The Top Five Deadlifting Mistakes to Avoid
Strength training is an essential part of fitness and should be incorporated in all populations to achieve overall health and performance goals. The deadlift in particular can yield several benefits as it recruits a large number of motor units and muscle fibers, engaging the entire body. However, the deadlift is a double-edged sword. This exercise has received a bad rap due to the injuries that occur during the lift. The injuries that occur are often due to mistakes in technique that leave someone vulnerable. While this exercise has received a bad rap over the years as being “unsafe,” with proper technique, the deadlift is looked at as a staple to create a body that is resilient, whether the user be an athlete or a retiree.
So how do I know if I am deadlifting properly? How do I get the most benefits from the deadlift without exposing myself to risk? Below you will find tips to execute the deadlift in a safe manner so you can avoid injury and achieve optimal results.
1. Improper or Lack of Targeted Warm Up
Warmups are often incorrectly conceived, executed, or are avoided entirely by the average lifter. They can be excellent tools to prime the body for a dynamic loaded task like the deadlift. However, just like the deadlift they need to be done properly. The human body needs to be more than just “warmed up” prior to deadlifting. To avoid injury, a good warm up should include (1) a general warm-up to increase core temperature (5-10 minutes of low intensity activity such as biking, walking, jogging) (2) mobility exercises that facilitate motion in your joints (i.e. cat/cow, down-dog to up-dog, and cobra)(3) dynamic stretches to improve muscle length (i.e. leg swings, knee to chest, inchworms (4) activation exercises to ensure that stabilizing muscle group are turned on (i.e. glute bridges, resisted clamshells/sidestepping/monster walks).
***NO STATIC STRETCHING until COOLDOWN***
2. Not Having Adequate Mobility
If you are unable to perform a proper hip hinge, you are not ready to tackle the deadlift. Not having proper ankle, knee, hip, spinal mobility can lead to difficulty executing this exercise especially without injuring yourself. To test and practice your hip hinge, try holding a broomstick maintaining 3 points in contact: tailbone, in between shoulder blades, and head. Move your hips back as if you were going to lift something up off the floor until you feel tension in your hamstrings. If you are unable to maintain all 3 points in contact…you are not ready!
3. Improper Starting Position
Getting your body lined up is half the battle. The bar should be positioned over the midfoot, dissecting arch (essentially overtop of your shoelaces.) If the bar is positioned too close to the ankle joint, you may have difficulty maintaining a neutral spine. If the bar is further away towards your toes, this will create pressure in your lower back as it compromises the bar path from being completely vertical.
4. Rounding the Spine
Some mild rounding is acceptable in some instances, but for the vast majority of new lifters this is not a safe or appropriate technique. Often powerlifters can be seen utilizing a rounded spine, with heavier loads, but they have a higher tissue capacity than average lifters. Excessive rounding for the average lifter can lead to low back pain, or tissue damage, and should be avoided especially for beginners. Rounding the back is typically due to poor abdominal activation or poor neuromuscular control. It is imperative to create a good brace with your abdomen to lock your torso in place. Poor hip mobility can also cause someone to round the spine as limited hamstring mobility can pull the pelvis into a posterior pelvic tilt leading to the same rounded spine. Identifying the cause of the rounded spine is key to mitigating or eliminating it. Corrective tasks include correct progressively loading of the bar during DL to improve control if that is the issue. If the core is weak than accessory training will be recommended to help support the primary deadlift movement. And finally, if the hamstring length is going to require consistent stretching/mobility drills and temporarily lifting from pegs/boxes instead of the floor may be more beneficial.
5. Arching the Spine
In order to avoid rounding, some people find themselves arching their back which can be equally detrimental. If while deadlifting, you primarily feel your lower back and hamstrings, you are more than likely arching your spine. This means you are not properly engaging your glutes, abdominals, and lats which in turn can lead to low back pain. Often, those who extend their head and neck so that they are looking upwards towards the ceiling find that this creates an overextension of the lumbar spine. To correct spinal alignment, avoiding rounding and/or arching, practice the 3-point hip hinge mentioned above!
Deadlifting is a complex lift, and it has a lot of potential variables that can lead to success or failure during the course of training. If you have not been properly trained, then it is not recommended starting deadlifts independently. Identify a skilled movement professional who can identify your weakness, and coach you through the correct mechanics.
About The Author
Written by: Tracey Webster PTA, CPT
Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (2016)
Associates in Applied Science: Physical Therapist Assistant from College of Southern Maryland (2016)
National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (2009)
Bachelor’s in Exercises Science: Health Fitness Professional from East Caroline University (2009)
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