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shovel deadlift

The Shovel Deadlift: Exercise guide, Benefits, and Tips

Seeing someone do the shovel deadlift in the gym might look strange and even weird at first glance. If you’re not familiar with the exercise, it might seem very unorthodox, but this deadlift variation is actually one of the best core lifts you can perform with the barbell.

So what makes this exercise strange? Well, in this deadlift alteration, only one side of the bar is loaded with weight. Otherwise, the lift looks identical to the regular DL.

This exercise is still a full-body compound lift just like the conventional DL, but thanks to the asymmetric nature of this lift, it puts the focus on your core and stabilizer muscles. Also, this exercise really can’t be done with heavy loads.

the shovel deadlift

Benefits of the shovel deadlift

The shovel deadlift is amazing for your stabilizer muscles. Because of the asymmetric load of this exercise, it will put a lot of pressure on all of your core stabilizer muscles. All of those stabilizers will have to work extra hard to help keep your body and the barbell straight and balanced. 

It’s an insane core exercise. The whole purpose of this deadlift variation is to make your obliques and core muscles “cry”. In order to stabilize the barbell, your core will be doing serious overtime and working like crazy. 

It’s a great isometric exercise. Although the lift itself is a dynamic movement, the lift is a great isometric core exercise thanks to the asymmetrical load. 

It will help you improve your other lifts. This should be a no brainer all of your other big compound lifts will benefit and improve, thanks to the massive impact the shovel deadlift will have on your core.

It’s a great functional strength exercise. This is another great deadlift variation to improve your functional strength. 

How to do the shovel deadlift

The shovel deadlift is an advanced version of the deadlift. Before moving on to it, it’s recommended that any athlete would have a decent understanding of the conventional DL. These two movements are almost identical, with the exception that the shovel variation is more of an asymmetrical lift thanks to the way you load the bar.

When trying out this lift and even when you add it to your lifting routine, you should start with a lighter load. Start light to test your body and see how it reacts to the weight. Honestly, this lift doesn’t require much weight for it to be effective. For an intermittent lifter, anywhere from 5-10 kgs loaded on one end of the bar should be sufficient enough. But it really depends on the person and their bodies.

It’s important not to overload the bar because while performing any asymmetrical exercises form is very important. It’s really hard to control the bar when the weight gets heavier. One of the key points in the shovel lift is that you don’t let the barbell sink or sag on its loaded end, nor try to lift it up at one ned, to keep balance.

The barbell should stay flat and leveled otherwise the exercise won’t be as useful and if the bar starts to sink or rise at one end you are going to be placing a lot of bad and unnecessary stress on your sides, hips, and spine which might result in an injury.

How to do:

  1. For the first thing, set up your barbell. Add weight to only one side of the bar and secure it with a clamp. Leave the other end empty. 
  2. Stand in front of the bar with your feet about hip-width apart.
  3. The barbel should be over the middle part of your feet. 
  4. Just like with the conventional deadlift, push your hips back and hinge your upper body forward while bending your knees. (Go down for the bar)
  5. Grip the barbell at about shoulder-width. The wider your arms are, the easier this exercise will be, and the closer together your hands are, the more challenging it will be to balance the weight. 
  6. Keep your back straight and your head in a neutral position.
  7. Brace and engage your core muscles. Keep your core as tight as possible! And keep it engaged throughout the shovel deadlift. 
  8. While keeping your core and abs tight, start to lift the weight up.
  9. Lift the weight with your feet. Imagine pushing the floor away with your feet.
  10. The important part is to use your core, abs, and especially obliques to keep the bar balanced and straight. The barbell should always be as straight and balanced as possible. If needed, use the hand that is on the unweighted side to help you stabilize the bar. Do this by pushing down with that arm. 
  11. Also, just like with the DL, the bar should move in a straight line up in the shovel deadlift.
  12. Now fully extend your legs and lock your hips.
  13. Now lower the bar down again. Keep in mind that the bar still has to be balanced and your core tight! Don’t let the bar touch the ground, keep it elevated.
  14. Continue this for the desired reps.

Tips and recommendations:

  1. Always keep the barbell balanced. Don’t let the weighted side tilt or drop down. If the bar isn’t straight, you will place a lot of unnecessary load on your spine and lower back and risk seriously injuring yourself. 
  2. Keep your core as tight and engaged as humanly possible during this exercise. The shovel deadlift is a core and abs “killer” for a reason, so suck it up.
  3. Don’t forget your DL essentials, and try to keep your deadlift form as good as possible.
  4. Start out by using really light weights. Try to get a real feel for this exercise before adding any “real” weight. Trust me, even with a lighter load, this lift will give your obliques and core “hell”.
  5. Don’t forget your other side! Do about 4 to 8 repetitions for each side. 
  6. If you are planning on performing all your reps in a row, then don’t place the barbell on the ground between reps. This will keep your core activated and work it that much harder.
  7. If you want to change up the shovel deadlift exercise, then you can change your grip width. The wider your grip is, the easier the lift is to do. If you find the shoulder-width grip too challenging, try a snatch grip. Also, when you want to challenge yourself more and work your side, core, and stabilizer muscles harder, bring your hands closer together, or move your hands closer to the unweighted side. This will make the barbell even harder to balance and keep straight.  

In conclusion, the shovel deadlift is the best DL variation for training your core and particularly your stabilizer muscles. The weight offset forces your obliques and stabilizers to work overtime, making it both an amazing dynamic and isometric exercise. If you are looking to really challenge your core, then this is definitely the lift to include in your workout routine. 

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