Do I need to deadlift?
If you've ever been unfortunate enough to suffer from lower back pain you know how debilitating it can be. Many riders are often nervous about deadlifting & hip hinging when they have suffered with back pain.
Poor advice & myths around the deadlift can make riders worried about hip hinging movements but deadlifts should be part of a riders strength routine, especially if lower back pain has occurred..
Following simple progressions of the hip hinging pattern is essential to get you safely & effectively performing the deadlift before loading with weight. After a lower back pain period, it is best to drop back to a simpler progression and get yourself performing the movement well with good form.
The best place to start the hip hinging movement is with a dowel stick, if you are concerned about your lower back then this is a great exercise to start with as you don't load your back. The dowel helps as it gives you physical feedback on maintaining a neutral spine as you move through the hinge. Maintaining a neutral spine is essential as you go through the progressions to learn to deadlift safely. With the dowel behind your back resting on your spine, you want to make sure as you hinge your hips back the stick maintains contact on 3 places of your spine; the tailbone, the mid-back & the back of your head. The dowel will help you to maintain a fully neutral spine position as you hinge your hips back.
If the dowel loses contact with the tailbone this can indicate lower spinal flexion or a posterior pelvic tilt (when your pelvis is tipped backward). If you lose contact with the stick on your head this can be due to flexion of the back, you are most probably trying to move through your mid-back. Using the dowel is a really good tool to learn good hinging form & gives you great feedback so you can learn the movement pattern & engrain your mind-muscle connection. I would also suggest doing the dowel hinge in front of a mirror to focus on form!
Learning to hip hinge can take some time so focus on nailing the basics before moving up the progression ladder. Most of our daily tasks are knee dominant movements like sitting down, standing, climbing stairs & riding so when you first start hip hinging the movement can feel a little foreign. Take your time and get used to moving well so you can hinge effectively & safely.
So once you have nailed the basics why would we use the deadlift in your training programme?
Posterior chain strength is the most important aspect of a rider's strength routine, the back of the body needs to be strong so you can stay balanced in the saddle & control the movement of your horse. Riders should focus on improving the strength of your glute muscles, hamstrings, upper back & lower back.
The deadlift is the perfect movement to target all these areas in one go. This compound movement works your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, core, mid-back & upper back & will build full-body strength if done correctly with proper form. For most riders, we don't need to be training for heavy strength goals so you should focus on improving muscular endurance & hypertrophy (muscle growth). This means using slightly lighter weights & doing more reps (8-15 repetition range) so you train yourself to handle fatigue whilst building muscle. This also means that you won't be loading your back with heavy repetitions of the deadlift so shouldn't find you suffer from back pain due to a heavyweight. Remember your goal, we are trying to improve your riding strength & endurance not make you the next weightlifter so you don't need to be deadlifting your 1 rep max!
Often deadlifts get a bad wrap which is unfair as if they are done properly & with good form they are one of the best exercises to build & improve your posterior chain strength. More often than not injuries occur through bad form, overloading the weight on the bar & not applying progressive overload, doing too much too heavy too soon!
If you work through the movement patterns starting with your dowel hinge & focus on maintaining a neutral spine with a good hip hinge pattern. Once you feel confident & are moving well, keeping the stick in place on your back & feel your hamstrings and glutes working then you can start to slowly progress by adding more reps then move to the next progression of the hinge pattern. RDL's are a fantastic movement for riders as they hit your hamstring & glute strength without overloading the lower back & help to improve your hip mobility.
Don't be in a rush to move to the next best exercise, take your time & engrain good form! That is the golden rule!
Concentrate on good form, get a coach to help you move correctly & slowly progress over time to build your posterior strength, Don't be afraid of the deadlift its a fantastic exercise for riders & once you've nailed the form is a really fun lift!