Mastery Series - Deadlift

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“Can’t touch your toes? Then you shouldn’t be deadlifting.”

The deadlift, we hear that term and our ears perk up. For the strength coach it is a foundational lift, for the regular person they cringe and think of back pain. I want to clarify something, deadlifting doesn’t cause back pain, the way YOU deadlift causes back pain. In our mastery series we are going to look at the 6 basic human movements; hip hinge, squat, pull, push, loaded carries and rotation/anti-rotation movements as well as other auxiliary movements that will make the 6 better.  This is going to be an in depth series to help you become a master at movement and move past your restrictions.

Let’s start with the hip hinge, what we usually see and what we want to see are totally different. The rounded back, the bent knees the inability to get the hips back are limiters of hip hinging. We use the hip hinge before the squat, because the hip hinge requires less joints to have mobility. The squat is a great movement, but the limiter is mainly a joint range-of-motion issue, so we attack the movement that requires less range.

Our criteria for the hip hinge usually require a couple basic patterns that we are inherently born with. The ability to touch your toes, the ability to breathe properly, and the ability to create tension before we move. Just watch a baby move. The first order of business is re-learning how to breathe.



Next can you touch your toes? What? “I haven’t touched my toes in 20 years” is what we typically hear. I chuckle and tell them, “you will touch your toes by the time we leave here today.” Here is our toe touch progression borrowed from Gray Cook with Functional Movement Systems Toe Touch Progression


Watch how we teach you how to hinge your hips and reach to your toes. This is a quick reset that we use for all of our athletes that lack the ability to toe their toes.

Lastly, we need to create tension. The first two basic requirements have tension setting built in, this will just reinforce it. Our key to all movement is the ability to set tension into the ground and control the body with proper range.

Set tension through the ground by spreading the floor with your feet.

Once these fundamental patterns are back in order; which should only take a few minutes for the nervous system to pick them up again. Remember, you were born with it. The following mastery techniques are what we currently do with our clients and have been doing for the last decade. As we learn new techniques we add them into our arsenal when we experiment with them for ourselves and our clients.

Here is our step-by-step guide to movement mastery for proper hinging technique. First we need to do a floor bridge, not just any old “lift your hips off the ground bridge” but a true set-tension and drive your hips up bridge. After breathing this is the second most powerful movement that will teach you how to separate your hips from your back.

Now we move onto an assisted leg lower, controlled breathing and keeping your legs straight are key to this movement. If unable to maintain your legs straight then you can lift your hips onto a foam pad or rolled up towel to assist. You must be able to get the hips into a proper position so we can work on the movement. We can either use a resistance band to assist or possibly a door frame if in need of something more stable.

Watch how we work on core activation as well has posterior chain extensibility.

Next we move into a Cook Hip Lift, a simple yet very effective exercise that will target single leg stability, glute and hamstring strength as well as take the low back out of the equation. Using a tennis ball, water bottle, towel, etc. forces you to not get into low back extension.

Once these movements are fed into the nervous system what’s next? We need to look at the toe touch progression one more time, we need to ensure proper hinging techniques are starting to be ingrained in our movement patterns. Hips back, tension set and breathing are all imperative to the pattern. Next, we use a band or cable to load the movement. This is a reverse loaded hinge, from the top. We use this exercise to force the core to stay in control as well as force the client to push the hips back to load the movement.

Want to master your hip hinge. Try this alternative exercise, to work on tension setting techniques to create the optimal hip hinge.

We’re almost there, now we review the pattern from the ground up and we work on setting tension with a kettlebell. We may need to adjust the height of the floor to maintain optimal spine control, this is done with weight plates, blocks, etc.

Don't let the height of the weight dictate how low you have to go. Bring the floor up to you so you can master the movement first.

Now the hinge is starting to be ingrained in our movement catalog and we can now go forward and work on other movements that will ultimately help you become the best version of yourself. Stay tuned for other movement articles and videos in our “Movement Mastery Series.”

Any comments, suggestions or feedback please feel free to leave it in the comment section below.