The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do to increase overall strength, from your hamstrings to your erectors and lats. Next to the squat, few exercises activate more musculature than the deadlift. However, few exercises have higher potential for injury if done improperly. In this week's evolve blog, we are covering the technical aspects of the deadlift, what movements are happening anatomically, the muscles engaged, and tips.
Be sure to check out last week's post on the squat pattern, as well as our other post on spine health so you get a well rounded understanding of the spine. In fact, a main objective is often to build strong and resilient back to protect the spine. Let's dive in.
Deadlifts: The Fundamentals
The deadlift is a compound movement, meaning that more than one joint is involved in the movement. In the case of the deadlift, our hips, knees, ankles, and shoulders all act in unison. All these joints are 'present' in a deadlift. Our spine is meant to stay braced, stable, and neutral throughout the entirety of the movement.
Recalling a previous post, the spine has four modes of movement: flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. With deadlifting, we want the spine to remain straight, in a neutral position, braced from our abdominals and lats, which act as stabilizers for the torso in this movement. In cases where one is attempting to pull too much weight, you will see a rounding of the lower lumbar spine and mid-thoracic, a sure indication that the movement is compromised and injury risk is heightened.
There is no need to pull more weight than reasonably uncomfortable. The movement in itself is designed to be able to move a lot of weight naturally with proper technique. Injuries occur when ego overpowers reason. This movement will be taxing no matter what, especially in hypertrophy ranges of 8+ reps for multiple sets.
The deadlift is considered a hinging movement, meaning that is primarily focused on utilizing the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex in generating power. We hinge by bending at the waist, not with the spine. In a hinge, our spine stays straight and we 'push our butts back,' which allows as to bend without compromising our spine. This is a critical component of performing a deadlift correctly. No hinge = no form = pain.
The more muscles active the easier this movement will be. By design, the deadlift is one of the most muscular activating movements in a gym-goers arsenal. That said, when not taught proper form, many people will attempt to lift the weight solely with their back, believing (falsely) that's the proper way to do it. This is dangerous.
To lift the barbell properly, one must engage the muscles required by the movement before the movement. The muscles involved in a deadlift include but are not limited to: erectors spinae, transverse abdominis, trapezius, lats, hamstrings, and quadriceps. That might seem like a lot to remember, but a few simple cues make it easy.
Cues for Execution
Again, as outlined before, just because those muscles fire doesn't mean they are firing right. Cueing yourself--or your client--is critical if you or they are to perform the rep properly. Popular cues include:
All lifts have common compensations. This happens because somewhere in the kinetic chain of the movement there is power/energy leakage or not enough tension to perform the movement safely. Luckily, you can spot most compensations with a deadlift right as its happening, and stop the lift before serious injury can occur.
First and foremost, the rounding of the spine will happen at the outset of the movement. This is an indication that the lifter is using too much weight. That said, if he or she is experienced enough, a little bend isn't bad, but necessary. It depends on experience.
Secondly, as with squats, knee valgus (knock knees) can happen if one isn't engaging their glute medius enough, the muscles responsible for hip extension and femur abduction simultaneously. These muscles keep stability in the lower body and aid in hip extension tremendously, working in unison with the glutes to push the hips forward.
Lastly, when someone has to throw their neck up and look towards the ceiling they are comprising the neutrality of the spine. In a deadlift, maintaining a neutral spine through the movement is necessary to keep it a safe movement.
On a final note, remember that the more muscles tight and engaged prior to the lift the safer it will be. The deadlift has gotten a bad rap for the common injuries associated with it (often severe), but it is one of the best movements for increasing overall strength, especially in the spinal column, back, and lower body.
I hope this brief look into the deadlift offered new insights into the movement. It is a powerful exercise with a lot to offer, if only it is done right. One of my personal favorites, the deadlift has a lot to offer when done properly and if needed, under right supervision.
Evolve Fitness Studios
Check out posts from our trainers, healthy recipes, and tips for staying motivated and more!