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  • Writer's pictureSally Blake

Deadlifts… Deadly or Darn good?

Deadlifts are a common and fundamental lift in many gym programs however it is a frequently feared and/or poorly performed exercise and consequently it is a cause of gym-based low back injuries that we see here in the Evolved Physio clinic.

The deadlift is a great exercise as it is a compound lift that require the integration of many different muscles across the lower and upper body and it can be used to develop both strength and power making it useful across general fitness, rehab and sports contexts.

Here at Evolved Physio we are located alongside a fabulous group training gym where deadlifts feature frequently in the programming. We see so many benefits to the inclusion of this lift in the programming but we also see the injuries that can occur when the lift is done poorly or under fatigue.

I you are new to deadlifting, coming off an injury or just coming back to the gym from an exercise hiatus then a review of technique is always a good idea to make sure your lifts are both effective and safe. Particularly if you’re new to deadlifting or recently post injury, starting in a trap bar is the safest place to begin. In this blog we take a look at the key features of an effective and safe deadlift done in the trap bar.

Firstly it's important to note that the movement pattern is quite different to a squat. The majority of the work is done through the posterior chain - or muscles on the back of the body. In particular we need good ankle, hip and thoracic mobility to be able to get a good set up position.

The key components to the set up are:

  • Feet shoulder width apart, knees over the line of the toes, whole foot grounded into the floor.

  • The hips need to sink back behind the line of the ankles without excessive arching of the low back. For this you need to have adequate hip range of movement and enough ankle dorsiflexion to avoid the heels wanting to lift up.

  • The upper back and chest need to be upright and not rounded forwards. The shoulder blades need to engage back to be able to take the weight of the bar

  • The back of the neck should be long and the chin slightly tucked in - don't crane your neck to look forwards/up

While the upper back and shoulders need to be engaged and set to hold the bar and allow a good spinal posture, the drive of the lift needs to come from the legs. Trying to “pull” the weight up with the upper body is a common error and can overload the spine causing injury.

To get effective drive upwards, think of grounding the whole foot into the floor and at the same time push the knees apart without rolling onto the outside edges of the feet to engage the glutes and deep hip muscles. Lifting in flat, firm-soled shoes can make this lift feel more stable.

Press the floor away to drive up to a standing position, do not pull the weight up. Ensure the hips break first to lower down rather than just bending the knees. Ensure you pause and reset after each rep rather than bouncing the weight up and down. Remember this is not a squat!

Done well this is an excellent exercise for hip and back strength so respect it but don't fear it. Listen to your body and always adjust the weight on a per-session basis rather than always pushing for more weight. If you find that areas of stiffness or tightness are affecting your ability to get into a good lifting position then seek advice and assessment from your Physio.

Evolved Physio staff are all university level Exercise Science trained and understand the mechanics and techniques required for effective gym-based training. Not only do we understand it, but we practice it regularly ourselves! So if you need help with your lifts or the mobility associated with them then reach out – we are here to help

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