3 Ways the Kettlebell Deadlift Can Improve Your Barbell Deadlift

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Providence, RI based strength coach, Joe DeLeo. He discusses the kettlebell deadlift and why it can have a lot of influence on one’s performance with the barbell deadlift.

Enjoy!

3 Ways the Kettlebell Deadlift Can Improve Your Barbell Deadlift

The kettlebell deadlift can help you improve your barbell deadlift and the hip hinge.

I know what you are thinking…. “There can be only one!”

Hopefully by the end of this article I will have convinced you of the value of both and how you can improve your barbell deadlift with the kettlebell deadlift.

Key Benefits & Differences

Deadlifts can be performed two ways: conventional and sumo. A conventional deadlift has the feet placed inside the grip and a sumo deadlift has the feet placed outside the grip.

If this is confusing, I highly encourage you to go back and read Tony’s blog The Deadlift: Beginner Basics as well as his E-Book Pick Heavy Things Up which can you get for FREE by subscribing at the bottom of this article.

Note from TG: I agree. They’re both life changing. And come with a lifetime supply of hugs.

There are three main differences between the kettlebell and barbell deadlift: Grip, Stance, and The Path of the Handle.

1) Grip

In the barbell deadlift you maintain an overhand grip (palms down, knuckles up) for as long as you can maintain perfect technique or until you get to a heavy enough weight. At this point you will switch to an alternate grip. In the kettlebell deadlift you maintain an overhand grip the entire time.

One of the limiting factors in being able to deadlift heavier weight is your grip strength. Usually a person’s grip will fatigue before their posterior chain does. As Boston based coach, owner of Iron Body Studios, and Xena herself, Artemis Scantalides, notes in THIS article:

“As kettlebell sizes increases so does the thickness of the handle. A thicker handle requires more muscle activation!”

Another added benefit is that when performing the double kettlebell deadlift you will be training the grip of each hand independently while simultaneously learning to maintain equal tension through the left and right sides of your back and latissmus dorsi. You can easily monitor this, by noting if one of your shoulders becomes unpacked or you have greater difficulty maintaining control with one hand over the other.

This really helps to develop the mind/body connection or in scientific terms the neuromuscular connection.

2) Stance

In the conventional barbell deadlift your feet will be about 12 inches apart and toes pointed at about 30 degrees. The handle of the barbell should align over your midfoot as seen in the pictures below.

barbell set up

barbell set up side

In the kettlebell deadlift your stance will fluctuate depending on whether you are deadlifting one or two kettlebells and the bell size. The kettlebell deadlift by nature is more similar to a sumo barbell deadlift as your hands are going between your legs and you’re in a wider stance (picture below).

One of the most difficult aspects in the barbell deadlift is finding the correct back position and making sure the chest is ‘up’ (I should be able to see the logo on your t-shirt!).

Mark Rippetoe makes a great point in Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training:

“Everything else can be wrong with the deadlift and nothing really bad will happen but if your low back is round under a big load, safety will be compromised.”

It is very difficult to round your back with the kettlebell deadlift because the weight is behind you. If you round your back you will shift weight to the balls of your feet and tip over.

double KB DL setup

3) The Path of the Handle

This is probably where the greatest difference lies and the biggest benefit as well.

The path of a barbell deadlift should be vertical, always. It is the most efficient way to get the bar off the floor.

With the kettlebell deadlift that’s not possible due to the placement of the bells level or behind the malleolus.

The path of the kettlebell takes the shape of a “J” as it travels from the ground through full hip extension.

Now this actually works to one’s advantage because it elicits a stronger stretch reflex in the glutes and the hamstrings. This is because the weight is traveling behind our center of mass. This helps to really groove a solid hip hinge for the barbell deadlift and build some serious strength in the posterior chain, not to mention it makes for a lot of fun picking heavy things up!

Focus on really building control and coordination with the kettlebell deadlift and see your barbell deadlift improve as well.

References

  1. Jones, Brett. Cook, Gray. Kettlebells from the Center: Dynami. Functional Movement Systems. 2010. Print.
  1. Baechle, Thomas R; Earle, Roger W.Essentials of Strength Straining and Conditioning; Page 327. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Human Kinetics. 2008. Print.
  1. Rippetoe, Mark. Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training 3rd Edition. Page 108. The Aasgaard Company. 2013. Print.
  2. “Scantalides, Artemis. Why I love the Single and Double Kettlebell Deadlift. 12/10/2015. Website.”

About Joe DeLeo

Joe DeLeo is a former collegiate rower turned strength coach. His practice focuses on working with endurance athletes to get stronger so they can perform their best. He also has tremendous experience rehabbing rowing-related injuries and stresses. He focuses on three modalities to train his athletes and clients: bodyweight, kettlebells, and indian clubs.

He is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He holds certifications as a Functional Movement Specialist, Rocktape FMT II, and is a Level I Girya with StrongFirst.

He lives in Providence, RI, where he can be found both off and on the water helping his athletes get stronger and faster! You can read his blog posts HERE.

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  • Andy

    I have bowing of the legs – I am aware that when I get older I am at a higher risk of knee issues that will be related- and wondered what your thoughts are on deadlifts etc. particularly using bare feet. There is very little that I can find anywhere about appropriate strength training to hope combat the issue. It means for example trying to single leg squat puts ? abnormal rotation through hip for example. Thanks in advance. (great articles/blog by the way).

    • TonyGentilcore

      I think deadlifts with be fine Andy. I prefer people DL barefoot for two reasons:

      1. With no heel lift, you’re closer to the ground, which means you’re closer to the barbell, which means less work.

      2. With no heel lift, you’re also able to “sit back” a little more and engage the glutes/hamstrings to a higher degree.

      Without seeing you myself it’s really hard for me to make any concrete suggestions regarding technique. I’d encourage you to seek out a reputable trainer/coach in your area to get a form check.

  • Shane Mclean

    Great work Joe and congrats on making the PTDC articles of the week. You bought up a few great points that I’ve never given any thought to, till now. I’m going to start incorporating some of these into my training.

  • Cliff

    Since suffering a disc injury a year ago squats and deadlifts have been absent from my routines, which is discouraging to me because I miss them so. Their absence also makes my cat cry. I have been supplementing with pull throughs and thrusters which have so far not given me any discomfort. I have tried front squats but still experience great discomfort in my back. Would this deadlift variation perhaps give me the chance to start pulling again?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Sorry to hear about your injury Cliff. It’s hard to say without actually seeing you squat or DL if this would be a good option or not. Is there a way for you to post a video?

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