Fitness Goals

06/20/2018

Accomplish your Fitness Goals: A Beginners Guide to Deadlifting

Deadlifts: The exercise that everyone associates with heavy weights and huge muscles. Except, deadlifts aren’t JUST for picking up heavy stuff. Learn how anyone, even beginners, can use deadlifts to accomplish fitness goals!

What you need to know:

  1. Deadlifts aren’t exclusively for powerlifters and weightlifters.
  2. The ‘hip hinge’ is often exactly what we need to keep our back healthy.
  3. To reach your fitness goals, it’s important to find the right deadlift variation for you.

Although deadlifts are a great way to build strength (I’d even argue that they’re THE best way to get strong), the  importance of incorporating deadlifts in your training program is multiplied by the fact that, through practicing healthy movement patterns, it could be exactly what your spine needs.

According to Dr. Stu Mcgill, one of the world’s foremost researchers on back pain, learning how to properly deadlift or ‘hip hinge’ can be a game changer for those of us who tend to bend at the stomach rather than the hips before picking something up. [1]

What Dr. Mcgill is referring to is ‘Table’ bending vs. ‘C’ Bending. In other words… When you bend over to pick up your groceries, does your back look like a table top or a cashew?

Where the hip hinge fits into your training program to help reach your fitness goals

The reality is, everyone’s body is different, so there is no ONE perfect hinge or hinge variation, but instead the right hip hinge for your body.

Let’s take a look at every hip hinge variation that you’ll see, who it’s good for and how to do it:

Glute Bridge

Who it’s for: The glute bridge is perfect for people who are new to exercise, aren’t comfortable with more advanced hinging exercises, or have limited equipment. Just because it’s beginner friendly doesn’t mean that it’s easy! When done properly, the glute bridge is a great tool for building strong and healthy glutes.

How to do it: Lay with your chest facing up and shoulders drawn back. Bring your heels 3 inches from your butt, and bring your hips into the neutral position; this is your starting position! Next, press your feet into the floor and raise your hips off the ground. Try to squeeze your butt at the top, and viola! You’ve done a glute bridge.

Hip Thrust

Who it’s for: Like the glute bridge, the hip thrust is the perfect way to practice hinging with less load on the spine than a traditional deadlift. The hip thrust is a great exercise for people who are ready to graduate from the glute bridge, doing bodyweight workouts at home, or want to build their glutes by adding weight.

How to do it: Find yourself a bench or chair that’s about knee height. Put your hips on the ground,  place your mid-upper back on the edge of the bench, with feet shoulder width apart and knees bent. Press your feet into the floor, raising your hips to the ceiling, and squeeze your butt! Make sure that your shins are vertical at the very top of each rep, and adjust your feet if necessary.

Kettlebell Deadlift

Who it’s for: If you’re comfortable with the hip thrust, you’re likely ready to start deadlifting! Grab a kettlebell that isn’t too heavy and working your way up from there. I recommend starting with 16kg for females and 20-24kg for males. The kettlebell deadlift is a very good introduction to deadlifting as the bell starts and ends directly in your center of gravity. If you get good at these, the rest will be easy!

How to do it: Place your kettlebell on the floor and stand with your feet shoulder width apart on either side. Imagine trying to spread the floor with your feet. Stand tall and bring your hips back while maintaining pressure in the middle of your feet. Try to move *mostly* from the hips, with your knees bending to maintain pressure in your foot.

Elevated Deadlifts

Who it’s for: For taller lifters and those who feel that they have ‘tight’ hamstrings, deadlifting from blocks can be exactly what you need to load the hinge pattern safely. For many, elevated deadlifts are their preferred deadlift variation.

How to do it: Elevate a weighted bar 2-4” from the floor, and set up almost exactly as you would for a kettlebell deadlift. This time, the bar will be directly above where the knot on your shoelaces would be! Spread the floor, bring your hips back, and grasp the bar. Think of driving your shoulder blades into your back pockets and stand by pressing your feet into the floor. Stand up tall and lower the bar down in a controlled manner.

Pseudo-sumo Deadlift

Who it’s for: The Pseudo-Sumo deadlift is perfect for those who have longer legs or may have trouble getting into a conventional deadlift position. Additionally, the bar is closer to your center of gravity than it would be during a conventional deadlift, many find that it puts less torque on the spine and is more back friendly. If this is not a comfortable stance for you, do not fear! Everyone has different hip joints, so going wider than hip width isn’t necessarily for everyone. If sumo doesn’t feel great, play around with going a bit closer or going straight to conventional. [2]

How to do it: Unlike our previous deadlifts (the kettlebell deadlift and the elevated deadlift), you’re going to want to go slightly wider than usual with your feet. Think squat width, with your toes slightly turned out. Shift your hips back, with pressure in your mid-foot. Try to keep your shins from going over the bar!

Conventional Deadlift

Who it’s for: The conventional deadlift is a prerequisite for anyone looking to get into olympic lifting, but due to the fact that the bar is slightly in front of you, increasing torque on the spine, the conventional deadlift is usually reserved for those who have mastered things like the bridge, hip thrust, and elevated deadlift. If the pseudo-sumo deadlift feels uncomfortable on your hips, this could be the best fit for you.

How to do it: Starting with the bar right over your shoelaces, think about spreading the floor, shifting your hips back, and bringing your arms straight down to the bar. Keep pressure in the middle of your foot, and let your knees bend enough to keep a flat back as you reach toward the bar. Think about pressing the floor away from you, standing up tall and squeezing your butt at lockout.

And if you’re still unsure about where to start with deadlifting, online personal trainers are available to you through Ladder to guide you through these variations.

The Part Where I Tell You Exactly What To Do

Except this time, I’m not. Well, not in the typical sense of ‘do hip thrusts for 4 weeks then move on to deadlifts’ because the reality is, nobody knows how your body feels as well as you do. Progress when you feel ready, and if you try something but it feels weird, don’t do it.

I will, however explain some science about how you can best program these exercises into your workouts. I’d recommend if you’ve never done an exercise, stick with the learning prescription until you’re comfortable with that exercise and ready to progress.

Glute Bridge:

Learning - Go light and try to feel your glutes and hamstrings work: 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

Strength - Add a weight if you’re comfortable/have weights available: 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions

Fat Loss - Feel the burn! 4 Sets of 10-15 repetitions

Hypertrophy - Research shows that for increasing glute size, high repetition work is key. 5 sets of 10-12

Hip Thrust:

Learning - Go light and try to feel your glutes and hamstrings work: 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions

Strength - Add a weight if you’re comfortable/have weights available: 4 sets of 8-10 repetitions

Fat Loss - Feel the burn! 4 Sets of 10-15 repetitions

Hypertrophy - Research shows that for increasing glute size, high repetition work is key. 5 sets of 10-12

Kettlebell Deadlift:

Learning - Think quality before quantity: 2-3 Sets of 6-10 repetitions

Strength - Go a bit heavier: 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions

Fat Loss - Focus on getting good, clean reps in: 3 sets of 30 seconds

Hypertrophy - Slow, controlled movements stimulate muscle growth: 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions with a 4 second lowering

Elevated Deadlift:

Learning - Think quality before quantity: 2-3 Sets of 6-8 repetitions

Strength - Go a bit heavier: 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions

Fat Loss - Focus on getting good, clean reps in: 3 sets of 30 seconds

Hypertrophy - Slow, controlled movements stimulate muscle growth: 3-4 sets of 10 repetitions with a 4 second lowering

Pseudo-Sumo Deadlift:

Learning - Master the set-up: 2-3 Sets of 6-8 repetitions, letting go of the bar to set up again between reps

Strength - Focus on creating tension: 3 sets of 5 repetitions

Fat Loss - Quality reps before quantity of reps. Start your workout with strength (Deadlifting) then progress circuits. 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Hypertrophy - Aim for hypertrophy via metabolic stress, your goal is to feel the burn but keep your form locked in! 3-4 sets of 8-10 with a 2 second pause below the knee

Conventional Deadlift:

Learning - Master the set-up: 2-3 Sets of 6-8 repetitions, letting go of the bar to set up again between reps

Strength - Focus on creating tension: 3 sets of 5 repetitions

Fat Loss -  Quality reps before quantity of reps. Start your workout with strength (Deadlifting) then progress circuits. 3-4 sets of 6-8 repetitions

Hypertrophy -  Aim for hypertrophy via metabolic stress, your goal is to feel the burn but keep your form locked in! 3-4 sets of 8-10 with a 2 second pause below the knee

Conclusion

If you aren’t sure where to start, air on the side of caution. Do all the glute bridges and hip thrusts before ever deadlifting. There’s nothing wrong with that and at the end of the day, you’ll be building great movement patterns and that’s what matters.

Want help implementing what you just learned? Learn how a fitness coach from Ladder can help you succeed!

Download Ladder


  1. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/02/26/587735283/lost-art-of-bending-over-how-other-cultures-spare-their-spines
  1. Audenaert, Emmanuel A., et al. “Hip Morphological Characteristics and Range of Internal Rotation in Femoroacetabular Impingement.” The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 40, no. 6, 2012, pp. 1329–1336., doi:10.1177/0363546512441328.
  1. Schoenfeld, Brad J. “Does Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage Play a Role in Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy?” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 26, no. 5, 2012, pp. 1441–1453., doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31824f207e.
  1. Pinto, Ronei, et al. “Relationship Between Workload And Neuromuscular Activity In The Bench Press Exercise.” Medicina Sportiva, vol. 17, no. 1, 2013, pp. 1–6., doi:10.5604/17342260.1041876.
Stan Dutton

Stan Dutton

Stan Dutton is a Boston based fitness expert who has worked with celebrities, professional athletes, helped multiple individuals lose over 100lbs and is a 4x world record holding powerlifter. His philosophy is simple: Move well, move often, and eat pizza.

Leave a Reply

You Might Also Like…

Food and Nutrition

11/14/2018

Snack on Superfood: 4 Reasons Why You Should Eat Guacamole

When we think about fitness and what it takes to reach our fitness goals, we...

Food and Nutrition

11/2/2018

4 Breads That Prove Sandwiches Can Be Nutritious

There’s simply no escaping it: when you need a meal and you’re in a rush, a...

Food and Nutrition

10/28/2018

3 Ways Dark Chocolate Can Actually Be Good for You

Chocolate has long been grouped with the likes of sugary candy because of its...

Food and Nutrition

10/12/2018

9 Pasta Recipes That Make The Perfect Post Workout Meals

Pasta is a universally loved and a highly versatile dish, but many will...

Food and Nutrition

10/12/2018

Don't Eliminate Your Favorite Treats: 5 Desserts You Can Enjoy in Moderation

As we celebrate National Dessert Day it’s important to remember that your...