Broke back deadlifting – Some strategies for improving your low back position in the deadlift.

The deadlift has a lot of fan fare and for good reason it is one of the best all body mass builders and it’s fun to pull heavy weights from the floor.  It also has the potential for some serious back snap action if you don’t pay attention to what your doing.

A lot of people end up in the position where they find holding a neutral spine whilst pulling moderately to heavy weight almost impossible this can be for a variety of reasons but for the most part it is down to a history of lazy or bad form.

Once you in the habit of rounding your lower back or compromising your position to break a heavy lift off the floor then your in a difficult position.  If it’s the habit of years it is going to take more than a couple of sessions to fix and your first step to fixing your problem is to first admit you have a problem and accept that it’s not going to be a quick fix.

First a discussion on good form and bad form.

Really bad form 
Really Good Form

“Perfect” Deadlift Form

As you can see from the top 3 examples there is a wide spectrum of ways you can interpret the task grab hold of this bar and stand up with it from the floor.   Without making this article a how to on the deadlift it’s safe to say if your back positions approach example one you might have a higher percentile chance of snapping all yo’ shit up in the future.

Fixing the problem in Si-tu

The first and obvious way to try and fix your rounding issues is to strip the weight down and try to adopt a good position at the start and try to pull like that.  You should be looking to set yourself with your hips reasonably high (i.e. not squatting) have your lower back flat or even fixed in an over exaggerated inward arch  and your chest out.  Look at the following series of pictures to get an appreciation for what I am talking about. 

When you break the bar off the floor don’t jerk it off or else you are going to cause yourself to loose position almost instantly, “take the strain off the bar” and then start to build pressure until it starts to move, when you have the bar moving your are in the best position to start to accelerate the bar.

The guys at elite FTS have done some really good series on lifting the following video on deadlift is one of my favourite.

Trying some of these form changes and ways of thinking about doing the lift will help quite a lot of people and should form the majority of your effort to help fix your rounding.  However let’s looks at how to “strengthen” yourself so achieving a good position is easier when the weights get heavier.

Strengthening your position vs strengthening your muscles

I think where a lot of people get lost is they talk to much in terms of muscle action and assume that doing a lower back extension exercise or a hip extension exercise is somehow going to help you achieve better form when you deadlift.

Whilst strengthening your muscles using different exercises to target them specifically and provide extra volume in novel and good ways isn’t a bad thing it is not really the best way to strengthen a specific position.

As a supplement you would be better off challenging your position using exercises that allow you to hold a bar in your hands and try to hold your back tight against a heavy weight.

In effect you are trying to train your muscles in the most desirable position for you to be in while deadlifting.

Some good exercises that have helped me and some others in the past…

Top down deadlift

Similar to an RDL then top down deadlift is basically a deadlift with an eccentric component added and no touch of the floor.  Cues for this lift

  1. walk the weight out of a rack so you can go heavy.
  2. Set your chest out / pull your shoulder blades together and keep you lower back arched hard against the weight.
  3. Initiate by breaking at the hips and bending your knees slightly.
  4. Allow the bar to dictate the path you take down but HOLD YOU BACK POSITION.
  5. When you reach either 5-6″ under your knee or mid shin pull the bar like a deadlift and concentrate on holding your back in position.
Stiff Legged Deadlift
The Stiff legged deadlift is primary a hamstring and hip extension exercise and isn’t exactly that far removed from a top down deadlift.  The main difference is your trying to keep your knees in a fixed position (small amount of bend) and creating the movment by hinging at the hips.  Again really try to focus on keeping your back position in as ideal a position as possible and don’t get too hung up on the weight for this exercise.

Accessory work  

Some good general conditioning work for the postural muscles of the trunk, your lower back, glutes and hamstring can really help the process come along.  There are a laundry list of exercises you can do here are just some three per muscle group I would recommend the are by no means exhaustive and feel free to try some others.

Abdominals – Ab Wheel Roll outs, Glute Ham Sit Ups, Dragon Flags or progressions.
Lowerback – Glute Ham Raise, Superman Seal Ups, Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift
Glutes – Weighted Hip Extensions with a bar bell, Single Leg Extensions elevated foot, Hip Bridge
Hamstrings – Razor Curls, Glute Ham Raise, Leg Curls

Some kind of programme.  

Below is a two day split to provide you with some ideas on how you could implement some of these ideas into your current training split.
Day 1 – (Monday)
Deadlift – 5 sets of 3 – ramping weight up and concentrate on position
Stiff Legged Deadlift – 3 sets of 10 – again concentrating on position
Glute Ham Raise – 3 sets of 10
Ab Wheel Out – 5 sets of 10
Day 2 – (Thursday)
Top down Deadift – Working up to a top set of 3-5 reps (using about 5 sets to get there) again concentrate on position
Deadlift (touch and go) – 2 sets of 5 reps (15 to 20kg lighter than your top down sets)
Glute Bridge Weighted – 3 sets of 8
Leg Curls – 3 sets of 10
Glute Ham Sit Ups – 3 sets of 10 

Hope this article has given you some pause for though and hopefully some help for those who struggle with getting a good back position during the deadlift.