Patterning the Deadlift is one of the most challenging movements in a gym setting. The majority of clients become knee dominant. They sit at a desk all day or drive hours for their job. We lose movement patterns that were fluid as a child. We create movement in our system where we should be stable. We lose mobility where we are meant to have effortless motion. Age doesn’t become as issue unless you spend your years NOT moving! Maintaining proper function at the hip allows us to maintain a healthier low back and helps the athlete improve performance.
In the gym setting cueing for proper deadlift technique shouldn’t take you straight into heavy weight simply because the majority of individuals have lost the ability to move through the hip. An athlete may experience the same movement issues due to mobility restrictions or non-contract injuries that limit hip mobility. The low back takes on the load and we start to look for movement and power from the low back. We need to understand that our hips and efficient movement through the hips is our highway to speed and power. If we can understand hip dominant motion we can understand the correct technique for deadlifting.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The ability to load a heavy deadlift is not your only answer for increased speed and power development. A strong and stable core must function correctly to transfer power and stabilize as this also plays a role is heavy deadlifting. But so many have lost proper hip function and they must relearn this pattern in order to progress through a sound training program.
When working with a client we spend quality time grooving the hip hinge pattern. The use of a dowel rod comes in handy and gives great feedback to a client relearning this pattern and allows the client to experience the “stay where you start” position.
Place the dowel rod along the spine. Contact points should be head, shoulder blades and tail bone. The use of a mirror beside you will allow you to view the space between the low back and the dowel. Too much space takes you into an extended pattern which means less core/hip stability and more work on the hip flexors/quads. Every client is different and the amount of space between the low back and the dowel should be cued differently. Have a goal of enough space to slide a flat hand through and no more.
I encourage the client to sit into the hips or push the bum back toward a wall. Starting the movement at the hips and adding enough knee bend to maintain a straight tibia (calf). Driving the knees forward or starting the movement at the knee means you are squatting the pattern, knee dominant and not hip hinging. Push the floor away from you as you stand up. This is a push pattern more then a pull pattern. The feeling should come from the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings).
3 tips to make traditional exercises better for the Athlete
There are pros and cons to isolation movements and it’s encouraged for athletes to follow a training program that puts emphasis on multi-joint patterns. There is however great ways to increase the benefits with traditional body building type exercises so the athlete can incorporate them into their workout.
When you think about this popular beach muscle exercise you can be sure to see it in many gyms. What is neglected is how much the anterior core plays a role in the bicep curl. The athlete must avoid extension and rib cage flare to reduce risk through the spine and put more emphasis on the goal of the movement. Taking the athlete into a tall kneeling position will reduce workload on hip flexors/quads and ask the anterior core to kick it up a notch! You don’t have to take the curl out of your program but as an athlete you should always find ways to improve your training and performance. Tall kneeling will give you that extra benefit.
Tricep overhead extension vs Tricep cable pushdowns
If the athlete does not have restrictions in overhead movement patterns an additional core load can be added by changing the cable pushdown into an overhead extension. With this overhead load the resistance coming above and behind will easily pull the athlete into an extended pattern if they are not aware of technique. The ability to control this extension is the goal and another great way to improve core demand with a traditional exercise. Stand facing away from a cable machine with cable overhead.
Single side Dumbbell chest press (1/2 off bench)
This pattern will reduce the load if your goal is to lift heavy but it’s a great addition to any pressing program. With dumbbell pressing it allows the natural pressing motion to occur instead of a bar dictating where the arm goes. By placing the pressing side of the body slightly off the bench it encourages additional core stability through the anterior and posterior slings. If you are a beginner with this movement the non pressing side can mimic the pressing arm. Additional tips could include squeezing a tennis ball with the non-weighted side to improve grip and shoulder health. You must be aware of the position of the spine and maintain neutral while pressing. Think of being straight as a board throughout the exercise. This will increase the chance of rotation as well so you will be increasing the demand throughout the trunk.
Technique tips remain generally the same for all patterns:
– Stay neutral throughout. Remember the goal is to avoid extension and increase demand through the trunk/core.
– Start each motion by exhaling with purpose and feel the rib cage “drop” without crunching forward. Maintain this rib cage position throughout!
– Avoid letting the rib cage flare. This is an easy sign that you are not controlling extension through the spine.
– Purse lips and breathe with purpose especially throughout the exhale
– Avoid chest and shoulder breathing and think of breathing through the belly as much as possible.
– During the chest press pattern the weight should be aligned with shoulder/chest
Controlling extension and rotation throughout the trunk will allow the athlete to improve their performance in the gym and during their game!
Thanks to Kate Orchard for rocking the photos!