Deadlift like Godzilla – 8 steps and a lesson in biomechanics

By July 1, 2013Uncategorized
deadlift technique

deadlift technique

You were deadlifting as a baby and you should be deadlifting today. The main purpose of the deadlift:

  • Make you overall stronger, get you out of flexion and enhance your posture and movement quality.
  • The deadlift stresses all your postural muscles and the entire posterior chain as well as fascia – but it doesn’t stress the joints like squats and lunges do (part of the reason more people hurt themselves doing squats and lunges).
  • Deadlifts are highly functional as they demand gluteus activation and rotator cuff stability. They use the kinetic chain appropriately by making you hinge (mobilize) from your hips, while keeping a stable core and a stable lower back. This is why the deadlift can be used both to enhance function in trainees as well as to rehabilitate injuries.  It is the one exercise I’d recommend to athletes, bodybuilders, women, men, old people – everyone.
  • Building on the previous point, the deadlift indeed stresses anything from the grip to hamstrings and glutes – but you shouldn’t do it for the muscles involved, you’re doing it for the movement and sheer strength.
  • All babies deadlift – It’s a natural movement pattern. The inability to do it would count as loss of function, or, “dysfunction”. Biomechanically speaking, you are built for it.

Why do some people afraid to deadlift:

Too many people shy away from deadlifting for a very obvious reason – it has the word “dead” in it. The name simply means you are lifting a dead weight off the floor. The other reason people avoid it is that they do it badly and get pain and even get injured. If you have good technique, you will rip a ton of benefits, if not, you will create a ton of stress on your spine and feeling the pain and possibly the injuries are just a matter of time.

How should you coach a deadlift technique to achieve the correct deadlift biomechanics

There are more than one way to coach a good deadlift. Assuming you have cleared the mobility requirements (more info further on), here’s the short version:

  1. Stand hip width apart (conventional deadlift), shins all the way to the bar.
  2. Bend through your HIPS by sitting back as far as possible, if you still can’t reach the bar, you may pull an extra inch by pulling your hamstrings to the ground and ever so slightly bending the knees.
  3. Grab the bar and use it’s weight to pull yourself a little bit lower.
  4.  Make a double chin, your spine should be neutral from the tailbone, all the way to the head (i.e. neutral neck).
  5. Grip the bar hard and retract the shoulders, keep that tension under your shoulder blades.
  6. Stand up by pushing your hills into the ground.
  7. When stood: don’t shrug your shoulders, don’t hyper extend your back.
  8. Finish the move by pushing your hips into the bar, you should have a straight line from your head to your heels.

You may find it hard to believe but the majority of people out there, deadlift incorrectly. Yes- that includes experienced gym lifters, weekend warriors and even certified trainers. The deadlift is an incredible tool when used correctly. Here is some further information to make your deadlift technique, as well as your clients’ safer and more effective:

How much should your knees bend – Don’t squat your deadlift. If the two exercises were the same, we would have deleted one.

Here are 2 great cues: When you squat, your hips move down, your knees bend forward and your chest should be facing up.

squat

When you deadlift, your hips move back and your tibia (shin bone) is near vertical. deadlift technique
Look at the knee position. This is neither a squat nor a deadlift – it’s a bad version of both. I see this position in the gym all too often.

baddeadlifts

 

From a biomechanical stand point, you are only allowed to bend your knees while the bar is between your knees and the ground, once that’s over, it’s only hips.

During that knee bend phase, there are less benefits to be achieved from the lift anyway, which is why one good solution is to raise the bar a little bit so you will need less flexion in the knees and can direct all of your efforts back into the hip hinging.

Spinal flexion – this is the most important point.

Don’t flex your back. Make sure you don’t flex your spine at any point during the lift, not even a little. That’s defeating the purpose of the exercise and putting you at risk.   Does this guy look like a question mark or what?

deads lumbar flexion
Neck

neck hyperextensionDon’t hyperextend your neck. Your cervical spine (neck) is part of your spine and should stay neutral. The only way you are looking at yourself in the mirror at the bottom of the lift is if you are stuck with a stiff neck that hyperextends when you stand up. If that’s not the case – please, always stay neutral. Think of having a double chin. Tip: If you do it right, you should be staring at your self directly in the mirror when you are stood up with the weight, and keeping a line of sight slightly below when you are at the bottom of the lift.

Grip, Weak Grips and Lifting straps

Using overhand grip without straps will give you the most overall benefit, once the bar is too heavy, you may use an alternated grip as long as you make sure you swap sides evenly to prevent too much torque to one direction.

You should aim to avoid straps or other lifting aids, lift what you can and get stronger on that if you want functional strength carry over. Grip the bar hard and retract your shoulders back. Keep that retraction as you lift. Getting the lats pre-activated is crucial to maintaining a good posture and you want your shoulders retracted rather than pulled (dislocated). There should be no movement in your shoulder blades, because the deadlift demand static stability in that area.  The strong grip is essential to get irradiance that go all the way from your grip, through your shoulders and into the back. You don’t have to understand it right now just make sure you crush that bar as it will make you stronger and make the lift safer.

This is a movement pattern – train it for overall body strength -Low Reps, Very heavy. There’s no point in doing light deadlifts. At the very least you should aim to lift your own weight. Stick to multiple sets of 2-5 reps in good form, and steering clear from failure.

Mobility requirements

Toe touching (without bending your knees), also known as MSF (Multi-segmental flexion) can be used to determine if you have enough hip flexion, you can also use it between sets as “bio-feedback” to determine if there was an increase or decrease in the range of motion, allowing you to adapt your technique, weight and lifting style appropriately.

We also like to see a 2/2 or 3/3 on the ASLR test in the FMS to know you are not compensating through the movement. Have a look at test #4 on the video below (minute 5:05) to asses your own ASLR test, there are some helpful exercise in the exercise library if you need help correcting (if you still find it hard, get it touch, I can usually correct any ASLR in a few days. I think it’s fair to say: I can help).

We all come in different sizes – consider lifting the bar onto a small platform to avoid too much knee flexion and remember the deadlift is primarily a movement of the hip hinging backwards. You can listen to gray cook talk about it in the video below and if you don’t know who that is, why not run a small google search and see what you get 🙂

Finish the move well

Try and get the whole body to move as one unit and when standing up with the weight squeeze the bum forward and never, ever hyperextend your lower back holding that weight.

Bad finish (watch the lowerback)

DLhyperextending

Good finish (driven from the hips)DLgoodfinish

Iron out major imbalances before deadlifting:

The deadlift will strengthen whatever you put underneath. Try and do single leg deadlifts and work your balance and form a bit before every lift. The idea is simple, you don’t want to go into a deadlift with a body that can be perfect on one side and rubbish on the other. That’s a recipe for injury.

 

Common problems and uncommon solutions:

Knees collapsing in – You are looking at lack of anterior core activation. Foam roll your inner thighs and do a few dead bugs on the side opposite to the knee that cave in, and get ready to say “WOW”.

Hip shifting sideways during deadlifts (and squats) – You are looking at rotation through the hip. A great little tip is to squeeze the bum before the you do every lift, you will notice that tends to straighten up your hips into the center. Overtime, this can also become corrective as you load the kinetic chain more efficiently.

Inability to do single leg deadlifts on one side – Check your hip internal rotation as well as side planks, you might be surprised in what you find. Work on side planking (on nothing less than brilliant alignment, because you are compensating) together with diaphragmatic breathing (tongue to the roof of your mouth, start breathing deep).

Deadlift variations:

I do get asked about certain deadlifts variation quite often so here’s the functional take on the subject. If by deadlift variation you mean: single leg, single arm, rotational load etc – then yes, it has a functional carry over and can be used to force the body to create more symmetry and stability if you understand the biomechanics and what needs to be improved. Once that is present we can load more weight and introduce more strength as the move has better integrity. If on the other hand you mean something like the RDL (romanian deadlift) or Stiff leg deadlift: It’s not that you can’t do it but you should understand something. RDL for example is used to bias a certain part, like the hamstrings – which by definition makes it more of an isolation exercise.

From a functional stand point, there is no reason you would do a deadlift and choose not to use the most advantageous mechanical angles. At the end of the day, you want to benefit from the move as much as possible.

In other words: You can pick some stuff up, or you can deadlift – you choose.

 

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