Progressing From a Basic Hip Hinge to a Superhero Deadlift

   

The deadlift. The king of all exercises. If cavemen lifted, which you know they did, then the deadlift was definitely the talk amongst the campfire.

It’s also the ultimate testament of full body strength and the granddaddy of movements for athletes to build qualities such as strength, speed, power, and rate of force development.  

However, most athletes and individuals starting out lack the movement capacity to be jumping right into deadlifts and should develop the capability to perfect the hip-hinge first.  

Here’s a progression and regression system that can be used to perfect the hip-hinge and fine-tune the deadlift.

Kneeling/Standing 3-Point Hinge

The 3-point hinge is a terrific movement that can be used to initially teach someone how to properly hinge through their hips, but also maintain a neutral spine while doing so.

The other advantage with this movement is that there isn’t any loading (and therefore force on the spine), and it provides a lot of kinesthetic awareness. If neutral and the hinge is lost, the dowel will lose connection to the body and the individual performing the movement can self correct. Over time, that build of kinesthetic awareness is key for teaching where the body needs to move from.  

This can be used as an initial progression of the hinge or even just a warm up drill.

Cues

  • Maintain 3 points of contact with the dowel at the head, upper back, and sacrum.
  • Focus on pushing your butt back, folding at the waist, and softening the knees.
  • Squeeze the glutes as you come up to finish out the movement.
  • If you lose contact at any 3 points, self correct and get back in position.

  

 

Kettlebell Kneeling Front 3-Point Hinge

Say "Kettlebell Kneeling Front 3-Point Hinge" three times fast. These first hinge variations may not be sexy, but it’s their simplicity that makes them so effective.

This progression places an anterior load on the body which forces greater activation of the anterior core to maintain neutral spine as one goes through the hinge.

This is a great intermediary tool that can be used if you try implementing something like a Pull Through or RDL and it just doesn’t work out.

Cues

  • Follow the same cues as the previous movement; however, now think about keeping tight in your core in order to maintain stiffness throughout the movement.

 

Pull Through

The Pull Through is a great tool to progress the hip hinge while minimizing stress on the spine. When first loading the hinge, the Pull Through is definitely the way to go as it minimizes that stress and really teaches how to disassociate the hips from the lumbar spine.  

One of the keys for a good hinge is maintaining stiffness and tension throughout the body. The Pull Through does exactly that. The rope and pulley also provide a guide for the movement which makes it extremely difficult to mess up. Plus, it really hammers the hamstrings and glutes, both required for a strong posterior chain (which is imperative for athletic performance).

Cues

  • Focus on setting your shoulder blades in your back pocket. This will activate the lats to develop overall tension and posture in the thoracic spine.
  • Maintain good neck flexion by keeping the chin tucked to keep the neck neutral with the rest of the back.
  • Hinge at the hips by pushing your butt back while softening the knees.
  • Once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, focus on feeling your heels driving into the floor, push with your legs, drive your hips forward, stand tall, and squeeze your glutes. 

 

RDL

The RDL is a step above the Pull Through, as the weight is now in front of the body. The anterior load places more stress on the spine and therefore requires more anterior core stiffness maintained throughout the hinge.

It also allows for a greater range of motion and an increase in load. Having the bar in front also relates closer to an actual pull off the floor in comparison to the Pull Through.

Cues

  • Set your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width and grip the bar overhand just outside your legs.
  • Focus on setting your shoulder blades in your back pocket. This will activate the lats to develop overall tension and posture in the thoracic spine.
  • Drive your hips back as far as you can while softening the knees.
  • Once you feel your hamstrings tighten, drive your hips through and squeeze your glutes at the top.
  • Focus on maintaining a nice flat back and a proud chest.
  • Focus on finishing with your glutes by squeezing the butt and keeping the rib cage down. (A big mistake can be extending through the lumbar spine and not the hips).
  • If you have trouble maintaining your posture, attach a band in front of the bar in order to teach you how to maintain activation in your lats to keep posture.

 

Rack Pull

The RDL and the Deadlift met one another in a bar and had a few whey protein shots. One thing led to another, and 9 months later they had a child; they named it the Rack Pull.  

The Rack Pull is a great intermediary between the RDL and pulling off the floor. It provides an anterior load and requires form similar to the RDL, but the Rack Pull builds up strength to lift from a dead stop without using the stretch shortening cycle.

This is crucial to eventually building a strong pull off the floor. Rack Pulls are best used as a max strength movement within the 1-5 rep range, but they can also be used as a basic strength/muscular hypertrophy movement at 6-12 reps.

It is also a great tool as it has fewer mobility demands; plus, it’s great for working past sticking points around the knee on the deadlift.

Cues

  • Focus on the same set up and cues with the RDL.
  • An extra caveat with the Rack Pull and all of the deadlifts explained below is to develop what is called pre-pull tension.
  • After setting up, focus on pulling the slack out of the bar and getting a lot of tension on it. Pull your hips toward the bar and pull your chest tall with the bar.


Trap Bar Deadlift

Finally, the first taste to pulling off the floor. I’m a firm believer that this should be the very first pull performed off the floor before a sumo or conventional deadlift.

The reasons for this being: it greases a little more squat into the movement along with the hinge, recruits the quads more than a regular deadlift, provides less force on the spine by being in the center of the mass, and finally requires less mobility due to the higher bar handles and therefore decreases possible compensation.

Cues

  • Set your posture nice and tall in the shoulders and chest, keeping your chin tucked.
  • Focus on reaching your arms forward as you push your butt back.
  • Keep your chest up as you get your grip, take a good inhale, and brace through the core and diaphragm.
  • Focus on feeling your heels and pushing through the floor, using your legs.
  • Squeeze the glutes at the top to finish the movement and keep the ribs down.
  • Maintain your stiffness throughout the movement and keep yourself in the middle of the bar.


Sumo/Conventional Deadlift

Now, when it comes to actually performing the Deadlift, there are two primary stances that come into play. The conventional and sumo stance. Both have specific pros, cons, and benefits.  

The Sumo Deadlift is great as it provides less stress on the spine, makes it easier to maintain a neutral spine, and requires fewer mobility demands in comparison to the Conventional Deadlift.  

On the other side, I would also be hardpressed to say that there is a better movement for the overall development of strength and performance than the Conventional Deadlift. It is perfect for developing full body strength, a strong posterior chain (which is important for absolutely everything athletically), and to look like a total badass.

The biggest downfall for the Conventional Deadlift is that it does place a good amount of stress through the spine, which can be maximized if one doesn’t have the adequate mobility at the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine. Therefore, utilizing this choice may not be the best option until that is developed. However, such limitations can also be worked around by elevating the lift off the floor.

With proper execution, there isn’t a better movement to perform for athletes and the average individual looking to build strength.

Cues (Sumo Deadlift)

  • Set your feet up wider than shoulder width, angling your feet out until the shins line up flush with the bar. This will allow for a straighter line of pull.
  • Keep your posture tall as you pull yourself down to the bar. In a perfect world, as you’re set, the bar should be directly under the shoulder blades.
  • Focus on pulling the slack out of the bar, pulling the hips toward the bar, and pulling your chest tall.
  • Inhale and brace through the diaphragm and core, feel your feet drive through the floor.
  • Finish at the top by driving your hips through the bar, squeezing the glutes.

Cues (Conventional Deadlift)

  • Set your feet narrower, inside hip width.
  • Keep your posture tall as you pull yourself down to the bar. In a perfect world, as you’re set, the bar should be directly under the shoulder blades.
  • Focus on pulling the slack out of the bar and pulling the hips toward the bar.
  • Inhale and brace through the diaphragm and core, feel your feet drive through the floor.
  • Finish at the top by driving your hips through the bar, squeezing the glutes. 

  

 

Now, you don’t have to necessarily go through the entire progression. We still need to train. The key here is to find where you best fit.

Or if you’ve been experiencing issues with the deadlift or one of the other variations, then regress. Focus on making corrections, and then reap the benefits. Sometimes, taking a step back allows you to step forward better and stronger.

About The Author

Strength Coach. Sports Nutritionist. Competitive Powerlifter. Writer. Speaker. Surfing, cereal, and old-school hip hop aficionado. Alex is the owner of Rosencutter Ultra Fitness & Performace (RUFP) in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and the founder of alexrosencutter.com where he helps elite athletes and the average Joe move better, look better, and feel better. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology and Nutrition and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Personal Trainer through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, a Certified Sports Nutritionist through the International Society of Sports Nutrition, and a Certified Corrective Exercise Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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