Deadlifts

Fix your lats, fix your deadlift

There is no more important aspect of performing a proper deadlift than creating tension. Tension through the core pillar ... and tension through the lats.

A weak core and inability to activate the lats through the full concentric and eccentric phases of a deadlift is the easiest way to sabotage your gains ... and worse, leave the door open to injury.

So, in addition to performing real core exercises that train the core pillar to brace and protect the spine, learning how to properly engage and activate the lats should be the top priority in your preparation for deadlifts and other foundational hip-hinge movements.

We often think of the lats as the muscles that span the side of your back from the armpit to the waist. Actually, their form and function are much broader. The lats connect the rear ribcage, upper arm, pelvis and hips. When properly engaged and activated, they blend these critical areas into a functioning unit.

It's a mistake to think that strong lats are going to improve your deadlift. In other words, that dude in the gym doing seated lat pulldowns with the whole stack isn't doing anything other than showing off. Latsturbating, if you will.

To learn and cue proper lat activation and tension that will transfer to heavy pulling, all you need is a resistance band and something around which to anchor it. It's example No. 7,876 of how people unnecessarily complicate their training when it really should be quite simple.

Check out this article from Dr. John Rusin to learn all about the straight-arm lat pulldown and all its variations. Then, incorporate these activation drills into your training -- especially before a heavy pulling session -- and let us know in the comments how it goes.

What's the point of fitness?

The whole point of lifting weights is to get stronger, right? Perpetually lift heavier weights, more reps, at higher intensity.

Right?

Wrong.

The whole point of working out is to constantly push yourself past your limits and walk out of the gym feeling like you got hit by a truck, right? That's how you know you got a great workout. As you collapse in a pool of sweat, unable to construct a sentence or muster a coherent thought, your trainer smiles and says, "You crushed it today."

Did YOU crush IT, or did the TRAINER crush YOU?

This is where a lot of people go wrong with fitness. The whole Spartan, Tough Mudder and American Ninja Warrior mentality has permeated the fitness industry, to the point where people who are just trying to be healthier and look/feel a little better have been duped into thinking the only path to those goals is pain.

What's old is new again, and the "no pain, no gain" mantra from the '80s has infiltrated the fitness world and people are buying into it all over again.

Don't be duped.

Remember this: The first priority of a fitness program is to prevent pain and injury so you can continue exercising as long as you want to -- in theory, for the rest of your life. That's it. Period. Dr. John Rusin covers this topic thoroughly in this post, "How to Lift Forever: The Best Movements for Long-Term, Pain-Free Gains."

If your fitness program doesn't include the following components, it's time to look for a new fitness program:

-- Corrective Exercise: How does it make sense to load hundreds of pounds on your back if you have hip impingement, a collapsed arch or weak external hip rotators? Fix the movement pattern first before loading it.

-- Shoulder Care: It puzzles me why people think it's a good idea to throw and catch heavy weights overhead without taking the time to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder girdle. Maybe Wall Slides or Face Pulls don't get a lot of views on Instagram, but they will help keep you in the gym training instead of inside an MRI tube.

-- Unilateral Exercises: If you have right-left imbalances (which most people do), what do you think the outcome will be if you only push, pull, squat or hinge bilaterally? (Hint: Repeating a dysfunctional movement pattern will only lead to more dysfunction, and ultimately, pain and injury.) Improve and reprogram movement patterns in a single-leg, single-arm fashion before going for that next PR. Here's one of our favorites, the Rear-Leg Elevated or Bulgarian Split Squat (which we're doing in our Small-Group Training sessions today, actually.)

-- Core Exercises: And by this, I don't mean hundreds of sit-ups, v-ups and side-bends. I mean real core exercises that train the anti-rotation and anti-flexion functions of the core pillar. One of the most underrated core and hip stability exercises is as old and simple as it gets: the Glute Bridge. (Note: Only attempt a loaded glute bridge after you've mastered and progressed the unloaded version, including the Banded Glute Bridge.)

-- Loaded Carries: Speaking of old, underrated core exercises, it doesn't get much better than loaded carries. They're essential to developing neuromuscular stability, core stiffness and pure strength. Omit them from your training program at your own peril.

-- Squats and Deadlifts: But bear in mind, these two foundational lifting patterns should not be executed with a barbell if the athlete lacks the joint mobility and core strength to perform them properly. And they need not be executed with a barbell to get a training effect. Here's one of my favorite squat variations, the Landmine Goblet Squat.

Try some of these mandatory exercises in your training program and let us know in the comments how they work for you. And if your training program doesn't include these fundamental components, find one that does. This way, you can accomplish the No. 1 goal of fitness: to stay pain- and injury-free so you can keep doing everything you enjoy for the rest of your life.