Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Deadlift

“There is no easy way to do a deadlift - no way to cheat, which explains their lack of popularity in most gyms around the world”
Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength

The deadlift may be a challenging lift but it’s a breeze to incur a deadlift injury. After all, it’s the exercise most closely akin to lifts you might have to perform in real life - lifting heavy shit off the floor - when the only advice you may be able to recall for the occasion is “bend zee knees!” 

While it’s a lift that primarily utilises the muscles of your lower back, it involves more muscles than any other lift you’ll perform. Everything that stabilises the “core” - the abs, obliques, the intercostals, plus all of the muscles of the upper and lower back are going to get seriously tested, as well as the glutes, traps, lats, delts, teres major, the quads, the hamstrings and, assuming you’re not using lifting straps, grip strength. In short, it is the Daddy of all compound lifts. 

Why is the deadlift such a bitch? Anything that challenges your back has the potential to be a bit of a scunner but the main issue with deadlifting is that  it starts with a concentric contraction and ends with an eccentric. Unlike the squat where you are lowering yourself into a “hole” before “exploding” put of it, with deads you are already in the hole which is what makes them so hard. You are not a coiled spring drawing on your power, you are heaving something off the ground from a dead stop (hence the name). 

Here’s how you do it:
Your stance should be narrower than for the squat, just a little more than hip-width apart. Toes are slightly angled out - less so than in the squat. The bar should be over the ball of your foot, an inch or so from the shin. Grip the bar so that the thumbs just clear the legs. Bend your knees and sink your bum. Keeping your chest high by lifting the shoulders up and back. The most important thing to think about is to ensure your back is flat/neutral and not rounded, throughout. 

Remind yourself that this is not a squat. You are not looking to get your thighs below parallel to the ground, you are only bending at the hips and knees enough that you can grasp the bar with straight arms. 

Keep tension in the lats by pulling the bar to touch your shins. The bar should maintain contact with the shins, then the knees, then the thighs, throughout (you might wish to invest in some sexy tube socks or wear tracky bottoms on legs day because there will be scraping). It might be helpful to think of the hands as merely hooks from which the bar dangles. Your arm strength will not be utilised at all. Simply grip the bar and let your legs and hips do most of the work.

Take a deep breath, face forward, look slightly down, and pull the bar up your legs, straightening the knees, pushing the pelvis forward. At the top of the pull, pull the shoulders back, lift the chest and lock the knees. Don’t exaggerate this thrust forward, your spine should still be in a neutral position. To complete the lift, lower the bar to the ground in the same way in reverse. You can let gravity do most of the work. You don’t want to waste your energy lowering it down super-carefully. Although if you drop it from a height while lifting anything less than a majestic amount of kgs you’re going to look like a bit of an idiot. So try not to do that. 

When the bar touches the floor reset yourself, mindfully, for the next rep.

Do not let you vanity drive your deadlift. Think of your spine! If you can’t lift with perfect form ie a flat back, you’ve got no business lifting that weight. I should know. As I sit here typing, awkwardly propped up with cushions on my sofa, I’m counting the minutes till I can take my next painkillers. What did I do? I hurt my back. How did I do it? Trying to deadlift too much.


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