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.
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.
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.
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.
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.