In more technical terms I mean losing a neutral spine position while picking up heavy weights. Although mostly comical, this video provides a good visual description of what I’m talking about.
As we know, flexing the lumbar spine under load as so elegantly depicted above places large stresses on the intervertebral discs and greatly increases our risk of a friendly disc herniation (They actually are not friendly at all).
- Hip mobility
- Spinal Stability
Hip Mobility: Hip mobility is going to come mostly from the hamstrings, gastrocnemius and other tissues that travel down the back of the legs such as nerves. If these are tight we won’t be able to tilt our pelvis into the correct position to set up a neutral spine.
Your lower back is a slave to the flexibility of the hamstrings. I see it all of the time. An athlete will be able to lower the bar from a hang position with a neutral spine until they get to about midshin, then they lose the natural lumbar curve of the spine. You can cue this athlete until you’re blue in the face but it won’t change the lift until you address those flexibility limitations.
This problem becomes even more exaggerated with the starting position of a snatch or stones in strongman. In the snatch (as depicted in the photo to the left) the idea is to keep the hips back and the knees out of the way of the bar as it travels upward. This sets us up to have a powerful “second pull” portion of the lift.
If we’re lacking the required hamstring flexibility we’ll lose our neutral spine, the bar will come forward around our knees and we’ll lose power in the lift. Unfortunately, everyone will also point and laugh at you.
Stones are another great example. You’re trying to get your hands under the stone as far as possible. Getting this low while keeping a neutral lumbar spine is tough but with some targeted mobility work we can get into the best position. Otherwise you’re cooking up some back pain soup. Let me know how it tastes.
Spinal Stability: Some people can get into a good position with a neutral spine. Their warm-up sets look pretty good. Once the weights get heavy or they get tired, the scared cat technique rears its ugly head. This is a result of poor strength and endurance of the musculature that stabilizes the spine.
A couple tips to improve your crappy dead lift and snatch position:
- Stretch your hamstrings: I don’t really care how, you can find all different stretches online.
- Make lumbar stability key. Keep a neutral spine with every single dead lift variation you use. When your back starts to round, you’ve used too much weight and need to back up some. No one ever deadlifted over a thousand pounds with a rounded lower back.
- Challenge your flexibility while lifting. Ever wonder why olympic lifters seem to be so flexibile yet they don’t really stretch? Well, research shows that eccentric strength training will improve your flexibility. Exercises like good mornings, romanian deadlifts, and all olympic pull variations will improve your flexibility over time. Just don’t let your lower back round just to get some flexibility.
And there you have it. Now that you know why you’re having problems with your deadlifts, you can fix it. Now go pick up some heavy stuff.
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- The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review, by O’Sullivan, McAuliffe and DeBurca, in British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2012