Should I be deadlifting?

The deadlift is hands-down one of the best bang-for-buck exercises because it recruits a vast amount of musculature in a relatively short amount of time, particularly the heavier it is. From a kinetic chain standpoint, this is doubly important because a lot of the deadlift’s targeted musculature isn’t part of our body’s “mirror muscles”, and therefore can often be neglected. These muscles include the hamstrings, glutes, core, and postural stabilisers, all grouped together to form the posterior chain. Without the posterior chain working to counteract more popular anterior chain muscles like the quads and pecs, we quite regularly see people literally train themselves into injuries due to muscular imbalances.

The deadlift is an integral movement that should exist in some shape or form in any program. The question, however, is whether or not the deadlift from the floor is right for you, and if not, which variation is best suited to help you hit your goal. From a technical standpoint, the vast majority of us are chasing the same five standards: thoracic lock, core bracing, posterior loading, leg drive, and a straight bar path. If any of those boxes aren’t being ticked, then you might think about a different variation to get your posterior chain fix.

Two reasons I should not deadlift from the floor:

    1. Range –

Some people genuinely cannot get into a safe deadlifting position. Due to a lack of flexibility around muscle groups like the hamstrings and hip flexors, one might not be able to achieve true thoracic lock (covered in previous blog post about squats) or true posterior loading, leaving them in a precarious position that can lead to an unsafe movement. It’s worth noting that this can often be an anatomical consideration. A tall, lanky person with long femurs may find it harder to achieve a safe position when compared to someone who is slightly shorter in stature.

    2. Specificity –

Some goals aren’t geared towards deadlifting, and that is completely fine. For example, a 100m sprinter might be better off utilising a trap bar deadlift and hip thruster to better support their performance without the neural demands of a deadlift. Likewise, a low-level mover that wants to lose some weight and be pain-free in sitting might be better served with a variation that’s easier to learn.

If any of the above apply, then the below variations will be worth considering.

Some variations:

    1. Trap Bar Deadlift

This is similar to a deadlift in that it is a vertical pull from the floor, however, can be vastly different due to the shape of the bar. As you are centred inside a hexagonal bar, you don’t have the same posterior chain flexibility requirements to facilitate a good trap bar position when compared to a conventional deadlift. The trade-off here is that being a slightly more anterior-focused movement, you’ll need to make up some other posterior chain exercises elsewhere in your program.

    2. Rack Pull

This is effectively the top half of a deadlift. Rather than pulling from the floor, you can pull from a rack that’s set partway up the length of your shins. This means that you can still recruit all of the same musculature and load up to your hearts content, without the flexibility requirements of pulling from the floor. The trade-off here is that while you’re operating the same muscles, you’re doing so through slightly less range which can leave some adaptation on the table.

    3. Hip Thruster

This movement is a fantastic way to load up parts of the posterior chain and get full hip extension under load. Rather than a vertical pull, you’re hinging horizontally with a bar on your lap and your shoulders on a box. The trade-off here is that you can’t get the full spectrum and intensity of muscle recruitment that a deadlift would provide – rather, this movement is more specific and geared toward leg drive, core bracing and hip extension in particular.

There is a gargantuan array of exercises and variations that can tick off similar boxes to a deadlift, as well as a variety of ways in which you can correctly achieve a safe deadlifting position. The key is to figure out the best options for you contingent on your abilities and goals. The team here at Inspire Health Services are specialists in finding the right solutions, not only in the context of particular movements but also large-scale interventions that deliver goals in a timely fashion. If any of the above does apply to you or anyone that you know, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – we’d love to help!