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  • Matt Breton

Lifting: Deadlift

Strength is a key component to consider if you're going to train for outdoor adventures. In trying to increase strength, a lot of folks end up getting into a body building mind set, which is more focused on aesthetics and individual muscles. I much prefer training a movement over training a muscle. The movement approach allows us to keep it simple in terms of technique and loading schemes. We can make 80% of the gains and then get out of the gym and go do cool stuff. Of the big 5 movements (Push, Pull, Squat, Hinge, Loaded Carry), today we'll talk about the hinge.

Why hinge?

The hinge movement focuses on training the muscles of posterior chain. The posterior chain is the collective set of muscles on the back half of our body:

Calves, Hamstrings, Gluteals, Spinal Extensors, Scapular Retractors

These muscles all work to help keep us upright- fighting gravity any time we stand or lift things- and propel us forward- walking, running, hiking. These muscles are probably also the least used in the activities most of us engage in- sitting at the office, in the car, on the couch.

So to strengthen and engage these muscles, we need to add some resistance to these movements, and the best way to grab all of them is a hinge lift.

Principles of a Hinge

A hinge, by definition, is a joint that pivots to allow movement of two connected structures in one plane. In the human body, we have numerous joints that move, but most of these joints have complex movement arcs in multiple planes. If we talk of movements for exercise, a hinge is a single plane activity. The simplest and most powerful hinge movement in the body occurs in the hip, where we talk flexion and extension of the joint in a sagittal plane about a frontal axis. The two movement arms, if performed well, are the trunk over the lower extremities- this joint, and the muscles that control it- connect the upper body to the lower body- big stuff!


With some of the geeky stuff aside, there are a few ways to train the hinge movement. I'll list a few:


-Kettlebell Swings

-Hip Thrusts

-Good Mornings

Of these, the deadlift is probably highest on my list for strength training. In the rehab setting, we pick some others to initiate training and simplify the movement, but for strength and performance purposes, the deadlift is key.

When describing the deadlift, there are a ton of variations that you can get into the weeds with, and they all have their place. If you want to get geeked out about this, your best bet is to work with a trainer to find out which you should use when and why.

  • Sumo Deadlift.

  • Deficit Deadlift.

  • Block Deadlift

  • Dumbbell Deadlift.

  • Romanian Deadlift.

  • Single-Leg RDL.

  • Snatch-Grip Deadlift.

  • Trap Bar Deadlift.

For the rest of us, we'll keep it simple and use the Romanian Deadlift.

Deadlift, a hinge movement

Stand with the barbell (or use a weighted pack, sandbag or kettlebell) and place feet shoulder width apart. With unlocked (slightly flexed) knees, hinge the hips so that the lower back (entire trunk) remains in a straight/neutral position while slowly tipping forward (the hips will slide back) and lower the weight toward the ground near the shins. When the hamstrings get tight, reverse the movement and lift back up strongly. Maintain that neutral trunk alignment as the weight is lifted- shoulders back, spine stiff, with hamstrings and gluteals actively controlling the hip movement forward and backward.

Depending on what you read, a person should be able to deadlift 2x their bodyweight for this movement in a one repetition max assessment. Given the fact that outdoor athletes are not trying to compete in the Olympics, I prefer working toward a 5 rep max that has a goal of about 1.65x bodyweight as a safer target and progression. This fits nicely into a 2-3x/week training program of 5 sets of 5 repetitions where the athlete starts light and builds up slowly over the course of 8-12 weeks, with a focus on form.

It won't take long to feel strong as you work, with excellent form, the Romanian Deadlift in the basebuilding phase!

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