Lead Photo Credit: Olivia Forntin, CrossFit Woodbridge
Here’s what you need to know…
- Higher-rep sets of deadlifts can build endurance and burn fat.
- Deadlifts won’t thicken the waist. That’s a myth.
- Deadlifts lessen some of the negative effects that come with high heels and bad posture.
- The deadlift is a foundational movement that will help with more advanced training like Olympic lifts.
- Use the “laddering” training method to get used to the exercise and master the form.
The “Big and Bulky” Myth Must Die
When it comes to women and weights, the “big and bulky” myth has been largely dispelled, but there are still a few exercises that women shy away from.
The deadlift is one of them.
Now, we could talk about how it gives you great glutes. It certainly can, but let’s go beyond that.
Whether you’re a woman who trains hard but sees no need to deadlift, or you’re a guy who’s trying to convince his wife or girlfriend to adopt the move, here’s why women need to pick it up and put it down.
1 – The Deadlift is Awesome for Strength and Conditioning
Deadlifts should be at the top of your list for general strength and conditioning because they won’t negatively affect your joints, as long as you’re lifting with good technique.
Taller females with long extremities may find the compressive forces of squats uncomfortable, but most who complain of “bad knees” will be able to deadlift without a hitch.
Furthermore, the posterior muscles you recruit will help stabilize joints and go a long way in rehabilitating any imbalances you might have.
Now, it’s important to stop judging deadlifts based on the videos you’ve probably seen on YouTube. Sure, click any Internet deadlift video and you’ll likely see a dude wearing a cocoon of wrapping attempting a 750-pound deadlift for a single.
People love posting 1RMs and it can convince the less experienced lifter that low-rep training is the only way to go on such an exercise.
Yes, sets of 8-10 reps do exist. They can positively affect your muscles’ conditioning and endurance, along with burning fat. The deadlift hits a lot of muscles. The more muscle, the better the metabolism.
The postural muscles of the back recruited during deadlifts respond particularly well to endurance-type training, given the nature of their job in the human body.
Deadlifting with more time under tension than a quick double or heavy single can be a strong force to be reckoned with. Plus, it’ll improve your grip strength, if that’s of any interest to you (and it should be).
2 – The Deadlift Does Not Thicken Your Waist
Many female lifters avoid deadlifts because they think it’s a trunk thickener. This old myth needs to be shot down. Bret Contreras notes:
“Through EMG experimentation, we’ve found that many common exercises match or exceed squats and deadlifts in rectus abdominis and oblique activation, including chin-ups, military press, hip thrusts, reverse hypers, push-ups, pullovers, triceps extensions, and curls.
“Most targeted ab/core exercises exceed squats and deadlifts in abdominal and oblique activation, including RKC planks, side planks, ab wheel rollouts, weighted crunches, straight leg sit-ups, hanging leg raises, lying leg raises, and side bends…”
So the truth is, if you do any core work, chances are you’re doing more to “thicken your waist” than you would be by picking up the heavy bar.
But this isn’t to say that all direct core work should be avoided. Making a muscle group grow is a product of volume and intensity, just like it is for any other muscle group.
The idea that deadlifts thicken your waist is on par with the idea that cardio will “kill all your gains.”
3 – Deadlifts Help to Correct Your Pelvic Tilt
High-heels are a double-edged sword in terms of a healthy appearance. What may look awesome may also wreak havoc on a woman’s pelvis.
Olympic lifters train using lifting shoes, which usually have a heel elevation that can be up to 2 inches high. It keeps their squats more quad-dominant and encourages a more vertical torso in the bottom position to receive the bar during a heavy clean or snatch.
The changed geometry allows the knee to travel further over the toe due to the adjusted pelvic positioning. Now, take this example and apply it to high-heeled shoes that are usually twice as high as Olympic lifting shoes.
The result causes an unhealthy back overarch in the lumbar region of the spine, with the resultant tight hips and dominant quads. The quads and hips get plenty of action on the daily, and accentuating their involvement can make matters worse.
I’m not about to write an article that says women should never wear heels again, but the posterior chain involvement provided by deadlifting can mitigate some of the effects of high heels.
Since the glutes and hamstrings tilt the pelvis posteriorly, deadlifts can balance the forward momentum of the pelvis caused by long-term wearing of high heels. They should be a staple in a woman’s program for this reason alone.
4 – Master the Deadlift and You’ll Be Ready for Other Lifts
Deadlifts are the simplest and best way to start learning the hinge pattern, at least as far as load-bearing exercises are concerned. Getting the movement down will make you more competent with many other lifts as well.
CrossFit, along with the well-publicized conditioning programs of pro athletes and motivational commercials, is doing average people a disservice by popularizing training methods that, in most cases, are way too advanced for regular people.
They see it on YouTube or commercials and assume that this sometimes-risky training is something they should be doing, too.
But in order to do any of these high-octane movements like Olympic lifting, jumping, high-metabolic cost kettlebell training, or even plyometric training, you first need to master the hinge pattern, as it’s the cornerstone of all of these activities.
The deadlift will open that door for you, then you can walk through it and take on the more advanced lifts.
Start out light. It’s going to help you understand the movement and stay true to form when things get real.
Choose a minimalistic shoe, or strip down to socks or bare feet if your gym allows it. The closer to direct contact your foot can have with the ground, the better.
A thick-soled shoe can do a lot to create instability and increase your pulling distance, both of which can be harmful to your lift.
If possible, use bumper plates. The lighter plates are the same diameter as the 45-pound plates. This allows you to keep the bar at the proper height off the ground.
If your gym doesn’t have bumper plates and you’re not ready for 45s yet, put the loaded barbell on step platforms to recreate the correct elevation. The starting height of the bar should be somewhere around mid-shin.
Remember the basic cues, like keeping a flat back and heels on the ground. The deadlift is a vertical pulling exercise, meaning that it’s of pinnacle importance that the bar travels in a straight line. Your setup should encourage that as much as possible.
This deadlift is done with a conventional stance. If you have concerns about your low back strength or have previously injured that area, try a medium sumo stance.
Instead of having your hands outside the shins, the shins go outside the hands with the sumo variation. In addition to keeping the low back free from flare-ups, the sumo is good for activating the glutes and inner thighs.
Laddering the Deadlift
If you’ve never trained the deadlift before, use a reserved approach by laddering your way up to a 10-rep effort.
Don’t immediately hit up 4 or 5 sets of 10 deadlifts with a moderate weight because you may give the body a shock you weren’t expecting, especially if you’ve got a history of injury or weakness in the lower back.
Instead, using a conventional stance and a fair estimate of your 10-rep max, perform just 2 reps for your first set. Rest around 2 minutes and then perform 3 reps for your second set. Rest again and then do 5 reps for your 3rd set. Finish off by doing a 4th set of 10 reps.
On subsequent workouts, substitute out the lowest number of reps, and replace it with another set of 10. It should look like this:
- Day 1: 2 reps, 3 reps, 5 reps, 10 reps
- Day 2: 3 reps, 5 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps
- Day 3: 5 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps
- Day 4: 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps, 10 reps
This will serve as a simple way to adapt to the movement. Properly learning an exercise is just as important as incorporating it into your training, so take your time.