I love to deadlift! I love it even more when there is a crap ton of weight on the bar.
It actually kind of became a problem for a bit. My love for these heavy deadlifts led to way to much heavy deadlifting, overtraining, and thus the inevitable injury. It sucked, but it wasn't the deadlift's fault it was mine.
This injury forced me to take a step back, stop deadlifting, and take a plunge into what exactly I needed to do in order to protect myself from another injury and get back to deadlifting as effectively as possible. Of course the first thing I had to do was stop deadlifting with a high level of intensity three times per week. I had to learn to indulge my deadlifting addiction while still modulating my training stress to ensure I stay healthy and balanced.
Next I had to come up with a list of things that were necessary for me to work on in order to be a better deadlifter and continue to have success without further injury. I termed the project #deadliftrehab and I am happy to say that the project has gone very well.
Prior to the injury my PR was 465 lbs for a single rep and I hadn't really touched any amount of weight close to that in a long while until recently. The following video is from my most recent heavy deadlifting session and I am officially declaring my #deadliftrehab project over.
Through this whole process I have come to understand the deadlift much better and I think I have developed a great idea of what exactly one needs in order to be a successful deadlifter. I'd like to share these with you and a few ideas about how to go about acquiring these prerequisites.
1. Anterior and Posterior Core Strength
Keeping a neutral spine is mandatory when performing a deadlift. To do this one needs to be able to organize their spine from their neck to their tailbone and then hold that organization throughout the lift. This requires a significant level of strength in the abdominal musculature and the muscles of the back. Strength in these two places with make sure that we don't flex our spine from increasingly heavier loads during the lift and that we don't slip into a hyper extended position in the lower back resulting in injury to the vertebrae of the spine.
Two basic exercises that everyone can do without little coaching, but yet give big returns in terms of core strength are the Plank and the side plank as seen below.
2. Thoracic Spine Mobility
Engaging the lats is paramount to being able to handle heavier and heavier loads on the deadlift without compensation. In oder to properly engage the lats you have to extend the thoracic spine some which means you can't have the thoracic spine mobility of quasimoto. The following two drills are a couple of my go to exercises for improving mobility in the thoracic spine.
Foam Roller T-Spine Extension:
Side Lying Extension Rotation:
3. Proper Activation of the Lats
Activating the lats during the deadlift help to stabilize the spine and successfully transfer energy between the upper and lower body effectively. However in my experience most people have an extremely difficult time doing this especially when deadlifting. Most people retract the shoulder blades during the setup instead of posteriorly tilting the shoulder blades which is what you want and what will lead to effective lat activation. Below is a great exercise to strengthen the lats and teach lat activation in a similar position as to the setup of a deadlift.
Band Straight Arm Lat Pulldown:
4. Full Hip Extension with Glute Activation
Lack of glute activation and limited hip extension ability when deadlifting leads to hyperextension of the lower back and over development of the spinal erectors. Not to mention this increases the possibility of injury to the vertebrae of the spine. Below are my two go to exercises for teaching proper glute activation and increasing hip extension range of motion.
Banded Hip Extension Mobilization:
5. Successful Mastery of Previous Hip Dominant Exercises
After we take care of all the perquisite stability, mobility, and activation necessary for great deadlifting the next step is to deadlift, but starting with the conventional deadlift is not the ideal way to go about doing it. The best way is with proper progression from the easiest variation of hip dominant exercises to the most advanced. Here is a sample of such a progression.
Barbell Supine Bridge:
DB Sumo Deadlift:
DB Romanian Deadlift:
Barbell Romanian Deadlift:
Trap Bar Deadlift:
I hope my lessons learned might help you become a better deadlifter and hopefully save you from any future injuries.
Happy moving and heavy lifting!
Practical, Purposeful, Effective Training