The Backside Move You Never Knew You Were Doing Wrong

by Brook Benten Jimenez on August 3, 2020 in Lifestyle, Sports, Wellness,
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When it comes to exercise, all too often it’s on seemingly obvious moves that 90% of exercisers (and plenty of certified personal trainers) need a tune-up.

Over the past few weeks, we have been exploring a series of moves you never knew you were doing wrong.
Today, we’re focusing on Dead Lifts.

In a hurry? Click here to watch our quick video.
Or, follow the detailed steps below to perfect your Dead Lift, the backside move you never knew you were doing wrong.

Dead Lifts are commonly misunderstood. They appear to be just about taking a bow. But, before loading your bow with a barbell, you need to know a few things.

The Dead Lift Family

For starters, there are three members of the same family: stiff-legged Dead Lifts (legs stay completely straight), Romanian Dead Lifts (knees barely bend at all), and sumo Dead Lifts (knees bend considerably).

Let’s take a look at the root common to all Dead Lifts: the hip shift!

Drawing back the hips to support the lower back when the torso folds forward is the proper way to perform any dead lift. But because this nuance is often missed, many people end up simply tipping forward at the hips without shifting the hips backward. The pros call this form flaw “unsupported forward flexion.” That means the upper half of the body is folding over without strong structures supporting the teeny tiny muscles of the lower back.

To Succeed, Recruit Your Team

To draw the hips back is to recruit the biggest and strongest muscles to take the major workload here. The glutes, hamstrings, and lower back make up the “posterior chain.” You can think of this team like two linebackers and a punter. Together, they’re wickedly strong. (After all, the punter alone is small and weak.) In order to recruit the posterior chain to initiate a dead lift, pull your hips back like a sling shot. Whether you’re performing a stiff-legged, Romanian, or sumo dead lift, kick things off with a hip shift backward!

Stiff-Legged Dead Lifts

Step 1 for all types of Dead Lift: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs.

Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.

Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, keeping your knees straight. Stop when your back is parallel to the ground or when your lower back begins to round–which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.

Step 3 for a Stiff-legged Dead Lift: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, keeping your knees straight. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.

Fit Tip: If done at all, the Stiff-Legged Dead Lift should be done with light weight.

Romanian Dead Lifts

Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs. (See Step 1 for Stiff-Legged Dead Lifts above.)

Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.

Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, with only a slight (5-10%) bend in the knees. Stop when your lower back begins to round–which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.

Step 3 for a Romanian Dead Lift: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, with only a slight (5-10%) bend in the knees. Stop when your lower back begins to round–which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.

Fit Tip: With Romanian Dead Lifts, some people can tip all the way to the floor without rounding the back. The flexibility of your hamstrings is the limiting factor.

Sumo Dead Lifts

Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs. (See Step 1 for Stiff-Legged Dead Lifts above.)

Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.

Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar. Bend the knees as much as needed to position your hips as far back as possible. Stop just before the lower back starts rounding, which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.

Step 3 for a Sumo Dead Lift: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar. Bend the knees as much as needed to position your hips as far back as possible. Stop just before the lower back starts rounding, which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips. Photo Brook Benten Jimenez

Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.

Fit Tip: Because of the aid of knee flexion here, most people (even those that do not consider themselves to be very flexible) can tip forward to at least the point of a parallel back to the ground.

Also, because of the knee flexion, which lowers the center of gravity, the sumo Dead Lift is the type of Dead Lift where people can lift the greatest amount of weight.


Cover photo courtesy Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed., is an exercise physiologist in Georgetown, Texas. She is currently in the running for “Ms Health & Fitness 2020” (vote here). Benten Jimenez was named 2012 “Austin’s Fittest Fitness Professional.”

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