Save Your Spine by Learning How to Assess and Correct Deadlift Patterns

We all know how important it is to keep a neutral spine while deadlifting.  There are so many fantastic videos out there showing how not to deadlift.  Here’s one of my favorites:

I honestly feel bad posting this video.  In reality this looks like a hard working gentleman, but his technique could definitely use a little work in order to make it a bit safer.  Also, lifting in pajamas in the living room is pretty sweet, beautiful plants in the background as well.

For most, just cueing to keep your back flat is enough to square things away and get the spine in a neutral position.  For others it’s not so easy.  If you’ve coached people the olympic lifts or deadlifting for long enough you’ve probably encountered this.

For some athletes as they reach the bottom of the deadlift, their lumbar spine starts to round.  It’s even worse with a snatch grip or deficit deadlift.  Your first intuition is to tell the athlete to keep their back flat.  Then their snatch or deadlift ends up looking like this:

So your next logical cue is to keep the knees back so the bar travels up in a straight line and doesn’t grind your patient’s knee caps off.  So now the lift looks like this again:

The lumbar spine starts to round again.  Despite all of the cueing you give your athlete, you can’t clean things up.  If you’re looking for a more in depth explanation of why this happens and why it’s important to correct this, then read my article HERE.

This is where a bit of corrective exercise is going to be needed.  However, the first thing that is needed is an assessment or screening tool to determine if there is a problem.  If you’ve got an athlete like the one I just described above then you can bet that you’ve got some issues that need to be addressed.  A major assessment I like to go through with my patients is whether they can keep a neutral spine on their way through a snatch grip deadlift.  Here’s the test:

What you’re looking for is whether your athlete can keep a neutral spine while keeping a straight bar path throughout the lift:

If you have someone who fails the test then it would be wise to avoid any loaded deadlifting patterns that expose this fault.  In the meanwhile you can modify the patterns by deadlifting from an elevated position or performing your olympic lifts from a hang position.

Then it’s time to hammer away at this issue with some correctives.  Here are my favorite corrective exercises to address this issue:

These exercises can be performed as often as you’d like (I tell my patients to perform them twice per day for best results with the exception of the eccentrics).  Make sure you test your snatch grip deadlift before and after to ensure you’re making a change with the exercises.

One day I will be able to split like Van Damme,

Dan Pope DPT, CSCS

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6 Responses to Save Your Spine by Learning How to Assess and Correct Deadlift Patterns

  1. Excellent guide to protecting your spine during dead lifting. I especially appreciated your sharing links to so many explanatory videos that show the right approach to take with deadlifts.

    A coach I had early in my bodybuilding taught me that form factor and “doing it right” was far more important than how many kilos I hefted or how many reps I could sustain. Today, years later, I realize just how powerful that advice was, because I’ve fortunately avoided suffering the crippling and painful injuries that plagued my workout partners and gym mates.

    Working with a coach or guide is better when starting out, because many of these steps are tough to learn on our own (even if they look deceptively simple on the videos). Remember, these coaches and bodybuilders have done this for years and years, which is why they appear easy or simple. When you’re starting out, they are anything but simple!

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