The Hip-Dominant Move You Never Knew You Were Doing Wrong

Many of us have been exercising for as long as we can remember. But sometimes, seemingly obvious exercises need a tune up. Over the past several issues, we’ve been navigating through a series of moves you never knew you were doing wrong. This edition covers Dead Lifts.


Dead lifts are commonly misunderstood. They appear to be just taking a bow, but before loading your bow with a barbell, you need to know a few things. For starters, there are three members of the same family: stiff-legged dead lifts (legs stay completely straight), Romanian Dead Lifts (knees barely bend at all), and sumo dead lifts (knees bend considerably). Let’s take a look at the root commonality among all dead lifts:

the hip shift!


Drawing back the hips to support the lower back when the torso folds forward is the proper way to perform any dead lift. But because this nuance is often missed, many people end up simply tipping forward at the hips without shifting the hips backward. We, as pros, call this form flaw “unsupported forward flexion.” That means the upper half of the body is folding over without strong structures supporting the teeny tiny muscles of the lower back.


To draw the hips back is to recruit the biggest and strongest muscles to take the major workload here. The glutes, hamstrings, and lower back make up the “posterior chain.” You can think of this team like two linebackers and a punter. Together, they’re wickedly strong. (Punter, alone, small and weak). In order to recruit the posterior chain to initiate a dead lift, pull your hips back like a sling shot. Whether you’re performing a stiff-legged, Romanian, or sumo dead lift, kick things off with a hip shift backward!



Stiff-Legged Dead Lifts


Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs.



Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.


Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, keeping your knees straight. Stop when your back is parallel to the ground or when your lower back begins to round- which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.



Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.


Fit Tip: If done at all, this type of dead lift should be done with light weight.



Romanian Dead Lifts


Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs.


Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.


Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar, with only a slight (5-10%) bend in the knees. Stop when your lower back begins to round- which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.



Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.


Fit Tip: With Romanian Dead Lifts, some people can tip all the way to the floor without rounding the back. The flexibility of the hamstrings is the limiting factor.



Sumo Dead Lifts


Step 1: Stand up straight and tall, holding a barbell at your thighs.


Step 2: Draw your hips toward the back wall.


Step 3: Tip forward, grazing the thighs with the bar. Bend the knees as much as needed to position your hips as far back as possible. Stop just before the lower back starts rounding, which means your hamstrings lack the flexibility to enable you to safely flex any further forward at the hips.



Step 4: Squeeze your glutes and rise up to starting position.

Fit Tip: Because of the aid of knee flexion here, most people (even those that do not consider themselves to be very flexible) can tip forward to at least the point of a parallel back to the ground.

Also, because of the knee flexion, which lowers the center of gravity, the sumo dead lift is the type of dead lift where people can lift the greatest amount of weight!




About the Author

Brook Benten, M.Ed., is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist. This Texas girl has been trailblazing fitness for two decades. She champions continuing education and has impacted the field as an executive director of healthy living, CEC provider, fitness magazine writer, campus recreation fitness director, and workout video star. Brook is a presenter for SCW Fitness at SCW MANIA conventions and "Train with the Trainers" livestream weekly workouts. She is a lifestyle columnist for Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Benten is an ambassador for Power Music and Lebert Fitness; she is among an international team of six Master Trainers for Johnny G Spirit Bike.

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