Monday, July 25, 2011

Coaching Cues For The Kettlebell Deadlift

Today, I want to discuss one of my new favorite exercises for trainees who have a difficult time loading their hamstrings and using them, along with their glutes, to produce hip extension.   This exercise is the kettlebell deadlift (KB DL).  I love this exercise because:
1) It starts from the floor, which allows you to position your clients or yourself into a good position (with hamstrings loaded) before initiating the movement.
2) It is the easiest exercise I have found to teach people the hip hinge and to use their posterior chain instead of their back to initiate hip extension.

NOTE: You can use a dumbbell if you do not have kettlebells.


The first thing to do is to position your client into a good position with toes pointed out slightly, hips back, minimal knee bend, tripod foot, and a neutral spine.  I also like to line up the KB with the heels so that the person really has to sit back and load their hamstrings to get to the bell (some people will not have the mobility to do this so you can adjust as needed).
Secondly, make sure the person gets tight by setting the lats, pulling any slack out of the arms and legs, and getting a big breath to create intra-abdominal pressure and stabilize the core.  To ensure a stiff core, you can wrap your hands around their lower ribs and cue them to breathe out into your hands and then squeeze down-make sure their ribs are not rising superiorly (towards their head) when they inhale.
Lastly, initiate the movement by driving through the feet and extending the knee.  Off the floor, the torso angle should remain the same until the KB passes the knee.  From just above the knee, simultaneously extend your knees and hips until they are fully extended- the body should be a straight line (ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and ears).

Below is a video of the exercise with the kettlebell elevated.  I like to sometimes elevate the kettlebell if someone is having a hard time getting into a neutral spine position and/or using their glutes and hamstrings.


As I have stated many times in the past, teaching yourself and/or your clients to perform a hip hinge is very important for back health.  It is also just as important to teach yourself and/or your clients to use hamstrings and glutes to produce hip extension.  It is so common for people to return from the hip hinge by mainly using their back extensors, which, if it has not already, will most likely lead to back trouble. 

It is possible, and quite common, for someone to initiate and/or finish the movement with the low back.  To determine if someone is using their low back to initiate the movement, just keep a close eye on it (I often have my clients tuck their shirts in if I cannot see their back well enough).  There should be no movement or change in its neutrality.  You can also palpate the erectors or the spine itself to determine if they are overusing it.

You can spot if someone is finishing the movement with their low back if their torso is angled backwards at the top of the movement and there is an arch in their low back.  Also, always ask your clients where they felt the most effort coming from.  If they say their back, then you know they are not performing the exercise correctly.

A good cue is to tell these people to use their legs by pushing their body away from the floor.  You can also demonstrate to them what you mean by using the low back to return from a hip hinge- show them what it looks like.

Final coaching points:

Starting Position
-Feet about shoulder width apart and pointed out slightly
-Tripod foot
-Hips back (tension on hamstrings)
-Neutral spine
-Good knee, hip, and foot alignment
-No slack in arms and legs
-"Core" tight

Ending Position
-Tall, straight position (straight line from ankle to knee to hip to shoulder to ear)
-Quads and glutes tight

Give the KB DL a shot and let me know what you think!
I am also interested to hear what exercises you all use to teach the hip hinge?

Have a great week everyone! 


  1. Today, I want to discuss one of my new favorite exercises for trainees who have a difficult time loading their hamstrings and using them, along ...

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