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The Best Deadlift Techniques to Strengthen & Protect Your Back

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 21 May 2014
Hits: 8461

The Deadlift is known in the Fitness world as the "king of postural correction and strengthening glutes" and would have to be the most effective exercise for building strength in the Posterior Chain muscles, (commonly known as back, glutes and hamstrings) as an integrated unit. It is by far our most popular integrated Postural Corrective training exercise we use in the gym, and it is fair to say it would also be the favourite for most Strength and Conditioning Coaches and Personal Trainers. However it is also associated with serious injuries like Herniated or Bulging Discs! The fact that this movement is performed poorly in life and even worse in the gym is why we have put together this article so you can learn how to Perfect your Deadlift Technique. This is also one of the Key Movements you must be able to perform in order to have a smart body that suffers no injury and improves in performance. The Deadlift's emphasis on the posterior muscles in the legs and the back makes it a very important exercise for most people for this is also their weakest link.

Learning how to set up correctly, how to use your breathing, activate your inner unit prior to the lift are all things you will need a lot of practice in order to be a master at this exercise. Using stretches to loosen tight areas preventing you from obtaining the ideal posture or position is critical before going straight to lifting big weights. But the real secret is teaching the legs to the bulk of the heavy work at the right time. The gluteus maximus and hamstrings work in concert to produce posterior pelvic tilt. At approximately 45% of trunk extension, when lifting an object off the ground the back extensor muscles become progressively more active, taking the load out of the posterior ligamentous system. It is the gluteus maximus and hamstrings that are prime movers of the load during the initiation of any lift requiring more than 45 degrees of trunk flexion. Where most people encounter problems is when the knees are straight. If the knees are not partially bent, approximately 20°, the gluteus maximus will not become active. In such cases the load must initially be lifted by the hamstrings. This will often lead to faulty motor patterning, predisposing the lifter to injury of the hamstring complex and, possibly, the back. There are many people who like to perform the Deadlift from the floor, however we have found that this is extremely risky as most people lack the flexibility in their hips, along with poor understanding of the skills needed for this type of lift. We recommend making it easier by adopting two modifications.

Ensuring you have strong glutes and mobile hips you can read the two articles below for ideas.

How To Strengthen Your Glutes

How To Loosen Tight Hips

Two Things To Use When Completing The Deadlift For The First Time Or If You Have History Of Back Pain

  1. Put the bar on blocks to help reduce the amount of flexibility required
  2. Tape the back to add proprioceptive feedback if you begin to do one poorly

The Technique

  1. Stand with your feet hip width and your shins against the bar ( very important to have shins touch the bar )
  2. Grip the bar just outside the knees with the elbows turned back so that the biceps face towards the front
  3. Hold your chest high in good tall posture and slightly encourage your shoulder blades to pull together
  4. Make sure you don’t tilt  your head back too far as you can strain your neck. However sometimes I let my clients do this the first few times while they are concentrating on all the other components, otherwise it feels like paralysis by analysis.
  5. Take a good belly breath, hold that breath and pull the belly button in towards the spine to activate your stabilizers.
  6. Lift the bar off the blocks with the emphasis on your legs “pushing” the bar up as opposed to trying to pull it up with your arms. This is very important to get right and is the most common cheating tactic used by big blokes in the gym who do lots of arm work and little leg strength.

KEEP GOOD POSTURE AND DON’T LOSE YOUR CURVE

This is by far the most important part of the whole movement. If you lose your lumbar curve during the  dead you are at risk of suffering a herniated lumbar disc. When the lumbar spine is held in neutral position (curvature), the nucleus or center portion of the lumbar discs is in its normal safe position, held away from the spinal cord and nerve roots. However once the spine is flexed, the pressure within the lumbar discs rises, for example, when sitting in a chair the pressure within the disks is 140% - or 40% greater than when standing. So if you now do a sloppy dead lift and let your spine flex, you will force the  nucleus to be pushed backward toward the spinal cord and nerve roots which lie behind the weak areas in the disc. I have seen this happen in the gym twice, both times we had to carry the person out of the gym to the car and drive them to hospital. They spent the next week in bed. Most disc injuries take a year to fully recover. I suggest reading our article on Bulging Discs here to see just how dangerous this action can be.

It is important to see the relevance of how this movement BENDING relates to so many real life movements. Watch the video below of me picking up some firewood to put in the back of my car and also a Golfer who had back pain from poor bending movement.

I would highly recommend reading the book “Low Back Disorders” by Stuart Macgill one of the most highly regarded researchers into back pain. Also Paul Chek has released countless articles and videos about this and has Free Reports called “Big 10 for Big Back” and “Did Cavemen have Back Pain” that you can get from the Chek Institute along with an Advanced Correspondence course called “Scientific Back Training” that I found invaluable learning correct techniques like the deadlift in order to prevent and rehabilitate back injury.

Taping

So in order to help you keep your posture and not lose the lumbar curve and then be able to integrate the legs into bend movement pattern at the gym, at work, or in the home, you can use tape on your back to give you feedback when you are doing it wrong. By taping the lower back you teach your body to effectively integrate the legs into the movement pattern and ultimately Perfect The Deadlift Technique. I adopted this method after completing a Rehab Trainer course ( see www.rehabtrainer.com.au ) and also from the Scientific Back Training course with CHEK  when learning the deadlift and it helped me significantly. This is now an absolute must for us to use with any clients who are a high risk client with previous disc injury learning the deadlift. You can watch us do it on the video with this newsletter but all you need to do is place two very strong pieces of tape alongside the spine near the lower back. By the way, the more hair you have on your back, the more effective the tape, very painful!

Sets, Reps & Tempo

When you are learning a movement it is important not to train to failure as your body must ONLY complete perfect movements. We have plenty of articles here on our website about that, Quality over Quantity but I usually use 3 sets x 6-8 reps to ensure not too much fatigue and execution of good form has every chance. This is a big part of getting it right and training your movement to be automatic!

Conclusion

This article shows you that if you use a method of assessing your technique and then designing a way to improve your postural or movement skill faults you can reduce the risk of the exercise and significantly improve your strength and stability without having to train more. And if you are recovering from an injury this is even more important because PAIN changes movements faster than any other method. By creating a position for your body to work correctly will produce significant gains and take your training to a whole new level. Even if you do not even go to gym you MUST learn this movement for we see so many clients in our Rehabilitation program that developed their injury from faulty bending movements.

If you currently suffer with BACK PAIN right now I suggest getting a copy of our Back Pain Secrets Video and Ebook program as I walk through everything you need to do in terms of stretching, stability, posture and movement exercises in a step by step process. We also have a Free Report you can get that summarizes the main points from our video. Click here to get a copy.

If you live in Melbourne and would like to schedule a Free Consultation to discuss your health and fitness goals click the image below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to book a time