Deadlift Dos and Don’ts for Runners

Using a detached broom handle to cue myself while I practice my hip hinge

Do you deadlift?

It may well be one of the single best exercises for runners, and if you don’t, you should! Most runners could benefit from strengthening their posterior chain – the muscles in the back of us like our glutes and hamstrings. These help propel us forward, and are necessary for good speed and stability while running. The deadlift can also help with core strength and stability. Mastering it can give you a key tool to use in your strength-training repertoire, so here are some tips to help you succeed.

Do: Make sure you have adequate mobility.

The deadlift, shown here, utilizes your hip hinge movement pattern, so make sure you have the mobility to effectively hinge before you start loading it with weights. Bending your knees is okay (this does not turn the exercise into a squat!); the important thing is that you are shifting your weight back and hinging from your hips. There are many great self-massage tool options to help you gain the range of motion required for this; I talked about them at length in my previous post. If you can’t touch the floor while keeping a neutral spine and hinging from your hips, place the weight on a step or bench at a height appropriate to your range of motion.

Don’t: Rush to heavy weights.

Practicing the movement un-weighted and having someone observe you is a perfectly acceptable way to learn the deadlift and make sure you are executing it with proper form. Once you’re comfortable with the exercise, start with kettlebells; these are generally much easier to work with initially than barbells and there are lighter weight options which can allow you to perfect the move but which still provide an excellent strength challenge.

Do: Keep your spine neutral.

This is an incredibly important concept to avoid injury when doing this exercise – your lower back should not round too much or arch too much. A great cue to learn proper spine position, especially if you are trying to learn the deadlift on your own, is to practice the movement holding a dowel up against your spine. You can easily use a mop or broom handle if you don’t have a dowel readily available; hold it at the small of your back with one hand and at the nape of your neck with the other, and make sure the dowel maintains contact with the back of your head, your upper spine and your butt as you hinge forward. If you are lifting with a friend or a trainer, you can have them hold it along your spine for you once you start to incorporate weights.

Don’t: Linger on light weights.

Once you get the hang of the deadlift pattern and are sure you have the needed mobility and know how to keep a neutral spine, don’t be afraid to lift heavy! The days of runner strength training consisting only of light weights and high reps are over; multiple, low-rep sets using a challenging weight are extremely effective for building strength and power that will serve your running well. However, use caution and if anything feels painful or if you can feel your form breaking down due to the heft of the weight, be smart and back off. Also, be sure to leave plenty of recovery time so as not to bring any lingering muscle soreness or fatigue to your running workouts. Many coaches advise heavier lifting on “hard” days (workout or long run days), either directly after the workout or later that day; doing so will keep your “easy” days exactly that – easy and geared toward recovery.

Do: Challenge yourself with Single-Legged Deadlifts, shown here.

Single-legged deadlifts have very specific application to running because, you guessed it, running itself is a single-legged activity! Like its doubled-legged counterpart, this outstanding deadlift variation builds posterior chain strength and stability. It also adds a rotary, or cross-body, component to the core challenge, especially if executed with a dumbbell or kettlebell held by the hand opposite the stance leg – just like running!

Don’t: Be surprised when you run stronger, faster and healthier than ever before.

Give deadlifts a try…and let us know how it goes!

Salty Readers, do you include deadlifts in your training? What tips or pitfalls do you have to share?

Mom of three kiddos and a black lab, running enthusiast, sports-med-doctor-in-training. I love the science and sport of running and all things related.

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