The strength in hip extension comes from your posterior chain, a string of connected muscles running from your hamstrings up through your glutes into your lower back. Nothing trains the posterior chain better – while protecting your lower back against the lumbar pain so typical of middle age – than the dead lift. Russian kettlebells make the perfect learning tool because even the light ones – use a 20-pounder to get the movement down – have handles high enough off the ground that you don’t have to bend over too deeply to get started.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing outward 30 degrees, kettlebell on the floor between your feet, centered one inch in front of your shins. Weight should be on your heels, never the toes. Your spine should be straight, with shins perpendicular to the floor while you move your butt backward, bending at the hips. Once you can reach a kettlebell handle this way – without hunching forward in your lumbar spine – grab the handle with both hands. Drive upward by forcing your hips forward, not by pulling up with your hands.
Barbell Dead Lift: Barbells are the dead lift tool of choice because they make it easier to adjust weight in tiny increments. Once you’re comfortable with a 35-pound kettlebell dead lift, start using a 45-pound bar, adding plates as you get stronger (if using anything smaller than 45-pound plates, be sure the bar is being lifted from a rack at about mid-shin level to ensure proper form).
The most surprising functional-training advance of the past 15 years is the understanding that knee pain nearly always begins with weak hips – specifically, the stabilizer muscles aligning the upper leg, from the hip down into the knee. Walking lunges, a kind of exaggerated striding motion, build solid leg joints for everything from the deep knee bends of powder skiing to walking up a flight of stairs. For the walking lunge, simply take one big step forward, plant your foot, and bend your forward knee 90 degrees while bringing the rear knee low enough to almost touch the floor. Repeat with the other foot.
Plant your lead foot far enough forward that, as you lower into each lunge, your shin bone remains nearly perpendicular to the floor and the kneecap never extends over your foot. Do not rock back and forth with your upper body. Instead, remain perfectly upright with good posture, using abdominal muscles to keep your spine neutral.
Weighted lunge: Add weight to each hand at your side while lunging.