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Programming Considerations with Deadlifts

DEADLIFTS—along with other compound movements—require practice and dedication to successfully progress the amount of load you can lift. You must understand that it may take you years of practice to develop and fine-tune your skills. So be patient and enjoy the process.

Amateur lifters need time to work on perfecting their technique and to establish a routine of complimentary exercises to complete before, or during their sets to help ensure that their body moves as efficiently as possible when deadlifting.

We have a few rules here at BIM to ensure form is kept, which will ultimately produce the best results!


5 Things to Consider When Deadlifting

1. Be able to get into a proper hinge with no load prior to adding load

The easiest way to assess this one is to place a dowel along the spine and maintain 3 points of contact (head, mid back, and butt) as you hinge your hips back.


I normally place my hand between the dowel and lower back to ensure that neutral spine does not change as people execute the movement.  Often people will have a workable range that they are able to hinge well in and this is the same range you should perform under load and only progress as range of motion improves.


2. Progressing weight and range must be EARNED

This is a big one.  Way too often people try to progress weight and/or depth way too soon.  If you cannot complete the movement well you need to regress by decreasing load or range of motion.  You can decrease range of motion by doing rack pulls, pull thru’s or add risers/blocks under your bar.  Keep in mind that your body stores movement in forms of patterns and the more you practice a faulty one the harder it will be to break.  Developing proper movement patterns early in your deadlift development will save you from having to fix poor technique later on, leading to faster, safer strength development.


3. Technique

I am not going to get into the deadlift technique in this post, especially since there are some awesome articles that have been written on the topic.  I have posted links to a few of my favourites below.

Mastering the Deadlift Part 1 by Eric Cressey

Mastering the Deadlift Part 2 by Eric Cressey

Mastering the Deadlift Part 3 by Eric Cressey

Deadlift by Mike Robertson

19 Tips for the Deadlift by Tony Gentilcore

The Architecture of a Better Deadlift by Pat Flynn


4. Don’t pair deads with exercises that can compromise form

We avoid pairing deadlifts with other exercises that are taxing on grip strength (pull ups and chins, heavy rows, heavy farmer carries, etc)  to give time for grip strength to recover in between sets. Similarly, we don’t pair deadlifts with exercises that are overly demanding on core strength to ensure people are sufficiently rested between sets.


5. Do the right movement prep and pair deads with exercises that will compliment your lift

Our favourite warm up exercises on deadlifting days…

1/2 kneel hip flexor stretch

Restrictions in your hip flexors can prevent you from coming into full extension at the top of you deadlift so it is important to decrease unnecessary tension in them prior to lifting.



Having tightness in you groin muscles (adductors and medial hamstring fibers) can restrict you from getting into a full hip hinge. This is especially crucial if you choose a sumo stance deadlift.


Leg lock bridge

It is important to get your glutes firing prior to deadlifting; however, often people arch their lower back as the go into hip extension due to poor patterning or mobility restrictions.  The leg lock bridge is the perfect activation sequence as it involves glute activation in absence of lumbar extension.  Just make sure you are pressing into the floor with your heel and keep your hips level.


Side planks

Ensuring that your lateral hip stabilizers are firing is crucial to your overall hip mobility, specifically internal rotation of the hip.  If hip restriction is an issue for you make sure you do 2 sets of 10 seconds on each side.


Pull throughs

We like to use this exercise as patterning prior to deadlifting and/or as a teaching tool for beginners.   This exercise is good because it helps cue to keep your ribs down, and core engaged.  Because the weight is coming from behind it is easier to engage your glutes and hamstrings as you stand.

AND our favourite exercises to pair deadlifts with are…

1/2 kneel or tall kneel variations

Tall kneeling variations are arguably one of the best complimentary exercises to deadlifts. However, we often pair 1/2 kneel variations with deadlifts to help decrease tension in the hip flexors, especially populations that are more anteriorly tilted.

The 7 kneeling variations that we like are:


1. Pallof press


2. Chops


3. Lifts


4. Leg lower with core engagement

This may be my all-time favourite.  You can use a band or a cable; however, more recently I’ve been using a cable and coaching people to maintain rib depression.  I find this gives clients great feedback when performing their deadlift as they can’t think of the same engagement during their lift.  The other reason I like leg lowers is that it helps with hip mobility for those who carry a lot of tension in their hamstrings.  If you are not able to do this exercise you may want to consider working on your overall hip mobility, but can do leg raises with core engagement as an alternative.


5. Turkish Get Downs

I think get downs (or get ups if you prefer) and deadlifts were made for each other.  Both emphasize hip hinging for one but in general get downs compliment deadlifts in so many ways!  Here are a few examples:

  • get downs involve lat engagement but not so much that will hinder your lift
  • get downs involve shoulder packing which help provide proprioceptive awareness during the deadlift
  • both lifts require rib depression so activation of anterior core and proprioceptive awareness will be heightened
  • get downs help with hip mobility and stability, which compliments getting into a good starting position for a deadlift.

The one precaution I would encourage is to go a bit lighter on your get downs or take a longer time to recover during sets (90 seconds) to prevent grip strength and other muscular fatigue in your deadlift.


6. Posterior rock

The posterior rock a.k.a “the reverse ball hump” helps to train neutral spine and core engagement as people rock into a hinge.  I like to use this exercises for those who have difficulty maintaining neutral spine during their hinge.


7. Bear crawls

You may need to regress this exercise to the posterior rock or the 4 point kneeling opposite hand/knee lift if clients find this too fatiguing on their core.  Ideally you want to be aware of you anterior core muscles, spinal, and pelvic position during a deadlift and quadruped positions are great for all of the above.  Keep your reps low on this one (under 10) when pairing with deadlifts.


Give these exercises a try on your next deadlifting day and let me know what you think!


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About the author

Andrea Lawson has been a practicing Kinesiologist since 2008 and is the founder of Balance in Motion, a training facility created for people to rehabilitate from injuries, improve athletic performance, and crush their health and fitness goals. She is passionate about providing a space where anyone can step foot in and feel both comfortable and productive no matter the injury, age, or stage they may be at in their fitness journey. With this vision, Andrea has witnessed her clients achieve goals they never thought possible, and gain unmatched levels of confidence in themselves, helping them to Go Beyond Better.