Deadlift Variations with Kettlebells and Factors that affect them

We do a few different kinds of deadlifts at Studio ME. We don’t have barbells and use Kettlebells for our deadlifting. We’ll never be able to max out but by using kettlebells it does allow our body to move more freely and naturally than if we were using a barbell which would put us in a fixed position.

The hardstyle deadlift is one of my favorite exercises for many reasons. First, I believe the set-up is much easier to achieve than a traditional barbell deadlift because the kettlebell can sit easily between your feet whereas the barbell deadlift is in front of the body and maintaining proper back alignment during the set- up is much more difficult, especially for the new trainee.

Secondly, it is a great way to teach someone how to hinge at their hips which has many benefits including: increased glute and hamstring activation for muscle building and proper hip drive which is important for proper execution of other kettlebell movement as well as enhanced sports performance.

We teach sumo kettlebell deadlift using two bells where we get into a little more of a sumo stance to accommodate for the two bells, suitcase deadlift (narrow stance, bells on the outside of our legs), and single leg deadlift with either two hands on the bell or the opposite hand holding the bell from the foot that stays on the ground.

Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise and are important to have in our training routine but if not done correctly can do more harm.

There are 6 big factors that affect deadlifting and why we may all have a slightly different stance. Not all bodies are created equally and neither should our stance.

Factor 1 - Knowing how and body awareness

The hip hinge is crucial and the most relevant thing to work on. You’d be surprised, but the hip hinge is one of the most common things we need to teach as most of us sit all day and have tight hip flexors and inactive glutes. If we don’t know how to hip hinge then we should NOT be deadlifting. That’s it! Period! Do you need me to repeat that? If we cannot hip hinge correctly, we should not be deadlifting….at least not yet. Let us help you in our Skillz classes so we can get you going.

No stretch or accessory exercise can take the place of fundamentally learning how to hip hinge.

Factor 2 - Body Proportions

The height of a person, their torso : leg ratio will affect deadlift form and stance and the stress to the back.

The longer a torso, the longer the level is from the shoulders to the hips. This means the lever arm is longer, multiplying the force through the lower back.

Basically, longer torso is harder to keep stiff, shorter torso is easier to keep stiff. For those long torsos out there if you start to feel anything in that low back pause and let us help you with your form.

For arm length, the longer the arms the less range of motion you need to get to the bar. The shorter the arms, the more range of motion you'll have to get somewhere, either your hips, low back, knees, ankles, elevating the bar, or taking a sumo stance. Short arms we may need to elevate the bell up for you when just starting. If we don’t have the range of motion to reach the bell or are forcing it, picking the bell up for the first lift could be really tough and pull in all the wrong places. Try elevating the bell or changing your stance. Sometime I even start with just squatting to get the bell up and starting with the correct tension and form at the top of the movement. I’m a short arm person here so this works well for me.

Factor 3 - Hip Anatomy

Different hip anatomy can change when your hip joint runs out of flexion range as well as the width of stance that allows for greatest flexion.

If hip anatomy is determined to be a limitation, there are a few things that can sometimes help:

  • Toeing out a little bit

  • Taking a little wider stance

  • Starting from an elevated position

If you are feeling limited in your range of motion, give one of these three options a shotl

Factor 4 - Posterior Chain and Adductor Flexibility

The tug of war is between the posterior chain that is above your pelvis and the posterior chain below your pelvis to help dictate your pelvic and spinal positioning.

If your hamstrings and parts of your adductors (depending on stance width) are not flexible, then they'll pull on the pelvic attachments and make your back round instead of stretching/lengthening and allowing for as close to neutral spine as possible.

Generally, the wider stance you take, the more you will bias the adductors. A sumo stance will require greater adductor flexibility. A narrower stance will require more hamstring flexibility.

What stance do you usually use? Do you find yourself always doing a sumo deadlift? Well, maybe it’s time to mix it up and start working on areas that need it. We will likely need to start with an elevated bell due to lack of flexibility in the hamstrings but that’s alright! Practicing things other than what we are comfortable with will help make us much more rounded.

Factor 5 - Posterior Chain Strength vs Anterior Chain Strength

If your lower back is weak, your back will round when the load gets heavier than you can handle.

If your posterior chain is weak compared to a stronger, more dominant anterior chain, the tendency will be to attempt to make the torso vertical and bend the knees more in order to vertically stack the spine and load the quads.

There isn't anything necessarily wrong with this, it's basically the 2nd pull in an olympic lift.

It's a problem if you are trying to train your posterior chain and do that habitually. You will miss out on maximizing your posterior chain training which is a lot of the reasons we do deadlifts. Right?

Factor 6 - Style & Equipment

Different deadlift styles load the back and hips differently. We use strictly kettlebells at Studio ME and teach a variety that focus on mobility and flexibility to help you achieve a level of general physical preparedness meaning that we are preparing you for life, move better and rid yourself of chronic pain.

Get in and try a class today and learn how to properly hip hinge, have fun in the process and FIND YOUR STRONG!