One Weird Trick: Installment 2 – What Do I Do With My Feet?

The first Monday back after any New Year is usually national bench press day. For those who are off to rebel by doing squats, deadlifts, and lunges, make sure you keep this simple trick in mind to optimize your next training session.

From a personal experience point of view, I’ve seen many errors executed for almost every lower body related exercise. Essentially, there are two concepts I want to go over that aren’t covered too often on your first day in the gym – how to best leverage your body when exercising, and how to displace force in a productive manner.

In the action of weight lifting, there is the dynamic of having a stable foot position that is evident from many philosophies, particularly the Windlass mechanism, the tripod foot position, on top of understanding how a larger or smaller base of support will affect your ability to produce force.

Will you have a greater base of support by having a larger surface area to “push” the ground away when you squat/deadlift/lunge, or a smaller surface area?

You can also understand these concepts from understanding Newton’s laws of motion. Now this isn’t a physics class, but bear with me. All three laws are important to respect when looking at lifting heavy stuff of course – ignoring one law of motion for favor of another is naive.

If you do squats, or deadlifts, there is a funny thing that happens when you are looking to perform to the next level – you’re going to have to put force into the ground in order to lift any appreciable amount of weight. Rethinking how you look at the concept of force production and ground reaction forces is something that will help you improve your lifts inside the gym.

Personally, whenever I look at jumping, sprinting, and lifting, I always think about how these ground reaction forces are playing into effect. If there is a certain height I need to reach when jumping, I need to push harder into the ground in order to get higher away from the ground… and these same forces are also taken into consideration in lifting.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

From a coaching point of view, you will need to understand that rocking back to your heels to discover that the posterior chain starts around the heels is simply one piece of the puzzle. This does not mean forgo the toes, or ball of the foot in your setup for your deadlifts or squats.

Just like how an exercise can be “classified” as a hip hinging or hip dominant exercise at the exclusion of the quadriceps, finding your heels for foot stability does not mean forgo tension in the toes.

Deadlift Setup - Incorrect

With all of this in mind, watch the following video to find out more details on how to avoid some key issues that may arise from an incorrect setup.

Hidden Benefits of Deadlifting for Dancers

Deadlifting may be one of the more important exercises for dancers out there. The reason for this is you need to develop high amounts of tension in a short amount of time in order to be successful in both dancing and deadlifts.

One move in particular throughout bboying involves performing windmills – you need to develop constant tension throughout your upper body, simply rolling from shoulder to shoulder, while slowly spreading your hips and feet apart from each other.

More specifically, there is something about having movement in the hips while maintaining a stiff upper body during deadlifts that speaks correlatively in relation to windmills, albeit it may just be coincidence.

Toyz Are Us

While you don’t need to roll your shoulders during the deadlift, you do need to quite literally spread the floor – especially during the sumo deadlift.

Hidden Benefits of Performing the Sumo Deadlift

However, performing windmills over and over may not be as conducive to joint health as performing deadlifts. I am merely representing the two movements in an analogous manner.

What is truly beneficial about the deadlift is that it can challenge the anterior core, train the legs and glutes, and develop a movement pattern to teach anti-flexion.

When we are dancing, we want to be versatile in many movement patterns, and having a little extra muscle may help prevent any injuries from occurring both from an acute and long term point of view.

Acutely, if you have more muscle around a joint, you can save your joints from being damaged – such as when you bang your shoulder against the ground when preparing to do a freeze.

From a long term perspective if your muscles (and your brain) are more resilient to stress from dancing, lifting, and all of the above, you are theoretically more able to recover from training session to session, or from competition to battles.

Lastly, the benefits of understanding rate of force production is something that is helpful to understand, as the individuals who can develop more force in a shorter amount of time may prove to be the most explosive dancers on the floor, or the most explosive athletes on the field.

4 Tips to Troubleshoot the Deadlift

There are a couple of ways to mess up the sumo deadlift. These involve:

1. Not getting close enough to the barbell.

If you don’t get close to the barbell – like having your shin LITERALLY right next to the barbell, two things will happen: the bar will drift forward and away from you as you pull, or you will tip forward and break tension in your hips.

2. Losing position with your upper back.

Many individuals say to get tight in your upper back, others say have loose shoulder blades.

I recommend getting tight throughout your lats and other upper back musculature, because if you aren’t tight through that area, the next area to “get out of alignment” is your thoracic spine (or your midback).

Lose position of your thoracic spine and you may find yourself tipping forward (again).

3. Not spreading the floor (appropriately).

Spread the floor can mean many things to many different people. Some people have no idea what spreading the floor means. It’s all about context.

Spread the floor is referring to opening your hips, while having a stable, wide platform developed from your feet.

Your knees should be stable as well – no wobbly knees, or any knees going in.

Deadlift - Article

Opening your pelvis causes your femurs to externally rotate and abduct. “Spreading the floor” from the feet up involves ever-so-slightly supinating your feet (think about supinating AWAY from pronation – similar to extending AWAY from flexion).

The focus is not on the “knees going out” anymore – it is creating tension in both the hips and the feet. The reaction that occurs at the knees are secondary to the tension that is created in the feet and the hips (along with the anterior core as well).

4. Having your hands too far apart.

If you bring your hands straight down, reach for the bar, that is where your grip should be when you sumo deadlift.

Deadlift - Arms

Notice gap between hands/arms and legs. (Top Left) This will eventually lead to a “longer arm position”, a shorter distance to pull sumo, and arms right next to your torso as you finish the lift (Bottom Right).

If your hands are too far apart, the amount of tension you need to develop increases. This can be seen with variations such as a Snatch Grip Deadlift.

For beginners just learning how to deadlift, keep these tips in mind when performing a kettlebell deadlift. I usually include kettlebell deadlifts for most beginners learning how to deadlift because it is easier to manage from an leverage point of view.

If you found the above helpful, please share the post, and THEN sign up for my newsletter in the left column for more updates on when I write other articles like this! Thank you.

As always,

Keep it funky.


My Favorite Exercise Combinations – Installment 2

There have been many combinations that have proven to be awesome in times past.

Peanut butter and jelly.PB&JSandwich

Rum and coke.

However, when it comes to exercise combinations, not many are as potent as deadlifts and kneeling glute mobilizations.

Before I digress down the combination, here are a few questions to keep in mind:

  • When is too much mobility ever the issue?
  • If you are too mobile, you need to display an appropriate amount of stability within that given range of motion.
Core Pendulum Theory is still applicable

To take a practical note from my assessments with my athletes, there has been a larger shift towards a lack of internal rotation displayed within the hips, and an increase in external rotation range of motion.

There are plenty of different ways hips can present, and to be fair on all sides, there have been plenty of people who have more hip internal vs external range of motion, or even a unilateral or shift in one versus the other hip’s values.

Now, it is imperative to first take another step back and realize that this is not only indicative of the femoral position within the hip joint, but also what is occurring positionally at the hip. The hip can present in either an anterior pelvic tilt, posterior pelvic tilt, or a shift in one or the other (one hip is anteriorly tilted, the other posteriorily tilted). This isn’t saying one or the other is bad, however it is just something to take note of from an objective point of view.

With this in mind, if there is a lack of hip internal rotation, it can be attributed to either osseous (bony) adaptations, or a soft tissue restriction, and secondarily a lack of lateral or anterior core stability.

Essentially, the hip can play into how the femur presents. So whenever I do assessments, this is something that I keep in mind to not focus in on a minute detail – because it is always part of a bigger picture.

Often on Day 1 of an athlete’s return to exercise (after a long and grueling season), they just want to get lifting again. However, if little Johnny can’t get his femur into specific positions, or even hold a stable position during a lift, it is unlikely that he will be successful. Johnny needs more mobility before he can improve further.

So, from our last exercise combination, we know that the femur must display a posterior glide into the acetabulum as hip flexion occurs. And there are tons of exercises that require hip flexion – step ups, squats, and everyone’s favorite – deadlifts.

So, other than motor control, a stretching of the posterior hip capsule might be necessary to stimulate receptors within the joint – a sort of way to “wake up” the sleepy butt muscles by providing a stretch reflex to the joints that are involved in the movement.

A1. Kneeling Glute Mobilization

A2. Sumo Deadlift

The exercise order matters in this specific case – that is, mobility allows for the hip joint to receive input to allow for more range of motion to occur, and then that mobility is not only capitalized on by performing an exercise that requires more mobility, but this new range is also “stabilized” by activating the muscles of the posterior chain – the ones that were just stretched into a further range of motion.

Further, two incorrect things often happen with the deadlift.

  1. Knees collapsing (so using the thought of the path of least resistance, if the hip isn’t going to move… the knees will move in its stead).
  2. Flexion of the lumbar spine (if there is not enough stability within the abdominal musculature or a bracing strategy is utilized, often L4-L5 of the lumbar spine will flex due to its susceptibility to flexion range of motion).

These items matter because if there is not enough flexibility of the posterior hip muscles, and your glutes are essentially stiff, then you won’t be able to hip hinge appropriately.

You’ll break down either at the lumbar spine or the knees.

For efficiency’s sake, the order matters because if you perform your given number of sets and reps of your mobilization, and you are aiming to hit some big numbers, there is less reason to capitalize on the newly found mobility AFTER you’ve already deadlifted (if the sequence was switched around).

You might as well not be doing the drill, or do one less set to reduce redundancy, and save on time. (This gives you more time for making PB&J sandwiches, ya?)

Some modifications on the choice of deadlift involve using a trap bar deadlift, conventional deadlift, RDL, or in actuality any type of hip hinging exercise.

You should see a pattern here – whenever you sit back, or whenever you perform hip flexion, you need a specific type of mobility in the hips. If you lack that mobility, where else will you achieve that range of motion?





As always,

Keep it funky.