Stiffen Up Your Deadlift
There are many things in this world that I love. My family, friends, and girlfriend come to mind first and foremost, obviously. But, since I’m on the topic, I might as well take the opportunity and throw in a few more things to boot:
My readers – seriously, I can’t thank you enough
My fan that I sleep with everynight as background noise
Puppy dog kisses
The perfect pump – you know, when you ‘re pumping gas and you stop EXACTLY on the number you want. Yeah, that’s awesome.
The Daily Show
Turning on the tv and randomly coming across a Star Wars marathon
When some idiot cuts you off on the highway and then speeds off, only to pass him five miles down the road because he’s been pulled over by a police car.
And, not that I even need to say it – considering how often I blabber on about them – but I also heart deadlifts. I love talking about them. I love writing about them. And I especially love coaching them.
The latter, of course, is where I want to direct my attention towards today. You see, amongst other things – building overall strength along with general badassesery for starters – deadlifts are arguably one of the most valuable exercises in existence. I mean, not only do they carry over to a multitude of real lift qualities (everything from picking up a bag of groceries to explosive power and strength for sport), but deadlifts also serve as a fairly powerful corrective tool as well.
Name me another movement that simultaneously targets ankle dorsiflexion, strengthens the glutes and hamstrings (which in turn helps reduce the risk of ACL injuries and helps counteract things like anterior pelvic tilt), teaches neutral spine and helps alleviate sheer forces, works grip strength (which can have an influence on rotator cuff health), not to mention forces people to learn how to “hip hinge” and stiffens the upper back?
And those are just the things I thought of at the top of my head! All by myself!
Not to toot my own horn (okay, maybe a little), but I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never walk into Cressey Performance and see an athlete or client performing a deadlift with less than suspect technique. A few reps might fall through the cracks here and there, but for the most part, there’s always a coach standing right there to offer cues when necessary.
Chest up, hips down!
Lock your shoulder blades!
Get tension in the hammies!
Get your hips through at the top, and squeeze those glutes!
Sit back! Push your hips back on the descent!
In addition to the above popular cues (which work for 90% of trainees out there), as I noted HERE, it’s also beneficial to be a little more hands-on with clients and “mold” them into the positions you want them to be in. For some, they just don’t have the kinesthetic awareness to “feel” what their body is doing in space and they just need a little nudge here and a little prodding there to give them some feedback to get into proper position.
That said, however, sometimes you have to think outside the box and recognize what one’s weak link is in order to remedy the problem. Using an obvious example, lets take someone who just can’t seem to prevent their UPPER back from rounding during a deadlift – especially on the descent.
While verbal cueing and positioning will work nine times out of ten, sometimes it’s just a matter of recognizing that their upper back is weak and we need to build some stiffness in that area. Sure, grooving deadlift technique and getting quality reps in will help, but in addition to that, I’d be more inclined to really (and I mean, REALLY) hammer some horizontal rowing.
Look at it from this point of view: some trainees have been sitting in front of a computer screen for 20 years. So, if you think about it, many trainees have been sitting in flexion ever since McGyver started saving the world with duct tape and a pair of tweezers. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that many have really short pecs and really weak/inhibited scapular retractors.
It goes without saying that a healthy dose of dedicated t-spine mobility work would be in high order, as would some additional soft-tissue work for the pecs.
For a lot of trainers and coaches, it stops there. That’s not a bad thing, and is certainly a step above what many would do in the same situation – but what about taking it a step further and throwing in some additional rowing movements?
HINT: you should throw in some more rowing movements.
Honestly, much like thoracic mobility, I feel people really can’t get enough horizontal rowing movements into their repertoire. I’m actually not opposed to throwing in some form of it into every day programming for some individuals.
One day I may have someone perform some light seated rows. The next, I may have him or her toss in some heavier 1-arm DB rows.
Likewise, later in the week, I’m not opposed to other variatios such as chest supported rows, TRX rows, face pulls, t-bar rows, whateve, being thrown into the mix. The point is, for most trainees, increasing upper back strength – and subsequently, upper back stiffness – will undoubtedly help improve not only their deadlift technique, but their performance as well.
Make no mistake about it: there are NUMEROUS things that come into play when trying to clean up someone’s deadlift technique, but I feel that this is one (blatantly obvious) component that’s often overlooked.
Are you feeling that or what?