The title of this post should actually be "You Should Be Deadlifting!" But I don't want to sound pushy so let me just hypothesize that you are someone who is in search of a killer backside and an even more incredible deadlift. Deadlifting is by far my favorite exercise. It offers a number of benefits including:

  1. Proper gluteus maximus activation
  2. Gluetus maximus development
  3. Latissimus Dorsi development
  4. Increased grip strength
  5. Better posture
  6. Increased attention from partners of the opposite sex

The list could go on but the point is that deadlifting is awesome and there really isn't much of reason to not be training this pattern in some way, shape, or form.

The point of this post is to explain how I take someone who has never deadlifted before and turn them into a hinging machine. This is an important process because if you do not learn to perform this movement correctly you cannot reap all the above mentioned benefits.

In all the time I have been working with people on moving, looking, and feeling better I have yet to meet someone who naturally bends at through their hips rather than their lower back. I assume that this is do to a lack of consciousness about the way they move and the excessive amount of sitting we do. You see the transition from sitting to standing, or squatting as some may call it, is something we are very familiar with and do a hundred times a week. But moving through are hips is something that is foreign to most individuals.

So from the first session a client performs with me I begin introducing the hip hinge and I have them practice it every single time they meet with me and encourage them to practice outside of the gym whenever possible. I accomplish this by placing a hip hinge drill right into their warm-up. This way it serves multiple purposes. It exposes them to the motion, gives them ample time and attempts to practice it, and at the same time prepares them for the coming training session.

My favorite drill to accomplishing these things is the Wall Hip Hinge drill.

Essentially I have the client stand about 6 inches away from the wall and practice keeping them spine neutral, knees slightly bent, and extending their hips back to the wall so that the middle of their glutes touch the wall. It works beautifully for allowing people to explore this motion and begin to find the groove. The wall also functions as a wonderful external cue for people to focus on. Below is a video of me demonstrating the drill.

Coaching Cues I Use:

  1. Place an hand on your lower back and a hand on your rib cage. Be sure that the rib cage doesn't raise and the lumbar spine does not flex.
  2. Stick your butt out.
  3. Reach your butt to the wall.
  4. Create a stretch in the hamstrings.
  5. Soft knees.
  6. Eyes down.

After the client begins performing the wall hip hinge with proficiency I begin introducing the deadlift pattern into their strength training. I always begin by using the KB Sumo Deadlift. I have chosen this exercise because it makes the perfect transition between squatting and deadlifting.

You see most people take to the squat quickly and develop proficiency is this pattern relatively quickly, especially if you start them off with a goblet squat to box. This means they are very adept at performing a motion that is minimal hip flexion with maximal knee flexion, but what I am trying to get them to perform is exactly the inverse. So it makes since to work toward the other end of the spectrum slowly. This is what makes the KB Sumo Deadlift perfect.

This particular exercise still involves quite a bit of knee bend, but really helps to reinforce the idea of flexing the hips and reaching them backwards. The KB also sets a bit lower to the ground than a DB so it adds a bit of a mobility to challenge to the movement. The big things I try to have clients focus on is spine neutral and reaching the hips backwards.

It is also important to know that during the setup of the exercise I make clients start by standing over the KB so that they must move their hips back to get clearance to grab the KB. Below is a video of me demonstrating this exercise.

Coaching Cues I Use:

  1. Squeeze your arms against your sides.
  2. Keep the eyes down and the chin packed.
  3. Imagine a wall behind you and you are trying to touch your butt to the wall.
  4. Create tension in your hamstrings.
  5. Tap the KB Right back where you picked it up from.

Next after the KB Sumo Deadlift has been progressed to a proficient level of strength and the wall hip hinge drill is looking close to perfect we want to progress the client further along the spectrum. So the next exercise I introduce is a DB Romanian Deadlift with a Wall Cue.

Basically this exercise is simply the Wall Hip Hinge with weights in the clients hands. This exercise brings us to an exercise that is minimal knee flexion with maximal hip flexion. It requires the client to get strong and proficient at holding their spine neutral, extending their hips, and keeping their knees soft all while being challenged by resistance.

And again the wall works as a great external cue to focus on that leads to great flexion of the hips. Below is a video of me demonstrating this exercise.

Coaching Cues I Use:

  1. Knees soft. Eyes down. Chin Packed.
  2. Keep DB close to your legs.
  3. Reach your hips toward the wall.
  4. Create tension in your hamstrings

After this movement my next progression is to simply take the client away from the wall and have them become comfortable performing this movement without the feedback of the wall. Below is an example of the progression.

Coaching Cues I Use:

  1. Knees soft. Eyes down. Chin Packed.
  2. Keep DB close to your legs.
  3. Create tension in your hamstrings.

At this point the client has become extremely good at moving through their hips and activation their glutes. They can perform a hip hinge on command with little feedback or coaching. In other words it has become a natural motion that requires little cognitive effort. But we still need to get them to deadlifting conventionally which means they must start using a barbell.

This can be a daunting task because the minute you tell a person, especially a woman with little strength training background, that they will be using a barbell from now on their first initial reaction is to forget about moving properly and focus all their attention and worries on this new modality they have in their hands.

So the way I have found best to introduce the barbell is in a similar exercise they are extremely comfortable with. I do this through having them perform a Barbell Romanian Deadlift. This pattern for them requires little mental effort to perform correctly and allows them to become comfortable holding, balancing, and lifting a barbell. Below is a video of me demonstrating this exercise.

Coaching Cues I use:

  1. Knees soft, eyes down, rib cage down.
  2. Reach with your hips.
  3. Let the barbell Scrape down your legs.
  4. At the top drive your hips into the barbell.

Now at this point we are use to a barbell and we can perform the hip hinge flawlessly. This takes out the two big concerns with teaching the conventional deadlift. The only thing left to do is introduce the conventional deadlift and explain some of the nuance differences between it and the romanian deadlift. For this I have the client use a PVC pipe and replicate the technique of a conventional deadlift stopping the motion at mid shin height. Essentially the biggest thing to learn in this transition is to reincorporate knee bend while extending the hips with a narrower stance. Below is a video of me demonstrating this drill.

Coaching Cues I Use:

  1. Eyes down, rib cage down, and glutes squeezed.
  2. Reach your hips backwards.
  3. Keep the pipe close your legs.
  4. As your hips flexes bend your knees to lower your position.

Once they are drilling this technique home without any problems I simply stick a barbell in their hands and then begin progressing weight until they can perform this movement with 45 pound plates on either side of the barbell as this will give them the actual range of motion for the lift. I sometimes also use blocks for clients with mobility limitations when using weights smaller than 45 pound plates. Below is a video me performing the conventional deadlift with an unloaded bar.

At this point now their is nothing left to do, but make sure that the technique and form stays exceptional as your strengthen the pattern.

This may not be the way everyone teaches or progresses the deadlift pattern, but it is the way that I have had the most success with and have built strong pullers with.

I hope that if you are someone trying to incorporate deadlifting in to your training you will take my advice and use this progress to teach yourself or others how to deadlift properly. This will allow you to reap all the benefits while minimizing any potential for injury.

Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training