Primal Strength Part 1: The Deadlift

Primal humans were naturally strong. Their ability to survive depended on their physical fitness to fulfill the basic necessities of life. Food. Water. Shelter…

Motivated by the drive to survive, primal humans had no choice but to exert their bodies against the forces of nature. The physical world required them to lift, squat, push, pull and carry their bodies against the forces of gravity. Physical strength was a requirement for staying alive.

Nowadays, you may not need to climb a tree or lift a deer carcass, but you should be able to carry your groceries or hold your child. Just like your ancestors, you too need sufficient strength to lift, squat, push, pull and carry objects of daily life.

You need a basic level of baseline bodyweight strength, but what exercises do you do?

Well, to be a beast at basic human function, you must master the natural movement patterns the human body has evolved to perform.

Let’s begin this Primal Strength Series with the Deadlift

Primal Strength Movement #1 DEADLIFT

The deadlift gets its name from the act of lifting a dead-weight object from the ground.  It can be any object. Heavy or light, the movement mechanics are the same.

Commonly practiced in the powerlifting community, the deadlift is often called “The King of Strength Movements” because it engages all muscles of the body from your hands to your heels. Fully engaging the powerful muscles of the hips, back and legs allow you to lift heavy objects safely and successfully.

When done correctly, the deadlift can be the single best exercise for building full-body strength. However, if done incorrectly, or poorly executed, this movement can result in severe pain or permanent injury.

Be warned, the risk of injury is not only when lifting heavy objects, but is also present every time you bend over if even to pick up a penny from the sidewalk.

This is why mastering the deadlift movement pattern is so critically important.

How to Hip Hinge

The most important part of any lift is your spine positioning. When exerting the body, neutral spine positioning protects and preserves your back. To perform a proper deadlift (or any strength movement for that matter) it is critical to first learn how to properly hip hinge.

When you hip hinge, you keep your spine in an aligned in a good position and move through your hips — instead of rounding through your spine. Keeping your spine neutrally aligned you will protect your back by lifting with your powerful hip and leg muscles.

We’ve all heard “lift with the legs” right? Well, that’s what the hip hinge allows us to do.

To master the hip hinge, I find it useful to use a straight stick or doll rod. By holding the stick along your back you can get feedback on whether you are in a rounded or neutrally aligned position.

Placing the stick along the back, we want the stick to

touch 3 key points:

  1. The back of your head
  2. Between your shoulder blades
  3. The top of your tailbone (sacrum)

The Seated Hip Hinge

  1. Sit at the edge of a chair or stable surface with your hips higher than your knees
  2. Find your “Neutral Spine” using a stick
  3. Lean forward at the hips while maintaining 3 points of contact with the stick
  4. Return to starting position

Note: it may be helpful to think of lifting your chest or rolling your shoulders back when hinging forward.

In the above images, notice how as I move forward, I maintain contact with those 3 key points. The head, between shoulder blades, and at the tailbone.

Once you’re able to do this basic seated hip hinge, you can move into the sit to standing hip hinge. This is helpful in training yourself how to stand up and sit down without hurting your back.

To do this, begin with the previous seated hip hinge, but once you’ve leaned forward and your “nose is over your toes” then you want to stand up using your powerful hip muscles. Again, using the hip muscles will protect and preserve the health of your back!

And now that you’re able to do the sitting to standing hip hinge with the stick properly, it’s time to move into the standing hip hinge and deadlift.

How to Deadlift

In the video below, I will demonstrate how to do a standing hip hinge with the stick on your back, followed by the standard deadlifting technique using the stick in front of your legs.

When performing a deadlift, whether lifting a box of the floor or a barbell in the gym, you want to keep the object as close to your body as possible. Using the stick, you want to maintain contact between the stick and the front of your legs. This trains you to keep the object close to your body when deadlifting.

Once able to do the deadlift movement pattern without resistance, add lightweight and practice the movement with proper lifting mechanics. Applying these techniques throughout your day will keep your body happy and healthy for years to come.

Remember, the deadlift is more than just a movement for bodybuilders, the deadlift is a foundational movement you can use every time you want to lift something off the ground!

How do you use the deadlift or hip hinge throughout your day?

Leave a comment in the section below!

Stay strong and healthy my friends,


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