***This is a repost from July 2nd, 2013. Please enjoy!***
The first part of this series discussed the most frequently used lift performed at CrossFit Ktown: the squat. This post will delve into the intricacies of setting up for a deadlift. Both of these lifts are powerlifts, or sometimes referred to as the “slow lifts.” The “fast lifts” are of course the snatch, clean, and jerk. I chose the deadlift as our 2nd post in the series because it is the barbell lift with which you will move the most weight.
Since we will be moving a huge amount of weight, we should probably take some time setting up properly. I say this not because you are interested in preventing injury, but because you are more interested in moving more weight! Everyone can get behind that idea, right? I can’t force you to think about what a crappy deadlift is doing to the facet joints of your spine and what repercussions you will experience in 10 years’ time. However, I can set you up in a stronger position which always means a safer position as well.
So, just to be clear, we see movement through this veil of stronger is always safer. We just don’t program movements where, in order to move more weight, you have to put your body in an unsafe position. There are movements out there that force you in to unsafe positions in the name of performance. We do not do them. If you want to be in a safe position, you will find yourself in the position of best mechanical advantage to lift more weight, period. Now let’s set up for a deadlift.
We prefer the top down approach when getting ready to pick up some heavy weight. Most of you are not flexible enough to set your spine in extension after bending over, rounding your back, and gripping the bar. This also puts that pesky psoas on tension asking it to be a spine extensor – something it is not meant to do. Instead, we prefer you get set while standing tall and then head down to that bar.
If you read Part I of this series, you already know how to create a stable, neutral, high-tension position. We call this bracing. Here I will apply it specifically to the deadlift:
- Step up to the bar. Assume your deadlift stance. For most athletes that will be a hip to shoulder width stance with the feet pointed straight ahead. Your shins should be close but not touching the bar. The better your flexibility, the closer your shins can be.
- Now go through the four bracing steps from Part I: set your pelvis by squeezing your glutes, align rib cage with pelvis, align head on top of torso and set shoulder blades down while externally rotating the arms, now grab a big breath and shrink wrap your spine with your abdominal muscles.
- To head down to the bar send your hips back, not your knees forward. Push your knees wide to create tension in the hips via external rotation of the femur (thighs). Have your arms extended down to the bar ready to grip. Make sure your cervical spine (head) is still neutrally aligned with the rest of your torso as you head down – think about keeping that chin tucked down more than you want.
- Grip the bar in the correct position. PULL.
Sometimes there is an extra step before the pull. This extra step is a way to load up the hamstrings with even more tension before pulling. It is as simple as gripping the bar, and then without letting go, extend the knees to raise the hips. You will feel your hamstrings tighten up even more. Now maintain that tension in the hamstrings and hips as you bring your hips back down to proper pulling height for a deadlift (different than a clean or snatch). Now pull.
The most common fault we see in the deadlift is not a flexion fault where the back rounds over forward. Instead, we most often see extension faults where the person is contracting their spinal erectors to “set their back.” The problem with that is you are overextending your lumbar spine in the name of setting your back. If you have ever felt a lower back pump during or after a heavy deadlift workout, chances are very high that you were guilty of this spinal erector tensioning.
The spinal erectors were not made to overextend the spine. They are in place to ISOMETRICALLY (meaning contracting but not shortening) hold your spine in place in concert with your abdominal structures. If you ask those small muscles to help you lift the weight over and over, they will wear out very quickly and you will feel the dreaded back pump. Don’t be that person.
So get set up while you are standing tall. Go down to the bar under as much tension as you can possibly create. This is a surefire way to lift more weight, move through reps faster in a conditioning workout, and maintain a safe, strong position throughout the deadlift.