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Back to the basics: Mastering the deadlift

I’m a day away from my due date for baby #3 and I couldn’t be more ready. I wonder what she looks like, what her personality is like (another feisty one?), and how Eve and Vera will adjust to having to share Mommy with another child. I can’t wait to squeeze her and kiss her little face and pour my love all over her – something I profoundly missed being able to do in the early weeks and months with my very preemie Eve and Vera.

I’m also looking forward to getting my body back. And, no, I don’t mean returning to my pre-pregnancy shape or fitness level. I mean being able to do simple, every day things, like bending over to put on my shoes without all the air gushing out of me. In fact, bending is one of the things I look forward to the most. (No, bending isn’t my only goal.)

I’ve done a lot of squatting with this pregnancy, both in my workouts and simply as a means to doing what needs to get done. I squat to pick toys up off the floor. I squat to grab a pair of shoes. I squat to look at something the girls are coloring. I squat to get eye-level with my daughters when they talk to me. All good things, yes. But sometimes, a girl just needs to bend!

Because of this rather odd excitement I have over the prospect of bending without my belly getting in the way, I cannot wait to add the traditional deadlift to my workout routine!

What is the deadlift?

The deadlift actually goes back to the days of the Roman Empire when soldiers had to clear dead bodies from the battlefield. Because lifting bodies was causing these men to get injured, they were taught the proper lifting technique – the deadlift.

If you ever bend over to pick something up, then this exercise is for you! It’s one of those techniques that, when done correctly, just makes life easier. It helps you to do what needs to get done without a lot of fuss. It’s also a great form of play. I “deadlift” my kids off the floor all the time. 😀

This move works muscles from your neck to your knees, but the big ones are your butt (gluteus maximus) and your back (trapezius and lumbar muscles). A strong back supports everything else you do, so this move is a near must in my book.

deadlift quote.png

The technique

For a traditional deadlift:

  1. Stand facing the barbell, legs slightly apart, your abs contracted (belly button to spine), and your spine in a neutral position.
  2. Bend your knees until your thighs are almost parallel to the floor.
  3. Grip the barbell with your hands. Your hands should be slightly farther than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Inhale, contract your abs and back muscles, and lift the bar, allowing the bar to “slide” up your shins.
  5. Once the bar reaches your knees, exhale while extending your torso and straightening your legs so you’re standing erect. Your arms should be hanging straight down.
  6. Hold the bar in this position for about two seconds then return the bar to the floor.

To prevent injury, never ever ever round your back during this exercise. A rounded back can cause a herniated disc, which is definitely NOT the goal. When lowering the bar back to the floor, also take care not to overextend or arch your back.


The deadlift is another fun one because there are so many variations you can do to mix it up if you start to get bored. I started doing the single-leg deadlift using my bodyweight during my first trimester. Since then, I graduated to using a 15lb kettlebell. That’s not a lot of weight, I know, but it has helped me maintain a certain amount of stability and balance despite the fact that I’ve got a very pregnant belly. I cannot wait to tackle the traditional deadlift with heavier weights!

Single leg deadlift

Place a kettlebell right outside your stabilizing foot. Root the stabilizing leg on the floor with the knee slightly bent. Slowly hinge your hips back, lifting the non-stabilizing leg, until your spine is in neutral position (the higher your back leg, the lower your chest will go to the ground, like a seesaw). Grip the kettlebell that’s placed on the floor, pull your shoulder back, and hinge your hip forward. Lock the stabilizing leg and squeeze your glutes. This variation is like a “natural butt lift” and really challenges your balance.

Sumo deadlift

Stand with your feet wider than hip-width apart and toes angled out, following the line of your bent knees. Complete lift as you would the traditional deadlift. This variation works the quads and adducter muscles in the thighs more intensely and the back less.

Reverse grip (one hand facing in and one hand facing out) –

Helps to stabilize the bar so you can lift heavier weights.

Getting to it

If you’ve never deadlifted before, don’t attempt to lift heavy weights until you’ve mastered the right form. Focus on mastering the traditional deadlift before branching out into some of the variations. If you workout at home or by yourself, practice in front of a mirror or record yourself on your phone.  It’s the best way to analyze and perfect your own form when no one else is around to make sure you do it right.

And, as always, quit as soon as your form is compromised. If you start rounding or overextending your back in an effort to complete the move then you’re done. Give yourself time to recover and set your mind on doing one more rep during the next session.

If you’re tackling this exercise with me, don’t forget to leave a comment here or on the Facebook page.

Good luck, my friends!


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