08 Oct Top Five Deadlift Mistakes
Want strong legs? A killer back? Improved sprint times and jumping height? Need to rehab lumbar spine pain?
Then you need to be doing deadlifts!
Want to do deadlifts for a long time? Then you need to avoid these mistakes and focus on dialing in proper deadlift form.
Deadlift Mistakes #1: Squatting The Deadlift
An improper set up position is a HUGE fault with barbell deadlift mechanics and this is one I see most frequently in the CrossFit population that practices the Olympic lifts frequently. They become used to the pushof a weight off the floor and lose the feel of pulling from the ground using the muscles of the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and spinal erectors).
Their set-up position resembles a squat with the knees and hips both flexed to great angles more so than a hinge pattern, where the hips are greatly flexed and the knees slightly flexed. This results in a push using the knee extensions (quads) to a greater extent than a pull (again using the posterior chain).
While some athletes can pull this off, I frequently treat deadlift specific back pain due to this positioning. The squat position places the knees in front of the barbell in the set up position. This will often result in the barbell having to move AROUND the knees, as opposed to the knees being moved out of the way of the barbell. This essentially increases the workload on the low back.
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Analyze your deadlift bar path (using Iron path app) 🎥 + 🏋🏻♂️= ↗️💪🏻 . One of the most common faults I see in the deadlift is a bar path fault where the bar travels around the knees as shown on the left. This forward movement of the bar decreases the efficiency of the movement and increases stress on the low back. . To fix this: 1️⃣ set up with a more vertical shin angle as this often is the result of a poor set up OR 2️⃣ drive the knees back when pulling off the ground so that they move out of the way of the bar. BUT with this solution be sure to not shoot your hips up too fast. Sometimes this results in a “stripper pull” where the hips rise too rapidly. The hips should rise at the same rate as the chest during the initial pull off the ground. . TAG A FRIEND NEEDING SOME DEADLIFT HELP! . #CrossFit #mobility #fitness #weightlifting #functionalmovement #charlottefitness #thebarbellphysio #physicaltherapy #physiotherapy #ClinicalAthlete #cltcrossfit #powerlifting
We address this issue by simply repositioning the set up position and encouraging the athlete to feel more tension in the hamstrings in his or her set up position.
Deadlift Mistakes #2: Hips Shooting Up Too Fast
Aka “stripper pulling” is another common barbell deadlift fault. If an athlete is using proper form we will see the chest and hips rise at the same rate as the athlete lifts the barbell off the ground. What we commonly see instead is that the hips move vertically at a faster pace.
Again, this fault leads to increased loading on the lower back muscles and soft tissues. To address this I usually employ one of two techniques:
- For some athletes their set up position is off with their hips starting too low and their initial movement is to shoot the hips to put them in a mechanically better position to deadlift from. For these individuals, I simply work on improving their set up.
- For others, this is a technique issue and we need to work on improving their motor pattern as they lift from the ground. I’ll educate on what I want to see happen and then use verbal, tactile, visual cues to assist. Then we use a light weight and do high volume pulls from the ground to knee level focusing on proper mechanics during this portion of the lift.
Deadlift Mistakes #3: Lack of Lat Engagement
This deadlift fault is incredibly common but rarely looked at. The lats play a pivotal role in deadlift performance. By engaging the lats in the starting position we shorten the distance between the bar’s attachment point to the body (the arms) and the main joint producing force (the hips). When this distance is decreased we decrease the moment arm about the hips, allowing the individual to lift 3-5% more weight according to this great research by Greg Nuckols which hits this point in much greater depth than I can HERE.
This fault is frequently corrected by telling the athlete to “imagine a $20 bill is in their armpits and I’m trying to steal it…don’t let me!”
Lat engagement will also provide great help ensuring proper bar path after the barbell passes the knees and moves towards the hips. As mentioned above, the close the barbell is kept to the hip joint, the more efficient the movement will be. If the lats aren’t engaged, we will often see the barbell drift forward as it passes the knee, increasing the stress put on the hips and low back. By engaging the lats we’ll keep the bar moving towards the hips as the athlete finishes the pull, increasing lift efficiency.
To improve mechanics in this portion of the lift I’ll use bands to pull the barbell away from the body and cue the athlete to resist this pull. They will immediately feel what it is like to have proper lat engagement.
Here I perform this technique with Romanian deadlifts.
Deadlift Mistakes #4: Poor Bracing Strategy
While core strength is commonly to blame for poor lifting, research has repeatedly shown abdominal strength and muscle thickness to not correlate with lift performance. Instead this comes down to not having a proper bracing strategy. This video covers bracing in more depth, specific to the squat but it translates to what we want with the deadlift:
Deadlift Mistakes #5: Not Locking Back Position In
The most obvious barbell deadlift fault discussed in the strength training world is lifting with a rounded back. This “fault” can be from a few reasons:
- Poor hip hinge pattern (see THIS article for assessing the hinge)
- Poor posterior chain flexibility (usually the hamstrings)
- Lack of back strength relative to the legs
- Often times higher level athletes will allow their backs to flex slightly during maximal lifts as there are some performance benefits to this. It is important to note with this, most lifters will flex their spine some but typically lock in into this slightly flexed position.
It is also important to note that EVERYONE’S spine flexes to some degree during deadlifts. We’re striving to minimize this movement though (but we never really will).
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⭕️DEADLIFT ANALOGIES⭕️ – One of my "all time favorite". This is the first analogy that clicked in my head when I first learned how to do a proper deadlift. I really hope it’ll make sense to all of you. – ❌Most people treat the deadlift like a “fishing pole”: – where the pole = back, the fisherman = legs, and the fish = the weight. – When you try to pull the fish with the pole, most of the stress is placed on the pole itself, while the fisherman is basically glued to the ground. If you try to carch a heavy fish, the pole would bend until it’d break. That’s exactly how you develop lower back pain: you try to pull the bar with your back instead of using your legs, aka “doing the fishing pole deadlift”. – ✅ On the other hand think about the deadlift as a pulley, where: – the pulley = the back, the man pulling the rope = your legs, – It becomes much safer. The pulley (your back) does NOT move: it’s blocked, it’s fixed. Sure it holds the weight up, but the load is carried and hooked to the rope, which is pulled by the hands (your legs). This serves as an analogy to explain that your back stays tight & firm, your hands are hooked to the weight, while the “pull” is done by your legs. If the weight would be too heavy, you’d end up not being able to “pull the rope”, without breaking it though! You rather not lift the weight than lift it with bad technique. – You need to push those feet through the ground to pull the weight up. – So, which deadlift do you do? The “fishing pole deadlift” or the “pulley deadlift?” – 🔥🔥🔥TAG a friend who needs to see this! #pheasyque
For rehab providers wanting to better understand movements like the deadlift I recommend check out Clinical Management of the Fitness Athlete Weekend Intensive Course that Mitch Babcock and I teach for the Institute of Clinical Excellence. This is a two-day live course where we work through all the major movements performed by fitness athletes, break them out, and discuss a wide variety of treatment strategies.