For years, people have raised the question, “If you could only do one exercise, what would it be?” Typically, trainers and experts have suggested squats as the one and only, but there are also a significant number of experts in the industry who answer: deadlifts. Too often ignored, deadlifts are an amazing whole-body type exercise offering tremendous overall strength, toning and metabolic effects. So why do so many ignore such a great exercise? Usually it boils down to one of two things: 1) the fact that deadlifts are work, requiring focus and exertion (like squats), or 2) because they are unfamiliar with proper deadlift technique, and fear straining their back.
As with any exercise, form and technique is the name of the game, not only for the best muscular stimulation, but to avoid injury. Let’s take a deeper look at this movement, so you can have more confidence when considering adding it to your workouts.
What is a deadlift?
Imagine the position your body gets into when you are lifting your end of a couch. Now let’s translate that to a barbell. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your shins near the barbell. While keeping your back straight, bend at the knees and hips to allow for your hands to grip the bar. This will put you in roughly a quarter-squat position. Looking forward with your chest out, push through your heals to a fully standing position. After a brief hold, lower the weight to the ground.
Why is deadlifting so important?
Think about how many times you bend over throughout the day to pick something up off the floor. It probably happens so often each day that you would lose track trying to count. This is one of your most common movements, whether you are working out, picking up objects around the house, doing yard work, or picking up your kids (the list goes on and on…).
Being such a frequently used motion, it makes sense that you should take the time to practice proper technique and strengthen the muscles involved. As you continue to train the deadlifting motions, your coordination will improve as well. With improved technique, strength, and coordination your odds of getting injured deadlifting will decrease.
How do people usually get injured deadlifting?
Lifting too heavy, not warming up, or having improper technique is how you can get injured deadlifting. One time I had a patient hobble in and I asked him what happened. His response was “I was at the gym deadlifting and I thought I was cooler than I am. I did too much too soon.” Moral of the story, don’t give into peer pressure at the gym. If you do, you may end up with an injured back, hips, knees, or shoulders and definitely not looking cool.
In order to avoid this predicament, it is important to understand all the moving parts within this exercise that connect to create your kinetic chain. Each link in your body’s kinetic chain during the deadlift has potential for injury if you don’t take the appropriate precautions.
First, the kinetic chain starts with your feet planted on the ground, goes up your legs, through your hips and back, then to your shoulders, arms, and finally links your hands to the barbell. There are a lot of joints and muscles involved. That also means that there are many opportunities for injury. Here is a checklist of some precautions you can take to protect the entire kinetic chain, improve your technique, and increase your strength.
- Start with proper posture:
This may seem too simple, but proper posture is the position where you body is most stable and strong. Therefore, it makes sense that you should start here. The short version is chin back, chest out, shoulder blades pulled together, core tight, glutes & hips contracted. Think about how you would stand if you wanted to be the tallest person in the room. (See my article “Posture: Look good, feel good” for more information)
- Bring your entire body down to the barbell:
The worst thing you can do is bend at the low back to get your hands low enough to grip the bar. Make sure that you bend at your knees and hips. Do NOT bend at the low back. You should keep your back as straight as possible throughout the entire deadlift.
- Tighten your shoulders and upper back:
Before you begin to lift the weight off the ground, you should first contract your shoulders and upper back (deltoids, rhomboids, lats, traps, etc.). See it as locking these areas into position. This will stabilize and protect your upper back and shoulders.
- Contract your core:
Your abdomen and low back muscles help to make up your core. When you contract these muscles, it helps to serve as your own built in back brace.
To Sum It Up:
While deadlifting is important, there are many vulnerabilities in your kinetic chain that need to be protected to safely incorporate the exercise into your workout routine. Keep these four precautions in mind and have a workout buddy point out any breaks in your technique. This can make the difference between reaching new goals or delaying them due to injury.
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Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.