The Deadlift for Golf Performance
Part 2: Enter The Deadlift
Chris Hook, TPI-FP3, StrongFirst Certified Team Leader, FMS
To most people, the deadlift (DL) is a classic strength builder for the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and back). But, there is much more than that going on. You will improve grip strength which is important for rotator cuff health/function. The deadlift will protect your back because it will teach you how to maintain spinal integrity as you hinge from the hips and pick up a dead weight from the floor. The deadlift will reinforce your ability to pack your shoulders by using your lats, which builds shoulder stability. The DL will open your thoracic spine and hip flexors, so you can make a better turn in your golf swing and protect your lower back. The deadlift will teach you to hinge from the hips, making your golf posture strong and balanced. The deadlift will build abdominal and glute strength to get you more powerfully connected to the ground in your golf swing and giving you the hip strength you need to pound the ball harder. It will also teach you to dissociate your pelvis from your femur ultimately allowing you to improve your hip rotation.
The deadlift and its variations, when done with proper technique, are safer than the golf swing. Would you prefer a strong back/posterior chain, or a weak back? No brainer, the strong version. When you know how to pick up a load from the floor using your hips and core, your back will be safe, and that is a skill you can apply to life.
A kettlebell is a great tool to introduce a deadlift into your training. In the first variation spend a couple of weeks doing 3-4 sets of 8 reps using what would be a light load. Practice the movement. Think of passing through your golf posture in each rep. Obviously you will go into a deeper range of motion than your golf posture. That is a good thing.
Before we get into the progressions of this second part of The Deadlift for Golf Performance, there is one more important thing to do for mobility. Of course all of the progressions in Part 1 are still relevant and by all means use the mobility and stability drills to keep you moving well. They are great movement prep before a round of golf and they can even be a fantastic daily movement practice. You can even use some or all of the elements of Part 1 as movement prep for Deadlifting.
But, I left one thing out in the first part that should be something that you do for the rest of your life. It is the one movement that pretty much everyone can benefit from. That’s right, it's The Half-kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch. This stretch will open the front of your hip so you can make better extension and get access to your glutes. This is a great stretch to do before you deadlift and even in between sets to insure your anterior hip is open and your hip flexing muscles are not blocking you from using your glutes. This is the anti-chair stretch, great for restoring function to your hips after periods of sitting. I could have put this in Part 1, but I thought I would save for now where it can be appreciated on its own and not get lost in the mix with the other movements that you worked on in Part 1. This movement is that important to your life and your golf performance.
In golf, there are two common swing characteristic is ‘S’ Posture and ‘C’ Posture. The half-kneeling hip flexor stretch and deadlifting can help athletes who have ‘C’ or ‘S’ Posture, overcome it. Both postural characteristics are explained below, but read the bullet points and think about everything you have read in Part 1 and 2 so far. In Part 1, are you working on your swing or your deadlift? Yes, both! And, all of the progressions in Part 1 will help you have better golf posture. Your posture is one of the few things that you have the most control over in your swing (the others being grip, ball position, and alignment). Sometimes the work that you do in the gym looks nothing like golf, but it doesn’t have to. The deadlift is one of those movements that looks nothing like golf but has tremendous carryover not just to your ability to create power, but it gives you the mobility you need to have excellent posture. Nail down your fundamentals and you will have fewer variables in you swing.
S-posture: The S-Posture is created by having too much arch in the lower back and can be the result of sticking your tailbone out too far or by having a Lower Crossed Syndrome (muscle imbalances around the core area). S-posture causes are as follows:
- Lower Crossed Syndrome - tightness in the hip flexors and lower back and weakness in the abdominals and glutes.
The gray copy above is the property of the Titleist Performance Institute. Here is link to visit their site. (http://www.mytpi.com/improve-my-game/swing-characteristics/s-posture_v2)
C-posture: The C-posture is described as an excessive roundness in your upper back and can be caused by the following:
The gray copy above is the property of the Titleist Performance Institute. Here is link to visit their site. (http://www.mytpi.com/improve-my-game/swing-characteristics/c-posture_v2)
Here is a video tutorial on the Half Kneeling HIp Flexor stretch. Half Kneeling Hip Flexor Tutorial
Do 2-4 sets of 5 reps each side before you do some deadlifting, but feel free to do 2-4 sets every 6 holes on the course to keep your glutes working and your hips mobile.
Let’s revisit the Stick Hinge. This is an important component of deadlifting. This is just a quick reminder to get your spine moving in one piece. When you deadlift or setup into golf posture, it should feel similar to the stick hinge drill from Part 1.
Here is a link to a quick video Stick Hinge Drill
Do 2-4 sets of 8 stick hinges and then move on to the next step below.
Two Hands One Kettlebell (3-4 sets of 8 reps)
Note: If the bell on the floor seems too far away place it on something you can get down to with good form. We have built 6” blocks out of 4x4s and plywood, but you can use just about any stable surface to deadlift from. This is all geared toward building a skill. No need for heavy weight. You are practicing how to move through this loaded hip hinging movement. Use a medium weight. Medium being enough to feel you core engaged, but light enough to make adjustments. As you get proficient, adjust the load appropriately.
To pull a KB from a block or floor, you will stand over the bell so it is positioned between the arches of your feet. Push your hips back, keeping your shins vertical. Just like you did when you were hinging with the golf club/stick on your spine in Part 1. Descend to the bell and grip it with your hands (knuckles facing forward). Before you lift you want to create as much tension as possible. With your grip squeeze the kettlebell. Think of trying to break the handle in half away from your body. This will engage your lats and pack your shoulders down out of your ears. Now stand up and extend your hips. Squeeze your glutes, abs, and knees at the top. Keep the bell moving in a straight line. Try to land it in the same spot that you picked it up. Prevent it from swinging away from you by keeping your shoulders engaged.
Eye Position. Where do you look?
Your spine should be in a similar position that it was in when you were doing stick hinges. It may be slightly differently but fundamentally the same. Where you look with your eyes will have an effect on your neck. If you are looking forward, chances are you are extending your neck. You don’t want to look down at the ground and you don’t want to look up. Think of looking forward through your eyebrows approximately 8-10 feet in front of you. Remember that your neck is part of your spine and we want to keep it in a relatively neutral position. No need to put any unnecessary stress on it, we get enough of that from the golf swing. There will be some natural curvature in your spine, that is fine. Your spine is a spring after all.
Breathing in this variation of a deadlift is different from others (e.g. barbell). In this variation you will take a breath at the top before descend to the bell to initiate the lift and exhale a little bit of air at the top. Then take a sip of air at the top and keep that breath until you get back to the top of the lift. On each subsequent rep you will repeat, breath in at the top breath out at the top. It sounds complicated in writing, but you want to be able to create intra-abdominal pressure to support your spine while you are moving. If you are exhaling your air while you are moving with the weight, you are giving up tension that you could be using to create more strength.
Remember that the set is not over until the bell is parked on the ground. Set your last rep down as if you were going to make another rep. Here is a quick video for your reference, listen to see where the breathing is at the top and the bottom of each rep.
Add this into your training for 2 weeks. Adjust the load appropriately, so it always feels like you could do 2 more reps. If you are doing sets of 5 you should feel like you could do 7 reps. If you are doing sets of 8 it should feel like you could have done 10. Avoid failure and fatigue. After working on this for a couple of weeks, you can continue to add weight or move on to the progression below (2 bells 2 hands).
If you are working from a block, continue to reduce your depth until you can lift the weight from the floor with great technique, then progressively load it. Lifting one bell with two hands should be pretty easy. The muscles you are using and the movement pattern is a strong one.
Two-Hand Two-Kettlebell Deadlift
3-4 sets of 8 reps.
Use a weight that is heavy enough to give you some input but still light enough to make adjustments to your technique. As your technique improves you may add the appropriate load to challenge your body. Just remember to make great reps. If you cannot make great reps, your bells are too heavy.
The same movement that you did with a single bell, but now you get a bell in each hand. This will force each shoulder to work independently. Obviously, take a wider stance over the bells. Angle the handles to form the letter ‘V’ when you are looking down at them. They should be placed between the arches of your feet, so you have to sit back to get to them. All the same principles apply as above. Crush your grip, shoulders packed, longe neutral spine, push your feet into the ground, chest comes up first. Same breathing pattern. This will feel different than the previous variation due to the width of your stance. It may be a stance that is slightly wider than what you would use to hit a driver, but using different ranges of motion in your hips will help to build complete strength that you can use for golf. This variation will also appear more ‘squatty’ than the others, that is also ok. Remember, it doesn’t have to look exactly like golf to benefit your golf performance.
Another great benefit of using two bells is that you can add more weight, as is appropriate. Kettlebells are only so heavy and eventually you will easily deadlift the heaviest kettlebells that are available. This a way to add more weight without transitioning to a barbell. If you don’t have access to pairs of same-size kettlebells; it is great to deadlift with two different size kettlebells. This will add another dimension of rotation and asymmetrical loading that is valuable to golf.
Click on this link for a quick video tutorial of the Kettlebell Deadlift 2-bells
Add this variation to your training for a couple of weeks. Do 3-4 sets of 8 reps using a load that feels like you could do 10 reps on each set. You can then progress to a load that you can lift for 7 reps but do 5 sets of 5 reps. Use this 60% rule to avoid fatigue and failure, so you can make excellent reps and build sustainable strength with easy recovery. You could continue to progress this variation until you run out of kettlebells, it is unusual to find kettlebells that are heavier than 106#. If you wanted to continue to build your deadlifting strength, a barbell would be the right tool. However, this is all part of working toward the Single-leg deadlift. So, spend a couple of weeks building this variation and then progress to the next one below. The bells you are using can be different weights. It will make it an asymmetrical load that will just demand more core activation. If you use mismatched bells, make it look like they are the same weight. Stay square.
Two Legs One-Hand Kettlebell Deadlift (an anti-rotational deadlift)
3-4 sets of 8 reps each side with a medium weight.
Use a weight that is heavy enough to give you some input but still light enough to make adjustments to your technique. As your technique improves you may add the appropriate load to challenge your body. Just remember to make great reps. If you cannot stay square and resist the rotation, your bell is too heavy.
We are now adding an anti-rotational element to the deadlift. This can make a lighter bell more of a challenge due to the asymmetrical load. Or, in a situation where you don’t have access to many bell sizes or a barbell, this variety can be a great way to deadlift and keep yourself challenged. The setup is the same as a two-hands two-bell deadlift described above, but now we are taking away a bell. Make it look like you are using two bells. Crush the grip of your empty hand as you would if it had a bell in it. Stay square facing forward all the way up and down through the movement. Resist the rotation. You may use a mirror or make a video to get some feedback about where you are positioned. Sometimes feel is not real. But, eventually lose the visual feedback.
Click on this link for a quick tutorial on the Kettlebell Deadlift Anti-Rotation
Use this progression for a couple of weeks to gain some ant-rotational strength. Find a weight that you can make 10 reps with and use it for 3-4 sets of 8 reps on each side. Or, choose a heavier weight that you can only do about 7-8 reps with and do 5 sets of 5 reps each side. Avoid fatigue and failure. Make excellent reps.
Pick the right progression that suits your skill level. Use the stick hinge and half-kneeling hip flexor stretch for movement prep before you lift and before you play. If these all feel very doable then experiment with a couple sets of each movement in you training sessions for a couple of weeks. Meaning, do a couple sets of deadlifts with 2 hands and 1 bell to work on your hip hinge and posture. Then do 2 sets of 5-8 reps with the 2-hand 2-bell variation, and then finish with 2 sets of the 1-hand 2-leg variation. If you are working with a ‘Trainer’ share this with them so they can help you add this movement to your training.