your core. Squeeze your chest and your lats. This will ensure the proper tension is attained at the start of the lift. Your lats will also be crucial in forcing the bar to stay closer to your body, ensuring optimal mechanical advantage. Once you have your air, and your chest and lats are tight, gradually build up muscular force and lift the bar. DO NOT jerk the bar off the pins. This will potentially cause injury. Finish the movement with a strong glute contraction. Lower the bar just like an RDL back to the pins. I recommend resetting between each repetition. This will allow proper technique to be practiced and correct motor patterns to be learned.
Coaching cue: Think about pulling through your heels. Never come onto your toes during this exercise.
In part 1 of my deadlift series, I addressed mobility concerns, and I shared some of my favorite activation exercises to prepare for a deadlift workout. After part 2, every reader should be armed with the tools to improve their hip hinge. In part 3, we will finally put it all together.
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