De-constructing the Deadlift

The deadlift must be the simplest human movement. Pick something up off the floor to waist height. What can be so hard about that, right? Ha!

As a coach & a referee I see more problems with deadlift than anything else. Let me start by saying THERE IS NO ‘RIGHT’ WAY TO DEADLIFT!…. But there are lots of wrong ways. Individual biomechanics, personal preference, limb length discrepancy, mobility & joint condition are all really important factors that make up the CORRECT technique for YOU. 1. Is it safe? 2. Is it effective? 3. Could we do it in a safer/more effective manner? are the only important questions.

I put together this guide for a client of mine, Dave, a few months ago. Dave has/had plenty of little problems in his deadlift as you’ll see, lots of common stuff – nothing catastrophic. But this was a great way to break down his movement & fix the glitches. I’d highly recommend filming your own lifts with a slow-mo app like this (the one I use is called Coach My Video). Being able to assess your lifts this way is essential if you really want to improve.

Core bracing
If you watch my video, particularly on the second lift you can see I’m bracing my core before I even go down to the bar. On Dave’s lifts it’s happening at the bar, leading to a core unable to effectively transfer force.

Shoulder position
You can see my deltoids are directly over the bar, Dave’s aren’t horrible, but slightly too far forward. Which has put his hips too high & too far forward. Also core/back is slightly rounded as he didn’t brace before the lift.

First movement
My shoulders, hips & bar all rise simultaneously, and you’ll see my eyeline is already starting to drop, & my chin tuck.  As a result of Dave’s improperly braced (read soft) core & forward shoulder & high hip position the bar moves in toward his legs. His shoulders move forward & hips shoot up. The bar is already off the vertical line. Also eyeline needs to start dropping at this point.

At the knees
That bar is still following the vertical line up & my chin is well on it’s way into my chest. With Dave, the bar has moved far away from the line and is now exerting too much pressure on his mid spine. Chin position is ok. Knees are too straight & hips are too bent meaning he’s gonna have to finish this lift with his back more than he should.

At lockout
My bar has stayed on the vertical line. My glutes are aggressively engaging, but not lower back (ie hyperextension), chin is well in. Dave’s lockout is suprisingly ok – other than he’s hyper extending his L-spine rather than aggressively engaging his glutes to get a fully locked out position. Again this has to do with his initial position; because the bar moved in from the vertical path he has had to shift his upper body backwards to get balance.

Readers digest version: If Dave brace’s his core before he goes to lift, drop his hips a little in start position & start’s tucking his chin earlier & it’ll all fall into place.

Disclaimer: We aren’t comparing apples with apples here. This is a reasonably heavy lift for Dave, but is less than 50% for me. Mine would want to be perfect at this weight.

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