The deadlift is a great exercise for overall strength and transfers to a great deal of other movements and exercises. It can get a bad rap for being “dangerous” which is why form is critical. But how do we fix bad form?
When you look at the spine, the thoracic (upper back) has a natural kyphotic curve to it while the lumbar has a natural lordotic curve to it. In the case of an athlete’s shoulders leaning forward with a curved upper back, some would argue this is bad, while others would actually encourage this for competition since it allows the bar to stay lower to the ground. The reason some people are ok with it is that it is just an exaggeration of the kyphotic curve that is already in place. For the record, I coach new athletes to keep everything tight and as neutral as possible.
While kyphosis in the upper back is a debatable topic, kyphosis in the lower back (lumbar) is a more black and white issue. In a deadlift, if an athlete’s spine is curving in the opposite direction that is natural, we need to fix this.
Here’s an example of Brian, who was doing a deadlift workout – you can clearly see the change in lumbar as he initiates the deadlift. I believe this was 275#.
Most people would think it was the weight that was the issue. While this is partly true, I had him drop the weight to 135# and he STILL had this loss of lumbar. (no video of that unfortunately) So then I had him slow the movement down to 50% and this is what happened:
Still can work on it, but incredibly different than before. If I were doing a full PT with him, I’d have Brian add a little weight (20#) and have him deadlift at the same speed. If mechanics were faulty, we’d drop weight and/or slow it down even more. Because of the TUT (time under tension) with slower speeds, it makes sense to do slow reps at lower weight. Then we would play with different combinations of speed/weight/form to find a balance and promote positional and neurological strength.
Sometimes it’s not the weight, but rather the speed that we need to slow down. CrossFit is great because of the high intensity workouts, but there are two prerequisites to Intensity – Mechanics and Consistency. (for those of you old enough, remember MCI phone service??) Show me you can do a movement well, then show me you can be consistent with it. THEN we can do it at high intensity.