In any given week I receive a fair amount of emails ranging from readers who just want to say thanks for writing such a kick-ass blog (you’re welcome!) to momma Gentilcore reminding me that it’s my sister’s birthday and that I had better send a card, or call, or do something.
And, of course, I get a fair number of emails from people asking me anything from programming questions to why does their [insert any body part here] hurt? to why it is I am so uncannily interesting, witty, and awesome. And everything else in between.
In every sense, the emails I receive span the entire fitness spectrum – and I try my best to answer every……single…….one. Speaking of which, if you could just hold on one quick second as I answer this one I just got in my inbox :
Dear Victoria Secret Models,
It’s silly really, but a group of them reached out and asked if I’d
please stay at least 500 yards away from them at all times be their personal oil boy at their next photo shoot.
Anyways, oftentimes I’ll have someone reach out and ask if I’d be willing to take a gander at their technique on certain lifts and to see whether or not I’d offer any insight or cues to help them clean things up.
8 times out of 10, it’s usually the deadlift.
Other times it’s a bit trickier because at first glance, things don’t look all that bad. I’ll click on a link and expect my corneas to start spontaneously bleeding, only to watch and be like “Well whadya know. That wasn’t half bad!!!”
Like this video sent to me by Pat with the following note:
I emailed a few months back asking for some deadlift technique advice. I have been working on it and have been progressing well I feel. Could you please have a look at this 18 second video of me doing 165kg x 3 and give me some pointers? I’m a bit worried about my back. Maybe my hips are too high?
All told, Pat’s technique isn’t too shabby. But I do feel there are a few minor things that are limiting the amount of weight he can lift.
Here’s what I see in no particular order:
1. Yes, I feel your hips are just a shade too high upon initial set-up. Moreover, I also think you’re too “horizontal.” If I were to freeze frame your set-up, your torso is essentially facing the floor, which doesn’t place you in a fantastic position to start.
If I were standing there coaching you, 1) I’d put on some loud, belligerent “my mother never loved me music” to fire the place up a bit more and 2) I’d stand in front of you and have you set up a bit more vertical or upright. I’d want you to make sure that whatever lettering is on the front of your shirt is facing me the entire time.
You can think to yourself “chest up,” “chest tall,” “proud chest,” “arch like a mofo,” whatever works.
The point being, the way you’re setting up now, you’re placing much more shear load on the spine than there has to be.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s going to be a crap-ton of shearing on the spine no matter what – that’s just the nature of the beast. But again, if you were to freeze frame your video at the start (and again at the 6 second mark, and 12 second mark), you can see that you’re already pretty flexed, too.
As a result, since you’re in a state of spinal flexion from the get go, the muscles that would normally counteract the shearing load (erector spinae: iliocostalis, longissimus, spinalis, along with the multifidi) are at a mechanical disadvantage and unable to their job efficiently. What’s more, since you’re combining spinal flexion with a heavy load, you run the risk of seriously hurting yourself.
I think by setting your hips a bit lower and making sure you’re in a more upright posture (picture above) you’ll place yourself in a more conducive (and safer) position to pull.
2. More tangentially, while I understand that it’s called the “deadlift,” and you’re lifting the barbell off the floor, there’s a bit more to it than that.
I think one major mistake that a lot of people make is that they feel that the deadlift is nothing more than casually lifting the bar off the floor.
Instead, what needs to happen is that you need to get more tension in your hamstrings and glutes and generate force into the floor, “pressing” or “pushing” yourself away (through the heels), and then focus on driving your hips forward until you lock the weight out.
Again, freeze framing the video at each point where you start the initial pull, you can see that your shoulders and upper back aren’t “stiff” and that you’re rounding a bit. I think addressing the above point (hips down, chest up) will solve that for the most part, but more privy to the point is that you’re seemingly just trying to hoist the bar off the floor without generating any tension or force into the ground.
3. Another thing I feel will help – and this is something Mike Roberson alluded to in THIS knowledge bomb of a post – is getting your air, twice!
I’ll defer to Mike in terms of speaking about proper diaphragm function and how we look for more apical expansion of the chest cavity when breathing, but it stands to reason that “getting your air” before a big lift is more than just pushing your belly out.
We want to push our belly out, yes, but we also want apical expansion of the chest as well (the tricky part is to do so without allowing the ribcage to flair out). What Mike advocates – and this is something I’ve instinctively been doing all along (yay me!) – is getting your air before descending to the bar, exhaling slightly as you grab the bar and ready yourself for the initial pull, and then getting your air AGAIN right before you rip it off the floor.
It takes a bit of timing and practice to get used to it, but it will undoubtedly help keep you a bit “stiffer” in the long run and provide a lot more spinal stability to boot.
4. Another thing to consider is performing more singles in the 50-70% range. ”Speed” work as popularized by Louie Simmons and the peeps at Westside Barbell is where you use a lower percentage of your 1RM (typically in the 40-65% range) and you focus on bar speed. Simply put: getting fast will get you strong.
While speed work in the broad sense is meant to help a trainee generate more power – which in turn helps plow through any “sticking” points – I think the main, less common benefit is that it forces people to use a submaximal load to really hone in on their technique.
This is where it will benefit YOU, as well as many people reading.
I’d try to pick one day out of the week and try to get 8-12 singles in – albeit with a much lower percentage – and instead of thinking of it as a “speed” day, think of it as a “technique day” or an “anti-I just shit my spine day.”
So it may look something like this:
Week 1: 10 singles at 50% 1RM. 30-45s rest between each.
Week 2: 8 singles at 55% 1RM. 30-45s rest between each.
Week 3: 12 singles at 55% 1RM. 30-45s rest between each.
Week 4: 6 singles at 60% 1RM. 30-45s rest between each.
This last point is probably the hardest pill for most people to swallow because it revolves around checking our ego at the door and taking some weight off the bar.
But I promise it’s with good intentions, and it will definitely help.
Those are just a few thoughts, and hopefully they all make sense. If anyone reading has their own thoughts to share, please feel free to post them below. I’m sure Pat – and others who may be working on their own deadlifting technique – would appreciate it.