Split-stance kettlebell deadlifts are the ultimate solution for training heavy deadlifts at home. I’ll show you how to do them properly. I added a little deadlift workout at the end that really challenges your posterior chain.
In the last article, I talked about single-leg deadlifts (SLDLs). You can do them bodyweight-only. You can also load them pretty heavy with dumbbells or kettlebells. They are an awesome exercise. Everyone should rotate them through their training plan.
Their only downside is the steep learning curve and the balancing part. Single-leg strength, balance and coordination are all valuable qualities. But they limit the amount of weight you can handle.
Smart people found out that moving more weight helps a lot with building muscle. And I’m a fan of that.
The split-stance deadlift (SSDL) is a user-friendly alternative to the SLDL. If you have access to some heavy kettlebells or dumbbells, try it.
You should feel comfortable with a conventional hip-hinge before tackling SSDLs. That means you know that lifting something off the floor happens with maximal bent at the hips, minimal bent at the knees and an upright upper body.
For the SSDL, we make a slight change to the way we stand and – boom – this becomes a much more challenging exercise even with “lowish” weight.
For a conventional deadlift, you’d place your feet parallel and right next to each other. For the SSDL, place one foot behind the other and a little to the side. That’s the rear foot. The rear foot only touches the ground with the toes and the ball of the foot. The front foot is the active one that bears most of the weight. Plant the front foot flat on the ground.
The weight should mostly stay on the heel of the front foot. The rear foot only assists the main movement by helping you not tipping over.
Force production happens on the front leg. The rear foot is a fallback and adds a little safety measure to the movement.
This way, you can handle much more weight than with SLDLs. By having two feet on the ground – even if one only assists – you have more stability. If you feel more stable, your central nervous system (CNS) will give you more power. It takes the brakes off your muscles.
When you lower the weights, pretend you have lemons in your arm pits and you want to squeeze out the juice. This keeps the tension in your upper back and encourages strong posture.
Don’t let your arms just “hang” their. Pull your shoulders down and back. You should have a proud chest.
Also try to feel the movement in the hamstring und glute of your front leg. Almost all tension and force should come from there.
SSDLs are not as draining on the CNS as conventional heavy barbell deadlifts. While you would normally deadlift for low reps, low volume and high intensity (3-5 reps of 3-5 sets at 80-90% effort, once a week), you can tweak this for SSDLs.
2-4 sets of 5-10 reps, 70-80% effort, once or twice a week. The SSDL is a hybrid between the conventional deadlift (pure strength) and the romanian/stiff-legged deadlift (emphasis on muscle building).
If you are neither a competitive powerlifter nor a bodybuilder, this is perfect for you. You’ll slab on some muscle mass (mainly glutes, hamstrings and upper back) and gain some strength.
Start with whatever weights you have lying around. I like kettlebells for this, but you can use dumbbells as well. Of course you can use a barbell if you have access to one. A barbell with a thick grip is awesome here so you can challenge your grip strength at the same time.
A nice goal is 5 reps with your bodyweight (i.e. half your bodyweight in each hand).
You can also play with asymmetrical load. The hand that is on the same side as the rear foot should hold more weight. This fires up your core and makes you more athletic.
If the weights you have don’t challenge you enough, try this workout:
5-10 SSDLs Left
5-10 SSDLs Right
10-20* Romanian Deadlifts (two-legged deadlifts)
*Double the reps you managed with SSDLs.
I usually do this with 2 kettlebells – one in each hand. Hold the weights at your side as if you were carrying suitcases. Start with your good leg, then do the same number of reps with your awesome leg, then try to do twice as many reps with both legs and conventional stance.
For the romanian deadlifts, stand with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Lower the weight so that your shins stay vertical and hinge at the hips. You can do this with “soft” knees, meaning a slight bent is ok, but not more.
Give this exercise a try.