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How To Deadlift: A Step By Step Guide To Deadlifting For Middle-Aged Women

I get a lot of questions from women about deadlifting:

  1. How do I deadlift?
  2. Am I strong enough to deadlift?
  3. Do I have to use a barbell?
  4. What’s the best technique?

Now here’s the deal, I teach middle aged women how to deadlift the same way I teach 15 year old boys and 35 year old men to deadlift. How to deadlift is how to deadlift. Of course each individual will have different needs, goals, and preferences. In this article I’m going to show you how to deadlift the right way for you.

Most importantly, I want you to know that this lift is for you. It’s not just for muscley dudes or perky 20- something Insta models. You, a middle-aged bad mama jama are gonna own this lift.  Let’s gooo!

This is solidly middle-aged me at 48 deadlifting 270lbs at a bodyweight of 127lbs.  That’s well over 2x my bodyweight.
What body parts does a deadlift work anyway?
Allll the parts:)

Deadlifts train your grip, your arms, your upper, mid and lower back, your glutes, your core, and  your legs.

If you’re thinking purely in terms of aesthetic benefits, deadlifts are fantastic at lifting your booty, toning your thighs and chiseling your back. Of course they’re useful in everyday life- moving furniture, boxes, bags, kids.  You’ll be stronger and safer pretty much any time you’re lifting heavy stuff up off the ground as you train your deadlift.

How To Deadlift Step 1: The Hip Hinge

First things first.  Before you even pick up a weight let’s get you grooving the right movement here. It’s important to note that the deadlift is not a squat. It is a hip hinge.  I remember being supremely confused about the difference between these two movements when I first started lifting. Here’s a breakdown:
How To Deadlift

When hip hingeing your butt goes back, not down.  Imagine that someone wrapped a rope around your waist, stood behind you and pulled.  Which direction would your hips move? Would they go down towards the floor? Of course not. They’d go back, in the direction of the pull. That’s the motion of a hip hinge.

Notice that in a squat you bend both your knees and your hips maximally, whereas in a hinge you bend your hips maximally while bending your knees minimally. Also take a look at my shins in this graphic; they’re almost vertical in the hinge and angled forward in the squat.

Watch the video below to learn 3 drills you can do to learn to hip hinge:
1. The dowel drill
2. The wall tap drill
3. The door shutting drill

Video yourself performing these 3 drills and compare them to my video. 
Does your form look the same?
No? Keep practicing.  You’ll get it!
Yes? Great! Well done.  Moving on…
Cable or Band Pull Through
​A great exercise to practice the hip hinge movement is the cable or band pull through.  I’m gonna bet  you think it’s a little awkward  One of my clients calls it “flossing her vagina.” 
I promise it’s worth the weird:)
Here:  watch how to do it with a cable and rope attachment.  You can also do it at home with a resistance band.
How To Cable Pull Through:

  • Set cable on a low setting
  • Walk far enough away from the cable stack (or anchor point of the band) that you feel tension. 
  • Use a wide stance with toes turned out and your body slanting forward. (otherwise the weight will pull you backwards.)
  • Keep arms locked
  • Think about trying to touch your butt to the wall behind you (there’s that hinge!)
  • Full ROM. Hands should reach all the way through your legs. At the bottom of the movement your chest will be parallel to the floor.  
  • Stand up & squeeze your glutes HARD. (Don’t hyperextend your back at the top though.)

How to Deadlift Step 2: Kettlebell Deadlift

Once you feel confident with your hip hinge you’re ready to give the first deadlift variation a try.
How To Deadlift

 Set up

  • Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width apart with the bell between your ankles.
  • Keep your chest up tall & wide. Imagine you’re wearing a t-shirt with a logo on the chest that a person standing in front of you has to be able to read at all times during your lift.  Show them your logo. 
  • Arms hang down in front of you

Now you’re ready for that hinge you’ve been working on.
Let’s see it!
 Step 1:

  • Push your hips back and try to touch the wall behind you with your butt.

 Step 2:

  • Grab the handle, squeeze your armpits as though you are trying to hold a clutch purse under there and someone’s trying to snatch it out. Take a big breath into your belly (not your chest), brace your abs like you’re about to be punched in the gut, push the floor away with your feet hard and stand up tall.

 Step 3:

  • Reverse the motion by pushing back into your hips (hinge!)
  • Reset between each rep: all the way from the clutch purse part

Common Mistakes:

  • Setting the bell out too far in front of you.  It should be right between your ankles.
  •  Bending from the waist & reaching for the KB with your hands.  They’ll make their way there as you push your butt back:)
  • Hyperextending your back at the top. Just stand up tall.

What if I can’t get into position to deadlift the KB with that form?
Try this: elevate the KB up to a height that you can lift it with proper form. You can elevate it on plates or a box.  
Here’s a video so you can see all the parts of a kettlebell deadlift in action:

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How To Deadlift Step 3: Deadlifting With A Bar

How To DeadliftTrap bar (also known as a hex bar)


If you have a trap bar available, give that a go next. If not, skip ahead to the section on sumo deadlifts (but watch the videos on breathing & bracing and how to take the slack out of the bar as those will apply to sumo and conventional as well as trap bar deadlifting.)
​You’ll stand inside of the bar so the weight will be closer to your center of gravity as opposed to either a sumo or conventional barbell deadlift where the the weight is out in front of you.  The trap bar enables you to pull with a more upright position, which is just an easier position for many people to take. It is also less stressful on the hips, which makes it a great option for those with crankier hips. 

​Set up

  • Stand inside of the trap bar with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width & arms straight down to your sides
  • Keep your chest up tall & wide. Imagine you’re wearing a t-shirt with a logo on the chest that a person standing in front of you has to be able to read at all times during your lift.  Show them your logo.

 Step 1:

  • With your arms long, push your hips back and try to touch the wall behind you with your butt.

 Step 2:

  • Grab the handles, squeeze your armpits as though you are trying to hold a clutch purse under there and someone’s trying to snatch it out. Take a big breath into your belly (not your chest.) & brace your abs.  Here, like this:

Then you’re going to take all the tension out of the bar. You’ll hear people call it “taking the slack out of the bar.”  One way to think of it is like you’re trying to bend the bar.  I think this video will help you understand (it shows a barbell, but it’s the same idea): 
  • Push the floor away with your feet hard and stand up tall.

 Step 3:

  • Reverse the motion by pushing back into your hips (hinge!)
  • Reset between each rep: all the way from the clutch purse part
  • Pull from a dead stop each time

Here’s a video putting it all together:

Sumo Deadlift
Ok, I don’t want to alarm you, but things are about to get exceptionally exciting.  Hold onto your hats ladies I’m about to share with you the ins and outs of my personal favorite lift, the Queen of the Deadlifts in my opinion. Her Royal Highness the Sumo Deadlift.  Let’s gooo…

In all seriousness, I like it so much because I’m stongest at it.  You might find the same to be true for you, or maybe not.  But in any case you should give both Sumo and Conventional pulling a go to see which you like best.  And honestly there’s room in your training for both.

​A lot of what we’ve already discussed so far will apply to Sumo as well:

  • Hip hinging
  • Show your logo
  • Clutch your purse under your armpits
  • Breathe and brace
  • Take the slack out of the bar
  • ​Reset & pull from a dead stop each time.

OMG you’ve learned so much already!!! 
Seriously, you now know more about deadlifting than most people ever will.
Watch this sumo tutorial and then we’ll chat about a couple things that are different with this lift:

How To Deadlift

Sumo Set Up:

  • In a Sumo Deadlift you want to stand with the bar in front of you so it’s either touching your shins or at most 1/4 inch away from them. “Feel the steel” is a good cue to remember that you want that bar in close.
  • Start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Over time you can try widening your stance to find the spot where you’re strongest.  Toes turned out. Arms long in front of you.

Step 1:

  • Send your hips back (try to touch your butt to the wall behind you) while keeping your chest up (show your logo)

Step 2: Grab the bar with your hands shoulder width apart ( so they ‘re inside your legs.) You want to have your grip be low down just under your fingers instead of up higher in your palm.  If you grip it up higher the weight of the bar is just going to cause it to slide lower anyway (that won’t feel good or help you lift.) Start with it in the correct position as shown in the graphic above. 

  • Squeeze that clutch purse under your armpits
  • Breathe and brace
  • Take the slack out of the bar (listen for that click.)
  • Instead of pushing through the floor with your feet, for sumo I want you to imagine that there’s a crack in the floor between your legs and you’re trying to spread that crack open with your feet. I like to imagine that there’s something valuable down there I want to get at.  Like a huge stockpile of Lucky Charms.
  • Stand up tall and finish by squeezing your glutes.

Step 3

  • Reverse the motion and return the bar to the floor. Remember to start the lowering of the bar my pushing your butt to the wall behind you.
Conventional Deadlift
We’ve arrived at our final deadlift variation, the conventional deadlift. Everything you’ve learned up till now is going to help you master this lift.  The main difference between sumo and conventional is the position of your feet and hands.  Instead of having your feet wider than shoulder width with your hands gripping the bar inside of your legs, you’ll stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your hands gripping the bar just outside of your legs. This change makes some of what we’ve discussed different.  Here’s a list of what will stay the same:

  • Hip hinging
  • Show your logo
  • Clutch your purse under your armpits
  • Breathe and brace
  • Take the slack out of the bar
  • ​Reset & pull from a dead stop each time.

Take a peek at this video to see a coventional pull:

Set Up

  • The placement of the bar is different than in sumo.  You don’t want it as close, because then you’re going to have to move the bar around your knees instead of straight up (and straight up is the most efficient path, so that’s what you want.) You also don’t want it too far out in front.  It’s not safe for your back and it’s not a strong position to pull from either.  The sweet spot? Right where you tie your shoe laces.  Even if you’re not wearing shoes, you can picture that spot, right?
  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your arms long, ready to grip the bar just outside of your legs.

Step 1

  • Send your hips back (try to touch your butt to the wall behind you) while keeping your chest up (show your logo.)

Step 2: 

  • Grab the bar with your hands just outside of your legs. You want to have your grip be low down just under your fingers instead of up higher in your palm.  If you grip it up higher the weight of the bar is just going to cause it to slide lower anyway (that won’t feel good or help you lift.) Start with it in the correct position as shown in the graphic above. 
  • Another big difference in the set up is the wedge. You hold the bar and use it to counterbalance as you wedge yourself against it. Watch that a few times on the video to see what that looks like.
  • Squeeze that clutch purse under your armpits
  • Breathe and brace
  • Take the slack out of the bar (listen for that click.)
  • A final difference is at the moment you initiate the pull, instead of thinking about opening up that imaginary crack in the floor, imagine pushing the floor away from you as hard as you can.
  • Stand up tall and finish by squeezing your glutes.

Step 3

  • Reverse the motion and return the bar to the floor. Remember to start the lowering of the bar by pushing your butt to the wall behind you.

How To Deadlift: My Best Advice Yet!

​Film yourself deadlifting. From the side and from the front.  It’s super easy to do.  Just prop your phone up against a dumbbell a water bottle, or whatever’s handy. Look for these common mistakes:

How To Deadlift: The Most Common Deadlifting Mistakes

  • Bar out too far in front of you
  • Hips in the wrong spot (typically too low and attempting to squat the weight up.) If you notice your hips shooting up before the bar, try raising them up to start.
  • Shoulders either too far behind the bar or too far in front of the bar.  Line the bar up with your armpit.
  • Craning neck up. Give yourself a double chin the whole time.
  • Rounding lower back. Your lower back should be neutral through out the lift. Rounding can be  caused by a number of things but one thing to focus on is a lack of tightness – remember to squeeze your purse under your armpits hard and make that bar click.
  • Bending your elbows. Nope. Arms stay straight
  • Yanking the bar off the ground. Nope again:) Even though the deadlift is called a pull, think of it as a push. Push with your feet (either down or out depending on which deadlift.)
  • Hyperextending your back at the top.  Just think of standing up tall. No more.
  • Shrugging your shoulders at the top.  Keep your shoulders down away from your ears.
  • Lowering the bar by breaking at the knees first.  No good.  You’ll have to take the bar around your knees then. It’s a good way to hurt your back.  Instead lower the bar by pushing your hips back first.You don’t bend your knees until the bar has passed them.

If you’ve gotten this far then you, my friend, are serious about learning to deadlift. Practice what you’ve read and watched here and you’ll be a deadlift master.  I’m here to help you  anytime.  Drop any questions you have below and I promise to answer.
Xo,
​Kim