Deadlifting for joint health

In this video, you’ll notice that his knees are flexing right along with his hip hinge. If you have tight hamstrings, this can’t be helped. However, if you don’t have tight hamstrings, try to keep your legs as straight as possible for as long as possible until you just can’t reach the bar without flexing your knees.

Some of you might say that knee flexion really isn’t too big of a deal. Up to a point, I’d agree. Keep in mind that the majority of what we are trying to achieve with the deadlift centers around the hip hinge and getting the glutes and proximal hamstrings to turn on during hip extension. So, let your knees do what they have to do. The important idea, in this moment, is that you are hip hinging with the very best form that you have even if it can’t really compare to your neighbor!

So, the next question might be ‘how do I pick something up off the floor … be it a barbell or a trashcan or my child … without rounding my back?’ This is where the intricacies of that hip hinge come into play!

As I point out at 0:50, the ability to anterior tilt our pelvis is a big part of that hip hinge. Two major muscles involved would be the psoas and the rectus femoris, our hip flexors. A person might want to say that our ‘abs’ are pulling us into that anterior tilt, but this is incorrect. Our trunk flexors curl our torso forward while our hip flexors create this hip hinge.

At 1:05, I address how to become aware of what happens during that anterior tilt. So many times, when someone tries to anteriorly tilt their pelvis, their lumbar spine hyperextends. I think this is wrong. As I have watched people do this, it appears like they are trying to stay upright. In competition, staying upright might seem good. In talking about joint health, staying-upright-by-hyperextending-your-lumbar-spine is bad.

So, how can you anteriorly tilt your pelvis and not hyperextend your lumbar spine? As you figure this one out, this might be where knee flexion comes in handy. Flexing your knees gives your whole posterior chain more room to adapt to the pending load.

As you are beginning your hip hinge, think about reaching backward with your hips. If you simply bend forward at the waist, you’ll either fall on your nose or at the very least all the weight will be on your toes! Try to center your weight more over the front of your ankles. (You’ll know when you are too far back because you’ll start to fall backward, or your toes will lift up off the floor.)

At 1:15, I mention using your trunk flexors, or your ‘abs,’ to help with this posture. This may seem counter-intuitive because it definitely does not pull you upright! Just know that I’m trying to help you achieve joint health and a flat back at the same time! So, while you are holding that anterior tilt, do a ‘crunch’ and hold those abs tight. Now, as I point out … somewhere around your shoulder blades, maybe just below … try to contract those spinal extensors and pull your spine into a ‘taller’ position. Keep in mind that ‘taller’ here doesn’t mean toward the ceiling. It means ‘taller’ toward your head and in a straight line. I find that if I pull my head up and out of my shoulders, that gives me more room to find a better position.

Go back and forth between the abs (rectus abdominis) and the spinal extensors until you just can’t contract anything else to make yourself taller.

The question is … now can you hip hinge more? Have you picked up your … barbell, PVC pipe, trashcan or child? Could you maintain this idea of form with every decreasing angle of anterior tilt? Keep your back straight, but hip hinge and then flex those knees to reach your object!

Now that you have your object, keep your form! This is still where you want to use your legs instead of your back! So, keep the back straight and engaged! Find those glutes and hamstrings and turn them on and then use them to pull yourself up to standing.

At 2:30, I highlight a difference when doing a competition deadlift. The end movement is called hip terminal extension, among other things. (It could also be called a posterior tilt, which would be the opposite of the anterior tilt described earlier.) As you are lifting your object, your glutes should be totally concentrically contracted. Thus, as you near the end range of motion, the final squeeze from your glutes should be pulling you into that terminal hip extension. An important note here is to be aware of what the end of that motion actually feels like. You should still be able to be tall, strong and stocky while holding that hip extension. If your pelvis drifts forward at the same time, though, you are now jamming your femoral heads into the anterior wall of the acetabulum while simultaneously jamming your sacrum up into L5. (This would look like a slight leaning back at the end of the motion instead of a slight tucking of the tail.) Don’t do this!

At this point, some rules allow you to just drop your object. You and I are talking about joint health here and there is a lot of ‘health’ to be achieved by using my proposed idea of form to set your object down. (Also, you might be holding your child! Don’t drop them!)

While you want your hip flexors to be helping you find that good anterior tilt on the way down, they are not going to be responsible for this movement. Your glutes and hams are still controlling the descent. So, keep them turned on and keep your spine straight and tall. No rounding … and no hyperextending! And if your object is not on the floor quite yet, flex your knees instead of your spine!