The deadlift is one hell of an exercise — but does that mean you should deadlift from the floor?
Lets find out.
In my opinion, the deadlift is one of the best exercises on the planet.
I mean, when it comes to whole body strength, it is king:
- It works every single muscle in the body (with a heavy emphasis on your legs and upper back)
- Has great carryover to athletic performance tasks (think jumping and sprinting)
- Improves your ability to perform various tasks of daily living
- Builds a sweet set of buns
Seriously, what more could you want?
However, with these amazing positives, there is one big fat caveat that we need to consider.
It needs to be performed with damn good technique.
See, the deadlift is pretty complex movement.
Moreover, the way in which the bar is positioned during a deadlift (in front of your body) means that it naturally places a lot of shear stress on your spine.
Now, to be clear, this is not a bad thing.
When the deadlift is performed correctly, this shear stress strengthens the muscles of your back and trunk. And the result? Over time your back becomes more stable, and less injury prone.
But, if your deadlift technique is poor, then this shear stress is not going to be a good thing.
In fact, it may even result in injury.
What we could only consider ‘not so good’ (AKA my eyes are bleeding) deadlift technique
Good Deadlift Technique (AKA How to Deadlift)
What does good deadlift technique look like?
While there may be some slight variances in deadlift technique between individuals (things like stance width and hand position, for example), there a few general rules that must be adhered to at all times.
- Your whole foot making even contact with the ground
- Armpits positioned over the bar
- Back in a neutral position
- Head in line with spine (so not looking too far up or down)
- Bar positioned over your shoe laces
- Hips back, feeling a whole lot of tension in your hamstrings
If you tick these six boxes, then you are in the prime position to perform a safe and efficient deadlift.
And it should look a little something like this (performed by yours truly):
But (there is always a but…), it does need to be said that not everyone will have the mobility required to get into the bottom position of a deadlift safely.
Which begs the question…
Do I Need To Deadlift From the Floor?
In short, no — you do not.
While I am a firm believer that everyone should deadlift in some way, shape, or form, I also believe that you need to tailor an individuals exercise prescription to their current capabilities.
This means that very few people will actually be able to perform a barbell deadlift from the floor.
Or at least in the initial stages of their training journey anyway.
Which is fine.
See, we have a myriad of deadlift variations available to us that offer the same benefits. Importantly, most of them are easier to perform than a traditional barbell deadlift, as they don’t require quite as much mobility.
In short, they are harder to stuff up.
Then over time (as you become more competent at the movement), you can gradually transition into performing a deadlift from the floor.
The Best Deadlift Variations
With this in mind, I thought I would outline my favourite deadlift variations.
I normally prescribe each of these in the order listed for 4-6 weeks each (before moving onto the next one), for 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions, twice per week.
By the end of the process, you will be in a very good position to start deadlifting from the floor
- Elevated Kettlebell Deadlift
- Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Conventional Deadlift from Blocks
- Sumo Deadlift
As I am sure you can see, these exercises become gradually more challenging.
In this manner, each progressive variation requires a little more mobility, and becomes a little more complex.
However, once you have spent a good 4-6 weeks training each of them you will have your deadlift pattern down pat.
As a result, you will be primed to start deadlifting from the floor!
Take Home Message
The deadlift is an incredible exercise, however, there is no need to perform it from the floor if it sits outside your current capabilities. In fact, you can perform a number of deadlift variations and get exactly the same benefits.
So give some of the variations listed in this article a go, and make sure to let us know what you think!
About The Author
Whilst reading Stephen Lunn’s article in the Weekend Australia this past weekend, ‘How to live well in your final decade’ I couldn’t help but think of many of iNform’s wonderful clients aged 70+.
If you didn’t get a chance to read this article here is a synopsis:
- Australian’s are living longer than we ever have, but the length of our ‘quality years’ is not increasing proportionally.
- This means on average we are spending more years in a state of ill-health, dealing with disease and/or disability.
- To narrow the gap between years lived and quality years the following is recommended: Get fitter and stronger; eat well; keep you mind occupied; be part of a community; remain useful.
Many of the people aged over 70 that I have worked with over the past fifteen years tick all, if not most of those boxes.
I guess that is to be expected. As an Exercise Physiologist I do see a biased sample of Australia’s population.
The only people that access my services are people who are wanting to take control and action over their health and to be brutally honest, have the means to do so.
I never see people who are passive in their health- that are allowing the deterioration of their health to just happen to them. Why would they seek out someone like me?
Unfortunately I also don’t get to see many of those who have the will to take control, but just lack the means (location/transport; finances; awareness etc etc). That is a massive topic for another day- for now I would like to focus only on those I do see.
When I think of the men and women of 70+ years that I have trained, the following things come to mind:
- An unwillingness to write things off as ‘it’s probably just old-age. No, if your knee is sore, there is a reason for it that may well be changeable.
- A desire to travel. And I don’t mean on a Greyhound Bus with an occasional stop at a local ‘famous bakery’. I mean hiking holidays in Peru, Nepal or Switzerland; expeditions to Antarctica by ice-breaker boat; solo driving around Australia in a Camper-van; Ski holidays in Japan; water-skiing on the Murray River. I have helped people of 70+ years achieve all of these things and many more.
- A drive to get stronger. Not just to help bone density or cardiovascular health. But to feel empowered, independent, capable. One of my clients, a woman aged 71 takes great pleasure helping younger women put their bags into overhead lockers on her many flights to far-flung destinations around the world.
- Improving strength and fitness to help them complete their first marathon, or long-distance cycling event.
- A conviction to live independently. Not just exist, or survive. I am talking about hosting parties and other social events; or fixing things or even renovate by themselves.
It is a great privilege to help people achieve these types of things after their 70th birthday. You are never too old to get started, unless you believe you are.
About The Author
High-Intensity Interval Training is all rage right now. I have come across stacks of tabloid articles and television programs recently espousing the virtues of HIIT training, and for good reason.
There is good evidence to show that training in short bursts of high intensity can yield all sorts of wonderful benefits towards our metabolic health, body composition and fitness markers. My colleague, Hunter Bennett, wrote a great article on this topic that you can read here. This has lead to the creation of Fitness Franchises and individual businesses that focus solely on the HIIT principle.
In my opinion, such businesses offer fitness training to the masses much in the same way that Fast Food Chains delivers nutrition. Cheaply, poorly, and with an unacceptable level of health risk to their patrons.
So what’s the problem, hater?
There are a few, but I will focus on the two major ones that I commonly see:
1) The lack of pre-exercise screening and assessment.
Before you start training at a fitness centre, the staff (who should be adequately qualified) are required to take you through the ‘Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool‘ so that the appropriate level of exercise can be prescribed for you based on any metabolic or physical risk factors you may have.
This is in your best interest as if you have a health concern, either diagnosed or undiagnosed you should ease your way gently into an exercise program. This process is a basic requirement for all accredited Fitness Businesses. If you have started training and you have not been adequately screened using this questionnaire I would be highly concerned about the people you have trusted with your health. They have let you down.
Following the metabolic screening questionnaire, we at iNform believe a thorough evaluation of Movement Competency should be completed, so that you can be prescribed exercises that you are able to complete safely and effectively.
Again, if you are thrust into a High Intensity Circuit class without anyone assessing you movement capabilities (and adjusting your exercise recommendations accordingly) then you have been put into a situation that carries an unacceptable level of injury risk.
2) Overly complex, diverse and advanced exercises.
The evidence to support the use of HIIT style training is derived from studies that generally use quite straight-forward forms of exercises- such as sprints on a stationary bike or rower. Or they use pretty simple resistance exercises such as squats, push-ups, bicep curls etc. Also the groups used in these studies tend to be quite homogeneous- males or females aged 18-23; type-2 diabetics; post-menopausal women etc etc.
So we have simple, yet vigorous exercises being prescribed to a group of ‘similar’ people (with unsuitable people being screened out in the participant selection process) to determine the effect of HIIT training over a period of time.
This does not sound like your average HIIT class- where you might find a 18y.o Netballer; a 48y.o. Accountant; a 32y.o. mother of a 9-month old baby, and god knows who else. Surely if you are putting together a session for a group as diverse is this, in the best interests of the participants you would be more conservative with your exercise selection than those conducting the studies are!
So what should you do?
This article probably comes across as discouraging towards group based HIIT classes. That wasn’t my intention. Rather than discouraging, I hope this article can help you make informed choices about who you trust to guide your exercise programming. If you are thinking of undertaking some HIIT training, here are some things to look out for:
- Do qualified staff screen you for metabolic risk and movement capability prior to entering you into a class. If the answer is no, DO NOT TRAIN THERE!
- Are the exercises require a lot of jumping, throwing, swinging etc. If the answer is yes, BE CAREFUL!
- Do your joints hurt during and/or after the exercise session? If so, THIS IS NOT WHAT WE WOULD CALL GOOD SORE!
- Did the staff conduct a thorough one-on-one evaluation of your metabolic health and movement capacity- then prescribe exercises that were appropriate to you level of fitness and capability with a view to gradually build intensity? If the answer is yes, THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!
About the Author
Should I workout when I’m sick?
You would be amazed how often I hear this question. At least once a week I will get a message from a client who are feeling a little under the weather. Saying that they are unsure if they should come in and train, or not.
And — like most things in the health industry — it depends.
Should I workout when I’m sick?
I get it.
You have finally gotten into a solid training routine. Finally gotten in a couple consistent weeks of exercise. Your feeling good, seeing progress, and making change.
And boom — disaster strikes.
A head cold, a runny nose, or even a mild cough.
But are these enough to stop you from working out, or should you just push through?
The “above the neck” rule
When it comes to working out when sick, I tend to stick with what is known as the “above the neck” rule.
This rule simply suggests that if you are strictly experiencing symptoms above your neck, then you are probably fine to exercise. This means that if you have a head cold, a stuffy nose, or a mild earache, you are good to go.
However, if your symptoms extend below the neck (think a chest cough, fever, vomiting, or diarrhoea) then you might want to give it a miss.
How do I know for sure?
Now, while the above the neck rule does provide a simple way of telling whether you should workout or not, it isn’t always 100% accurate.
See, when you are sick, your body is working overtime to get better. It needs extra energy to support your immune system, and often extra rest as well. With this in mind, it is important to remember that exercise places your body under more stress that it needs to recover from.
This can obviously impair your ability to heal.
As a result, even if all your symptoms are above the neck, there are still times when you might want to avoid exercise. These include:
If you fall into one of these categories, give your session a skip and get some rest.
But what about my gains?
But what about my gains?
One of the most common reasons people want to keep training (even when they are sick) is because they don’t want to lose their fitness.
And I get it.
I mean, you have spent all this time training diligently, and now its all going down the toilet — right?
Well, not quite. See, you will be happy to know that it actually takes a decent amount of time to lose fitness.
In fact, if you stop exercising completely, you wont start losing strength or muscle mass until around your third week without exercise. Similarly, it is unlikely you will see any loss of endurance or aerobic fitness until after your second week without exercise.
Note here that I said if you “stop exercising completely”.
Positively, if you can even get in one training session per week, your loss of strength and fitness will be attenuated significantly. This means that if you have a day where you are feeling good, you can sneak in a light session to avoid any losses of fitness occurring.
In short, you have nothing to worry about!
Take Home Message
Should I workout when I’m sick? Well, I think we have answered that question pretty comprehensively.
In my mind, adhering to the above the neck rule is a great place to start. However, if you are simply not feeling up to it, or exercise makes your symptoms worse, then you should probably give it a miss for now.
And no, you don’t need to worry about losing all your gains, because that wont start to happen until week 3 without exercise — so make sure you take some time to recover if you need it!
About the Author
The debate that has raged for centuries, free weights VS machines. Only one can leave this battle alive (or can they?), so lets find out who wins!
I don’t know if you spend much of your time listening to people debate about fitness on the internet, but I do.
Sad, I know — but I really cant help myself.
Something that I realised while I was trawling through fitness forums is that people love to argue about insignificant stuff. I mean, really, who cares if you eat paleo or ketogenic? Intermittent fasting vs. eating breakfast? Three sets of 10 repetitions or four sets of 8 repetitions?
Hint: it really doesn’t matter.
I mean honestly, as long as it works for you, then who cares?
But one debate that comes up all the time is free weights vs. machines.
It doesn’t matter where in the world you go, you will find people screaming at the top of their lungs that one is better. On one side you will have the free weight enthusiasts, stating that their way of training is more functional. On the other, you will have machine-lovers swearing that their way of training is better for joint health and muscle growth.
But is this really the case?
Free Weights VS Machines
So, free weights vs machines? Is one way of training really better than the other?
Well, like most things in the health and fitness industry, it depends.
I know, I know — what a boring answer.
But that doesn’t mean its not true.
See, when it comes to exercise, and specifically weight training, there are really no bad exercises. Almost every exercise can serve a function, it just needs to be used in the right context. And this obviously holds true for free weight exercises and machine based exercises.
It is just a matter of where and when.
Free Weight Exercises
Free weight exercises describe any exercise that has you moving an external load (or your own body weight) through space. This means exercises that use dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells all fit the bill.
As a rule, free weight exercises closely replicate the movement demands placed on the body during athletic tasks (think jumping, running, and sprinting), and task of daily living (think walking up stairs, and standing up from a seated position).
As a result, they generally have better carryover to these more functional tasks. Moreover, they may also have the potential to improve stability to greater extent that machine based training, as their performance has a stability demand.
Too add another layer to this discussion, I want to talk about looks for a second. As many of you know, most of us don’t only train for functional gain. Many of us train for aesthetic reasons too.
This means building muscle and losing fat — which exactly where people will tell you machine based exercises are king.
However, there is evidence clearly demonstrating that literally any form of resistance training can cause muscle growth. And yes, this includes training with free weights. With this in mind, I would argue that when it comes to training for appearance, it is much for a muchness.
So free weights must better, right?
Hold up for just a second.
See, free weights do have some potential downfalls.
First and foremost, most free weight exercises are quite demanding from a technical perspective. This means that they do require you to have a significant amount of strength, stability, and motor control already available before you can complete them safely. This automatically means that they may not be the safest starting point for everyone.
Secondly, while this pains me to say it, when it comes to free weight exercises, there is a slightly higher risk of injury associated with their performance. I mean just think about it for a second. If you are performing a squat with 100kg on your back, your margin for error is much smaller than if you are performing a leg press machine with 200kg — even if the weight is greater.
Now, just to be clear — this risk can be mitigated by making sure you execute every repetition with near perfect form. But sometimes technique does break down, and that is when injury risk is increased. And this risk is undeniably greater with free weight exercises.
The rise of the machines!
Lets face it — to come to a decision, you need to hear both sides of the argument (especially when the answer is somewhat ambiguous…).
I have spent a little bit of time outlining the pros and cons of free weight exercises. Now I am going to go ahead and do the same with machine based exercises.
The first thing I want to touch on is the fact that like any other form of resistance training, machines offer a great method of increasing muscle size. In fact, they offer one key benefit over free weights as they can allow you to isolate individual muscles to a greater extent. While this may not be important to everyone, it does mean that if you want to spend a bit of time developing a specific muscle, then machines provide a great way to do so.
Secondly, while they may not have as much carryover to functional tasks as free weight exercise, they still have the capacity to devlop muscle strength — and this is important. See, many people will step foot into the gym for the first time, and not have the strength and stability available to perform free weight exercises effectively. With this in mind, machines provide the perfect way to build tissue strength and joint stability that will allow you to perform more complex free weight exercises in the future.
Think of them as the perfect stepping stone to more functional movement tasks.
Finally, something that I have already mentioned above is the fact that machine exercises are less complex than free weight exercises. While some people might take this to mean that they are ‘less functional’, I prefer to think of it as ‘they are easier to perform’. In this manner, they may actually be a safer alternative for people who are new to a gym setting.
Free Weights VS Machines: And The Winner is…
So, free weight VS machines? Who is the ultimate winner? Is one really better than the other?
Well, in my mind, not really — so I guess they both win?
Seriously, despite what internet trolls will have you believe, both free weights and machines can have a place in your training program. They both have pros and cons, and both offer benefits in certain situations. So use them as required, and don’t feel guilty for doing so!
About the Author
Laura Hodges has pretty much done it all in Women’s basketball, through unheralded returns from injury to World Championships. So it seems an appropriate career challenge for her to consider returning to play less than a year after giving birth for the first time!
I could rattle on about Laura’s four (yes four) Olympic Games as an Opal; her national representation at three FIBA World Championships; her feats as a youngster in the WNBL; her pioneering pathway into the WNBA; her superstar status across European Leagues and so on…
As a more average but still hard-working member of society however I have drawn as much inspiration, and perhaps more transferable relevance, through observing her return to professional basketball this time around. Also a returning iNform client, Laura was initially challenged through the retrieval of her historical data.
This time, the challenge was far less about comparison of physical metrics, and more around the psychological parameters of reframing mindset, perspective, expectation and prioritisation.
Far be it for me to give any real insight on the trauma of childbirth, but I feel safe in saying this amazing human feat tends to change a few things for a while! For an athlete of Laura’s calibre, or indeed for the more corporate type ‘athlete’, it creates a dynamic equilibrium between survival, heightened personal demands, and maintaining high performance, requiring a deal of mental toughness quite unlike most other workplace challenges. Here’s a snippet of some of the lessons this recent experience has brought to me:
Set and commit to refined expectations
It’s so easy to look back and compare yourself to what you used to do. The problem is this doesn’t help when the state of play has changed with evolved pressures, different responsibilities, and perhaps even those outside your immediate circumstances heaping past expectations back onto you.
This has been an opportunity to identify a realistic, achievable and appropriate set of performance goals balanced between circumstance and professional ambition. With a commitment to these, the pressure from peripheral expectation is effectively managed.
Create a hierarchy of priorities and get the big rocks right
I was always drawn to the big rock/little rock analogy that speaks of prioritising the stuff that really matters. There are many ‘little rocks’ in high performance and leadership that may be perceived as useful, but ultimately not vital in driving achievement.
New stages in life will benefit from evaluative, and perhaps collaborative choices, to consistently put your valuable time and effort into the things that truly matter; and it’s ok for these things to look a little different from week to week and month to month!
Take some perspective on your perspective
Competing demands can distort one’s view of their effectiveness and achievements. It can be useful to regularly reflect on what you are comparing yourself to and why; what metric you are using; and whether this is the best standpoint for you at the time. Engaging this process lets you refresh and remember your values to keep you ‘in check’ throughout changing circumstances.
Laura is under no illusions. While winning another WNBL contract is a great achievement in itself, this one comes with a changing of the guard for her. She has recognised the opportunity to forge a new role, and will apply her world class standards to play this out in a team for benefits that exceed her own individual performance this season.
If you are looking to recover some of your own balance in life, iNform’s professional exercise approach will support you in establishing an effective way forward.
About The Author