Every athlete I have ever met wants to run faster and generate more power. Unfortunately, most young players I work with are not performing the exercises necessary to develop adequate power from this region of their body, and limit their athletic ability as a result. Squatting is probably the first exercise you think of when leg strength is mentioned, but many don’t realize this is a quadriceps (front of the thigh) dominant exercise. If you want to improve your performance, and your focus has been on squatting, you are missing an important piece of the puzzle.
The deadlift is one of the biggest ‘bang-for-your-buck’ exercises. It’s also one of the most under-utilized. The reason? It’s hard and a little intimidating. Guess what? Playing shortstop or hitting with runners on base is hard and a little intimidating. Running the anchor leg of a 1600-meter relay is intimidating. If you want to be successful, learn to love the deadlift, or at least a variation of the deadlift.
The reason the deadlift is so important is because of what it does for your glute muscles, otherwise known as the largest and most powerful muscles in your body. If you have weak glute muscles, you can assume you lack the power necessary to produce success and get you and your team in the newspaper. Additionally, the deadlift movement promotes an efficient path of movement for not only athletic activities but everyday life. From low back pain, to knee pain all the way to sports performance, the deadlift promotes lower extremity power development, a stronger core, stronger lat muscles (which are critical for throwing and limiting shoulder injuries), and enhanced grip strength.
Athletes, and really all humans, have become very anterior chain dominant. The quadriceps are the anterior chain and the squat is an anterior chain exercise. Luckily, and convenient for this article, the deadlift hits the entire posterior chain in one big lift. Also, included in the anterior chain is the adductors (groin or inner thigh muscles) which puts the hip joint in a challenging position. Anterior chain dominance combined with glute weakness can create hip tightness and eventual discomfort during dynamic activity.
Perhaps the deadlift is so under-utilized because everyone just looks at the barbell deadlift. Just like the squat, there are several different forms of deadlift and hip hinge exercises. The hip hinge is a movement emphasizing the hip joints while limiting low back involvement (see below for pictures). To successfully complete the barbell deadlift, you should have:
- Good hip mobility
- The ability to hip hinge correctly without using your back
- The ability to load your hips and lift a weight with intent
Many athletes don’t have 1-2 of these qualities and it makes the barbell deadlift very challenging. The ESP team knows exactly what to look for with the right blend of mobility drills and corrective exercises to get you headed down the right path, but that isn’t an excuse to wait on the deadlift. Work within your mobility and limited range, try a variation using a kettleball or sumo stance, or a hip thrust, and use lighter loads until you can execute the proper hip hinge pattern.
Bottom line, if you do not get the glutes going, you can expect to be limited on the performance side, and may even be setting yourself up for an injury down the road. Need help? Ask the ESP team for some coaching tips and recommendations that are specific to you and your goals.