The hip shift in the deadlift occurs in lifters of all experience levels and has been an issue I’ve struggled with myself. However, once you’ve identified the cause it can be addressed and corrected with enough practice.
The 10 ways to fix the hip shift in the deadlift are:
- Assess your stance
- Improve foot strength and awareness
- Assess your grip width
- Do tempo deadlifts
- Do pause deadlifts
- Practice with lighter weights
- Increase hip/glute strength
- Increase inner thigh strength (adductors)
- Mobilize your hips
- Include unilateral accessories
Depending on the root of the issue you may be able to fix it within a single session or it may take weeks of recording lifts and retraining your body to even out your right and left side.
By the end of this article you will be able to understand how to identify a hip shift, whether it’s bad, what its causes are, as well as the 10 ways to address it if it’s something you, an athlete or client are struggling with.
What Is a Hip Shift?
A hip shift is when your body shifts laterally to either the left or the right side as you lift the weight from the ground.
In order to identify whether you are shifting in the deadlift you will need to either record yourself from a front and perfectly centred view or have a coach or trainer watch you from the front and make note of any preferential shifting to one side.
Sometimes you may be able to see the shift present immediately upon set up where your body is literally just more to one side and then in other cases your setup is centered but then as you start pulling the weight up your right or left side starts to take more of the load.
A hip shift can oftentimes be seen in squats as well, so if you notice you have one in deadlifts it would be wise to take a look at a front-centre view of your squat.
For more info on the squat, read my article on 7 Ways To Fix Leaning To One Side In The Squat.
Is a Hip Shift in the Deadlift Bad?
The hip shift may not immediately pose issues for you because it can oftentimes be very slight; however, over time you may notice you are more vulnerable to fatigue and injury on one side due to chronic overuse.
Therefore, the hip shift is something worthwhile to notice so you can assess why it is occurring and how you can hopefully address it. However, it’s also valuable to note that no one is 100% perfect and you shouldn’t immediately ditch the deadlift because you notice a hip shift occurring.
Some side effects of having a hip shift are the following:
- Susceptibility to overuse injuries on the preferred side
- Lack of strength and mobility developed on the weaker side
- Not reaching your strength potential because your two sides aren’t working together to their best ability
- Neglecting an injury or issue that is being masked by the shifting
- Increased risk of losing balance or falling back
Instead, try to find the cause of the shift and then apply one of the tips in this article to help you overcome the movement pattern and re-teach the deadlift to yourself or your athlete.
Why Do Your Hips Shift?
A hip shift can occur for a couple different reasons like having pain or discomfort on one side, setting up poorly or having an actual imbalance in strength or mobility in the joints or muscles associated with the deadlift.
Shifting Away From Pain or Discomfort
The first common reason for a hip shift is that you’re shifting away from pain or discomfort.
An example of this is that you have a hip impingement where your leg bone is jamming into your hip bone and causing a pinching sensation. Whether it is conscious or subconscious, your body will want to put you in a more comfortable position and therefore will cause you to shift away from the injured or compromised side.
This cause is a bit easier to identify since you will likely feel something “off” when you try to rebalance and lift in a more balanced way. Those with issues like this are best off consulting with a professional like a physiotherapist.
Your Setup Is Imbalanced
Arguably the most common reason for an imbalanced lift where you shift to one side, especially among beginners, is that your setup itself isn’t balanced.
This can happen due to a lack of kinesthetic sense where you simply don’t know what being centered feels like yet and your default choice is one where you put your stronger side in a more optimal position while your non-dominant side is left neglected.
We are all a little off kilter naturally as that comes with using your dominant side over the other; however, recording your lifts to identify this pattern and then working to resist it like adjusting your stance, grip or strengthening both sides of the body will help immensely.
There Is a Muscular Imbalance
If you are setting up correctly and you don’t have any pain or discomfort on one side of your upper or lower body then it’s possible that you are genuinely weaker or less coordinated on one side.
For example, if you are shifting to your right leg, what may be happening is that your right glute is starting to overpower to make up for a lack of activation in the left glute. Aside from the glute, the inner thigh muscles can also be at play since when you shift, there is a slight caving of the thigh inwards from the weaker side.
The deadlift is a full body, compound movement that involves many muscles from the lats to hamstrings to feet and so any misfiring or weakness on one side can result in a shifted deadlift.
10 Tips for Fixing a Hip Shift in the Deadlift
To combat your hip shift in the most efficient way you will want to pick 1-3 strategies from the list below that directly address your specific issue:
1. Assess Your Stance
One of the fastest fixes to an uneven deadlift is actually taking a look at how you are standing.
More often than not you will notice that one foot is in front of another, turned out more than another, or off centre.
Once you identify if a foot is defaulting to a position that is off centre you can try taking a piece of chalk and marking the spot where it should go or having a friend or coach remind you to adjust before you go to do your set.
Make sure to record from the front and take note of where you are placing your feet and make small adjustments until you hit the perfect spot. Once your feet are even and in line with each other you will be able to activate both the right and left side equally and the hip shift will most likely disappear pretty quickly.
2. Improve Foot Strength and Awareness
In addition to making sure your feet are aligned with each other and in a good position, it’s worthwhile to also make sure they aren’t rolling in or out during the deadlift.
Your feet are full of muscles that help you stay firm on the floor and they act as the foundation to most lifts, especially the deadlift. If you have a tendency to invert or exvert your foot while you are lifting you will definitely notice a hip shift towards the side that is better planted on the ground.
A way to combat this is to do more foot strengthening exercises as well as just bringing awareness to the feet during your deadlift and resisting the urge to rotate and shift them around.
For ideas on how to strengthen your foot check out this video:
3. Assess Your Grip Width
Where you grip the bar may have something to do with why you are shifting to one side. If one hand is a few centimetres more out or in comparison to the other hand you are more than likely going to be off kilter during the lift.
While major discrepancies will be obvious to you since the bar will be lopsided, more slight and discreet imbalances are harder to notice and may just be compensated for with a hip shift. This is one of the issues I have personally identified with myself and addressing it has helped my deadlift feel much more balanced and stronger.
Therefore pay attention to where you are placing your hands relative to the knurling on the bar and even record yourself from the front so you can assess whether you have a tendency to keep one arm off balance. Once you adjust and practice enough times you should
4. Tempo Deadlifts
Tempo deadlifts are just a fancy way of saying that you are slowing down your reps. You can play around with different tempos, but for the most part you will want to slow down the eccentric (lowering the bar) and/or the concentric (lifting the bar), or both.
This will allow you to focus on firing the right muscles and catching yourself in the moments where your centre of mass starts to shift over to one side, allowing you to resist or correct it. This will also work to get your muscles stronger since the time under tension is much greater with tempo deadlifts.
5. Do Pause Deadlifts
Pause deadlifts are deadlifts where you stop the bar momentarily, usually either at mid-shin or just above the knees. These would be a great option for those who are working through muscular weaknesses that arise at certain points in the lift.
For example, if you notice that you start to shift your hips right as you come up off the floor, adding a pause at this point will help reinforce your glute, hamstring and back strength at this point in time. Same can be said if you notice a hip shift after you have passed the knees.
6. Practice With Lighter Weights
One strategy that will be helpful for most individuals is to lower the intensity of the weights they are lifting.
It would be best to do sets of 5-8 that way you have time to practice and imprint the correct way of doing it rather than doing sets of 1-3 where you don’t have the opportunity to course correct in the middle of a set.
Also with lighter weights you are at less risk of injury or irritating any existing pain or discomfort you may have that may be causing the hip shift in the first place. Since your focus should be on your form at this time, it’s important to be lifting weights that are not very challenging.
Once you have made improvements in the way you lift you can gradually increase the intensity once more, ensuring you maintain the new and improved form even with the heavier weights.
7. Increase Hip/Glute Strength
If you are struggling to engage one of your glutes and are experiencing a hip shift because of it, adding accessory movements that focus on glute strength can help support your efforts in balancing out your deadlift.
Some examples of exercises you can do as part of your warm up in include:
Some exercises you can add in as accessory movements after your main barbell lifts include:
8. Increase Inner Thigh Strength (Adductors)
Increasing strength of your inner thighs can be a strategy to help you resist shifting to one side as the inner thigh of the weaker leg will be less likely to cave under pressure and let you move to one side.
Inner thigh/adductor muscle exercises include, but are not limited to:
If you have a weakness within the adductors of one leg you will notice it is much harder for you to do the above exercises on one side. Add these in as accessory movement or even as preparatory drills within your warm up.
9. Mobilize Your Hips
Mobility in your hips is an important aspect to having a good deadlift and is a weakness among many lifters, especially those with relatively sedentary lifestyles.
If you are noticing a discomfort on one side of your hip that is causing you to shift to the other side you will want to include some hip mobilization drills before you lift, or even in between sets if you find that it helps correct your positioning.
Some examples of drills and stretches you can do are:
For a more in-depth look on hip mobility as well as dealing with pain during sumo deadlifts check out one of the following articles:
10. Include Unilateral Accessories
Unilateral accessories are exercises where you work on one side at a time. An example of this would be every variation of split squats, lunges and single leg romanian deadlifts for the lower body and single arm rows or lat pulldowns for the upper body.
What this can do is help ensure both sides are getting an equal level of stimulation in order to become more equally strong and improve overall coordination and kinesthetic sense on both your dominant and non-dominant sides.
It’s important to note that while unilateral accessories will help support your efforts in improving your deadlift, you must still be deadlifting and should not be doing these unilateral movements in lieu of the actual lift that needs improvement.
A hip shift is a relatively common occurrence and can range from a slight preference of one side to a very pronounced shift that can be caused by several different factors.
There are different ways to address the hip shift, from adjusting your setup to improving mobility and strength, but the one that works for you will depend on what’s causing the imbalance in the first place.
Regardless of the method, creating a balanced deadlift will require patience and lots of practice, but is definitely doable for most!
About The Author
Elena Popadic has worked within the fitness industry for over 6 years, is co-host of the Squats and Thoughts podcast and trains and competes as a powerlifter. She has a BSc in Life Sciences from McMaster University, a Postgrad Certificate in Public Relations from Humber College and is currently pursuing a MSc Occupational Therapy at Western University. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn.