The Secret to Perfect Deadlift Technique
Why do so many young men injure themselves deadlifting often resulting in long-term chronic low back problems?
Here are the generalisations:
- Having a strong back is a very good idea.
- Being able to pick up a heavy barbell is an indicator of a healthy back.
- Deadlifting can be a useful way to develop a healthy back.
- There are risks associated with lifting.
- The closer you are to the limit the bigger the risk.
- I understand the desire, particularly in young men, to lift a weight you are proud of. I believe this mindset is probably healthy and normal.
The biggest mistake in deadlifting is to train 1 specific movement pattern.
If you’ve trained a very specific movement pattern eg hip hinge with a straight back then as soon as your movement pattern deviates (leaks) you will be putting yourself at high risk of injury. Movement pattern ‘leakage’ is most likely to happen when you are under the most stress. eg When you are tired, or lifting at the top end of your ability. It is a perfect recipe for injury because you are lifting very heavy, in a way you’ve not trained whilst tired! To train 1 specific movement pattern is basically training your back to be fragile because it hasn’t be trained to tolerate variation.
Here’s a couple of observations to blow the minds of stalwarts from the straight back hip hinge school of thought for deadlifting:
- Q: Where did the idea that you must keep your back straight when deadlifting come from?
- A: I don’t know but it’s not from anywhere in biomechanical science. Go on prove me wrong show me the evidence!! I suspect it’s a self-propagating myth. If you only train a very specific movement pattern and get injured when the movement pattern changes the idea/myth will generate it’s own evidence. But really all that evidence tells us is that if we deadlift very heavy in a way that we’ve not trained then we are at high risk of injury! This strikes me as common sense
- What do you think about the deadlift technique employed in world record lift attempts? (You might need to check youtube but it’s easy enough to find numerous examples of very heavy deadlifts.) Spoiler alert: They bend their backs!
The Secret to Perfect Deadlift Technique for a Healthy Back
The secret to perfect technique is there’s no such thing as perfect technique. In fact, you should learn to lift with many and various techniques, the ‘worse’ the better!! Straight back, bent back, single leg, single heel raised, single foot raised, etc etc. Building in variation builds tolerance and resilience for those times when life makes perfect technique impossible.
The key to doing this successfully is to build your lifts slowly, especially if you have been hurt doing this in the past. This approach will stimulate a natural fear of re-injury. It is natural to fear doing the things we believe will cause us harm, especially if we believe this specific thing has caused us harm in the past. But the truth is it was the absence of training to lift with a bent back and then doing so whilst tired and under the stress of a heavy load that caused the injury. It is also likely there will be an issue with flexion sensitivity. eg your low back won’t tolerate sitting slumped in a chair or standing slightly flexed at the kitchen work surface. These issues will need to be dealt with before any decent lifting can really begin but the bottom line is that people with chronic low back problems can either spend their lives avoiding the things that cause them pain or they can confront them. My advice is to confront them carefully.
NB This article is aimed at young men. A lot of what I discuss might be relevant to all people and I do treat ‘all people’ but trying to write a piece aimed at ‘all people’ would be so full of caveats that there would be no point. It’s a bit like treatment. If I treated everybody the same the treatments would be generic and ineffective. There are some things in Osteopathy that are generally true but the magic is in the fairy dust of individualization that I try to sprinkle on every treatment. So, whether or not you are a young man, if there is something in this article which stimulates a question please do get in touch.