Friday, February 10, 2006

Hex Bar Deadlifts: Another Perspective

I was just about to write about my use of hex bar deadlifts when my friend Vern Gambetta brings them up in his most recent post.

I would like to share an alternative view on the hex bar deadlift. I think it is a fabulous exercise and I use it as a staple in my own training, and with many of my patients. I first learned to use the hex bar from Derrick Crass, physical therapist and '84 and '88 Olympian in weightlifting. With 5 kg and 10 lb bumper plates, we used this exercise to rehab patients of all shapes and sizes. And we used it for the kids in the performance program. We did not promote it as a maximal lift, ever!

In fact, I use it in my beginner 9th grade weight training camps to help teach squatting technique. Many young boys have ankle and hip flexibility issues. They cannot squat well and so we must have an alternative (along with bodyweight squats and medball squats) to help them achieve functional flexibility, as well as learn how to maintain a neutral spine position with the squatting movement. The weight is very light (65 lbs or less) and can be put up on small blocks if the kid cannot get into a good position from the floor.

And sometimes we need squat alternatives if kids cannot rack the bar appropriately for a front squat, or they cannot keep a neutral spine with even an empty bar on their upper traps. Sometimes only a few reps with the empty hex bar helps to "groove" a good squatting motor pattern. Only then are these kids allowed to squat with a bar or allowed to use the hex bar from the floor.

I find it very easy to teach technique with the hex bar, as the bar does not have to pass in front of the knees. (I will say I have never used traditional deadlifts with patients or with anyone other than weightlifting athletes.) I can help the kids get into position, talk to them about ankle flexibility and really show them how their partners are keeping a neutral spine or not.

I feel this exercise is a tremendous lower body strength and core exercise. It does not have to be heavy! It can help one really understand what it means to "lift with your legs" even though the weight is in your hands. From an occupational standpoint, this is very important for many people. Patients and athletes who try to use their upper body to pick up the bar, or flex their torso forward and use their back, will quickly realize that, to lift effectively and safely, they must "push" the weight up with their legs and maintain an upright torso.

So, I agree with Vern that 1 RM DL's shouldn't fly in the high school weight room--with the hex bar or with the traditional barbell. BUT, the hex bar DL can be used to help teach VERY GOOD lifting technique and can serve as an adjunct lower body strength / functional flexibility exercise in a comprehensive program.

It all depends on how you use it.


Vern Gambetta said...

Those are real good observations. I will play with the Hex bar a bit more myself

cliktrak said...

Would you recommend hex bar deadlifts to an athelete attempting to learn the Olympic lifts? It seems to me like there might interference with learning the posterior chain kinetics required to lift a bar from in front of the body. Same question for push-presses vs. jerks.

I too loved the hex bar when I tried it but I'm trying to be disciplined about wiring my CNS for the Oly lifts. Thanks.

The Iron Maven said...

Depends on how new they are to the sport and what their strength needs are. I agree with you on the posterior chain kinetics stuff. But the hex bar could be used for recovery weeks and in non-competition training cycles for variety.

I think is can be a great tool for basic strength with beginners.

As for push presses, I think they are useful--particularly for women. But again, it depends on the needs of the athlete and whether or not they have issues confusing jerking with pressing the bar out.

Sometimes it is good to give the old CNS a break; and sometimes the weightlifter has enough problems confusing the CNS, so you keep things simple and don't stray from what is currently working.