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The Kettlebell Deadlift

Are you looking to introduce kettlebells into your daily exercise routine? The kettlebell deadlift is perhaps one of the best introductions into kettlebell training. You should learn the deadlift before the almighty kettlebell swing as it required you to perform the “hip hinge” correctly but is not quite as explosive/dynamic. The KB deadlift is a movement that builds a solid foundation—and can be performed from an early stage of training making it an essential part of any starter kettlebell exercise program.

In this article you will find information on what muscles are worked with the deadlift, how to hip hinge and deadlift with good technique, how to incorporate into your routine as well as variations to add complexity.

Perfecting the Hip Hinge Starts with the Deadlift Setup

1.Place the kettlebell in line with your ankles or under your body’s center mass.
2.Reach down and grip the kettlebell with 2 hands, imagine that you are trying to bend the kettlebell handle for maximum lat activation, squat down slightly and rotate your shoulder blades. This will automatically push your chest out.
3.Apply a little tension, starting from your feet. Keep your feet planted and keep tension on the heels, shoulders rotated back. Imagine standing on an imaginary paper towel with you trying to tear that paper towel with your feet. This will create a pressure on the glutes that will transition to your upper body, making it tight. Do not lose tension in the shoulders or else you will lose your arch due to no lat contribution and that leads to loss of form and can affect other regions like the lower back.

Pro tip: In the starting position, your back should be flat from your tailbone to your head. Think of your arms as ropes, keep tension in your shoulders and use your legs when pulling.

The Pull and End Position

1.Drive your hips forward, pull and stand tall.
2.To keep a tight core, you can use a common technique used by powerlifters. Hold your breath during the concentric part and exhale on the eccentric. This will ensure that your kettlebell deadlift is bulletproof.
3.One the way back down, roll your shoulders down and back, squeeze your core and hips.
4.Shift the pressure to your heels as you slowly descend, hinging forward and not bending forward.
5.Feel the tension in your posterior chain as you place the kettlebell back on the floor and repeat.

Pro Tip: Keep the lats engaged so that the kettlebell stays close to the body. Lift with your Legs and Lock with your Back

Kettlebell Deadlift Form Checklist

  • The kettlebell should be between your ankles, your feet should be a little wider than shoulder width.
  • Take a medium breath and keep your core tight.
  • Grab the kettlebell by squatting down, pushing your hips back – hinge forward at the waist.
  • As you start to pull, make sure that your back is straight and your glutes and hamstrings tightened.
  • Pull your shoulders down, rotate them towards your back and keep your chest out.
  • Lift the kettlebell and exhale at the the top.
  • Slowly lower the kettlebell down to the ground.
  • Repeat.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

So as far as the form goes, kettlebell deadlifts can be confusing because the movement is not what it seems. You pick up the bell with your hands and subconsciously you think that you are using your upper body. In fact you are not, because you are using your lower body. Your hamstrings, glutes, core and lower back should be the main muscles working during kettlebell deadlifts. Other muscles have a stabilizing function.

People make mistakes that mess up their deadlift form and bad form will reduce the effectiveness of the lift and will invite unwanted injuries.

Here are 3 important biggies that you should look out for:

1.Keep your back flat, no rounding. If you feel the back rounding, many times, it can be tightness in your hamstrings. It is so stiff that it doesn’t let you hinge and therefore, you squat down more, which messes up your form and carries the risk of hurting your lower back.
2.Remember, this is not a squat. Hinge your hip to activate your core and posterior and hinge at the hips.
3.Do not overextend your back. This usually happens when you lean too far. This can potentially cause an injury.

When your form is good, you will feel it in your lower body, from your feet to your spine.

Kettlebell Deadlift Muscles Worked

While kettlebell deadlifts mostly works the posterior chain, it is almost a full body movement. The Kettlebell Deadlift works the following muscles:

•Back extensors
•Lower back

One of the most productive benefits of kettlebell deadlifts is full body activation. It is a fundamental movement that teaches you to use the power of your posterior chain (back, core and legs) and functional strength (arms, grip and shoulder strength). Kettlebell deadlifts can also help you improve posture. Good kettlebell deadlift form means that you pull the weight using your legs while keeping your back straight. Because most of us spend a lot of time sitting and leaning, bad posture is inevitable unless we do work to make it better. The good news is that kettlebell deadlifts can counteract bad posture. Kettlebell deadlifts are great for getting your heart rate up, and burning some calories.

First things first, if you are not familiar with the hip hinge, then please check out our video on the dowel hinge exercise, this will ensure you are hinging rather than adding in some squat.

How Many Kettlebell Deadlifts Should I do?

This depends on your goals, experience and importantly access to kettlebells. If you have access to various kettlebell weights then you have options: For strength, you are looking at 3-4 sets for 3-6 reps at 80-90% of your one rep max, or you could use a training routine like the 5*5 or undulated-periodization. For explosive strength, the best rep range is 3-5 reps with 50% of your max. For lighter, fat loss and endurance building work outs, do 3-5 sets of 12-25 reps, play between the intensity of 40-70% of your one rep max. This lighter range builds aerobic conditioning that will help you burn calories faster.

If you are working out at home and only have 1 or 2 kettlebells then you will be looking at volume training to increase your strength endurance. Here, you’ll keep building your reps in a given set or be working for a set time under load (see how many you can do in a minute, rest, repeat). Once you reach 15-20 reps in each set, it probably time to starting looking at a heavier kettlebell or adding a second kettlebell (see double kettlebell deadlifts below). At USA Iron, we see as the deadlift as a gateway to the almighty Kettlebell Swing. No unless you have a reason not to swing the kettlebell, that’s where we’d suggest getting to next. With swings you’ll be using the same weight for a more dynamic full body exercise.

Kettlebell Deadlift Variations

Once you have learned how to deadlift, you can now start using kettle deadlift variations.

Single Arm Deadlift

This single arm deadlift loads only one side at a time (unilaterally), you core must fire for cross stabiliization. Use a weight that you can control easily and maintain good form. This is a great starter exercise before moving to the 1 handed swing.

Double Kettlebell Deadlift

The double kettlebell is the perfect alternate to barbell deadlifts—even better at times. If you have 2 kettlebells, you should consider having this movement in your kettlebell program. By using double kettlebells, you will put more stress on your body, achieving great results.

Single Arm Suitcase Deadlift

In the single arm suitcase deadlift, you are picking up the kettlebell from outside your foot, as you would a suitcase. This is a great starter exercise when getting used to deadlifts as you might find it is quite a natural movement.

Double Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlifts

Now that you have mastered the hip hinge, it is time to try this movement. Just like the name, it is like picking up two suitcases off the ground. You follow the same deadlift rules, the only difference is that the kettlebells are placed on the outer side of your feet. Similar to a trap bar deadlift.

Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift

This is a favorite of ours (and many others). This movement is similar to the Romanian deadlift and this movement can activate the whole body. However, your hamstrings and glutes will really feel the next day. Watch the video to learn more. If you want more information on this on, check out our separate article on Single Leg Deadlift.

The kettlebell deadlift is a great place to get started with KBs and should be included at the early stages of training routine. If you are looking to get stronger, faster with excellent aerobic conditioning, the kettlebell deadlift will not disappoint.

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