How to Safely Progress the Deadlift

The deadlift is one of the most effective whole-body exercises ever.  It develops strength, power, resiliency, and stability right on par with heavy squatting.

Unfortunately, deadlifting can be a dangerous exercise if you’ve never been coached, or have never underwent a proper progression.

Since we (probably) can’t physically be there with you as coaches, the next best thing is to provide you with a safe and effective progression we use for young athletes.

1. Practice the fundamental movement pattern of hip hinging, and develop baseline mobility.

Before you start moving weights, it’s important that you can properly move yourself.  Spending 2-4 weeks hammering away at hip mobility drills, hinging mechanics, and the mind-muscle connection with your backside will give you the necessary foundation to move on to more advanced loaded variations.

2. Master the dumbbell RDL.

Using the dumbbells is a great way to keep the center of mass directly in line with the midfoot.  You won’t have to worry about falling forward or tipping backwards.  Instead, you’ll get pure hip hinging.  Dumbbells also let you keep your shoulders in a neutral position.

3. Get confident with heavier loads using the barbell RDL.

When young athletes deadlift without prior coaching, their spinal positioning quickly breaks down under load, and usually leads to devastating injuries.  Instead of pulling from the floor, we like young athletes to first learn how to deadlift “from the top down” by utilizing the Romanian deadlift.  Make sure the bar remains in contact with your thighs and shins as you lower it, and only go as far as your hip and hamstring flexibility allows while maintaining perfect posture.  Sit your butt back!

4. Meet your maker – the trap bar.

Now that you are comfortable hip hinging under heavy loads, it’s time to finally pull from the floor.  The trap bar, just like dumbbells, allows the weight to be centered in a more manageable way while also keeping your shoulders in neutral positions.  Use lower handles to build strength through a full range of motion, and don’t bounce the weight off the floor between reps.

5. Decrease the range of motion, and increase the load, with pulls from blocks.

Using either a trap bar or a regular straight bar and starting the plates raised six to ten inches off the ground, you will learn how to handle much heavier loads without the added risk of deadlifting from the floor.  This is an excellent way to train your body to handle larger than life forces and build head-to-toe resiliency and strength.

Own the Offseason 16-week Program and 4-week Prep Phase

Want more progressions that can take you from an absolute beginner to a strong and savvy athlete?  Our 20-week high school baseball training program contains this exact deadlift progression (with periodized set and rep schemes) as well as progressions for over 30 other families of exercises.

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