Functional Training – The Deadlift

The ability to pick up a heavy object that is lying on the floor is a necessary component of being a functional, physically fit adult. The inability to pick up heavy objects from the floor means that we are not truly independent. In other words, we require the assistance of others to help us perform a task that we could otherwise do for ourselves if we were stronger.

A bag of mulch lying in the driveway, a box of old books in the garage, or a broken lawnmower that needs to be hoisted into the back of a pick-up truck – all these example items are both heavy and awkward to lift from the ground. For a person who has not trained themselves to be stronger in picking up heavy loads from the ground – these objects represent a potential risk for injury.

Lower back injuries are among the most feared of all injuries. Rightly so, as low back injuries are painful, take a long time to recover from, and severely impede our regular physical activities.

In order to avoid these types of injuries, the solution is to train oneself to become stronger at picking things up off of the ground. In the gym, we call this exercise the Deadlift. Deadlifts involve picking up a loaded barbell from the ground to waist height using the muscles of the legs, hips, abdominals, and most importantly – the lower back. Use of a barbell for this exercise is essential for two primary reasons. First, it allows us to start with an extremely light weight, as low as 25 pounds, and incrementally add small amounts of weight, (as little as 1-5 pounds), at each training session until we can capably lift heavier and heavier loads. This is a concept known as progressive overload and is an essential foundation of a productive strength training routine. Secondly, barbells allow us to lift a load with perfect mechanics and technique. The design of the barbell allows us to place our bodies and the bar in an alignment that will present little to no risk of injury while attempting to lift heavy weights. Outside of the gym, this is almost an impossible task. The aforementioned items – the bag of mulch, the box of books, and the lawnmower, have not been carefully designed so that you can lift them with proper mechanics. They are bulky and awkward and require you to lift them with poor mechanics.

This is why getting strong with the barbell Deadlift is so critically important – developing the ability to lift a 150 –pound barbell in perfect mechanics, makes lifting a 50-pound box of books with poor mechanics less risky and easier to do. Relative to the 150-pound load you lift in the gym, the 50-pound box of books really isn’t that heavy. In other words, if you are strong enough to lift 150-pounds in good form, then you can safely lift 50-pounds in bad form. However, for the person who does not strength train, then 50-pounds may represent a very high percentage of their ultimate ability. Therefore, their risk for injury is higher – if they can perform the task at all.

The inability to perform the task at all means one thing – they must ask for the assistance of another person. A female will require the aid of a male, and the older person will require the help of a younger person – i.e., you’ll have to find someone who is stronger than you are to do the task for you. My question to you is: Why not just make yourself stronger?