It would be nice if we could spend less time with our weight training. So if you could only do one lift, what would it be? The correct answer is the deadlift.
(We appreciate you putting up with the pop ups!)
No mater what sport you’re in, unless it’s chess or spelling bees, having strong posterior chain muscles will make you better. That’s why the deadlift is my favorite exercise. If you don’t have the deadlift in your strength training program, you are absolutely missing out on all of the performance benefits it brings. No amount of functional training or TRX workouts will replace it.
The Power of the Posterior
The posterior chain muscles (mainly the hamstrings, glutes and lower back) are the main muscles you use for running, jumping, kicking and punching, tackling, etc. If you only strengthened these muscles, you would still see an amazing improvement in your skills.
You’ll notice an irradiation effect from strengthening the posterior chain. Meaning, when your gluts and lower back get stronger, the whole body gets stronger. The deadlift is the best exercise to do this. You could argue that a full range squat will do the same, but the deadlift has the added benefit of better upper back training and grip strengthening.
If you’re more interested in squats then you should read my post on “How to Squat Better.”
How to Perform the Deadlift
There is some danger to adding the deadlift to your weight training program.
- Torn bicep
- Herniated disk
But these dangers can be greatly mitigated with proper execution of the lift. So we’ll start with the torn biceps.
How to Avoid the Torn Bicep
This most commonly occurs when using a “mixed grip” where one hand is supinated and the other is pronated.
The arm that is turned out or supinated places extra strain in the bicep. If you try to pull with your arms during the lift, as apposed to letting them hang, you’re at increased risk of this injury.
The best way to avoid this is to use a double overhand grip. You might not be able to handle as much weight at first, but this is a great way to strengthen your grip. You could use straps, but if your sport requires you to grab things, I recommend avoiding straps as much as possible.
Protecting Against a Herniated Disk
Now on to problem two, the herniated disk. It’s no secret that this is from “cat backing” during your lift. You’re using a weight that’s too heavy, and your lower back can’t handle it. That, or your hamstrings are too tight (it’s probably both of these things).
This is simply an ego problem in almost every case. When you feel your back round while coming off the floor, drop the weight and lighten the load. You may want to work in some back extensions or good mornings to strengthen your back, but I find that sticking with the deadlift will fix this problem on its own. You have to use the weight that’s right for you, and you have to focus in order to fire your muscles correctly.
Variations of the deadlift
There are three main variations of the deadlift.
- Snatch Grip
The conventional is the standard deadlift and still my favorite. Your feet are about shoulder with or a little wider, and your hands are just outside of that.
The sumo deadlift has become very popular these days. Here, you widen your stance to about double shoulder width and reach your hands straight down between your feet.
The snatch grip deadlift is one you rarely see because it puts a lot more emphasis on the upper back, so you can’t lift as much, but it’s another great way to strengthen your grip and balance out your pressing work.
On a side note, I don’t care if you choose the hex bar over the conventional deadlift. In fact, you should cycle through both since it will add some variation to your training. Although, I will say the straight bar is my preferred method. I’m kind of partial to tradition.
Add Plyometrics to your Deadlift Workouts
If you want to be more explosive in your sport, it is advantageous to use some form of explosive exercises. Being explosive can be thought of as a skill. You can have the strength to move quickly, but you may still need to train your body to use that strength.
Two of my favorite ways to do this are the depth jump and the hang clean. The clean is a more advanced exercise, and I won’t attempt to teach it through a blog post. If you aren’t comfortable with it, go with the depth jump. It’s much easier to explain:
- Stand on a platform or bench that’s about knee height.
- Drop from the platform and hit the ground with both feet at the same time.
- As soon as your feet touch the floor, spring up as high as you can.
- Land back on the floor before stepping back up on the platform.
Do Not’s for the Depth Jump
A common mistake is to face the platform when falling and jump immediately back onto it. The reason I don’t like this is that it’s tempting to pull your knees up in order to get your feet back on the box. You should be driving your feet down, into the floor and engaging your glutes and hamstrings. You want to get as much height as possible.
Also, this should not turn into a cardio exercise. You should get a very short break between jumps since we’re trying to train the central nervous system, not the cardiovascular one.
The depth jump is also easier to superset with the deadlift than the hang clean. Using the clean would require two bars and more weight. If you’re in a chain gym or at home, that might not be an option.
Thanks for reading!