I Love Internet Warriors
Two weekends ago, on Easter, while eating steak with Lisa at fancy schmancy restaurant, an idea suddenly popped into my head for a blog post. A blog idea can manifest itself at any given moment – during my commute to work, as I’m watching a movie, etc – but on that particular day, as I bit down on my succulent piece of dead animal flesh, two things came to mind: 1) that my steak was freaking delicious, and 2) why not write a post on the deadlift and describe some of the more common cues I use when coaching it?
Now I expect you are wondering…
“How in the heck did you come up with an idea like that while eating steak?
Don’t ask me how I know you wondering this.** I JUST KNOW!11!!1!
** (Hint: I am inside your house.)
But though I appreciate your skepticism, truth be told, it was as good of a time as any to come up with a brilliant idea, so I ran with it. Once we got home, after a pit-stop for dessert no less, I jotted down a few notes on a couple of index cards, and a few days later, I wrote 5 Coaching Cues: Deadlift.
On a personal note I felt it was one of the better blog post I had written as of late, and moving forward I have every intention of expanding on the concept and delving into the other big lifts as well – like squats and the bench press.
All told, the post was received well. There was quite a bit of traffic to the site, and I had a lot of people leave comments saying that they enjoyed it and that it really helped shed some light on a complex topic.
And, as is the case some of the time, there were a few haters, which is all fine and dandy. I’m used to it, and have long come to the conclusion that you can’t please everyone. What’s more, I don’t expect everyone to always agree with me, and I actually welcome people to chime in and offer their own perspective on things. I mean, I’m not that much of a pompous ass to think I’m never wrong.
Cutting the suspense short, I had one reader leave the following knowledge bomb in the comments section in response to my suggestion to “stiffen the upper back” when pulling:
Good luck pulling a deadlift with any sort of real weight without rounding your upper back. Also, pulling back your shoulders? What’s that about?
Normally I just pass off said comments as someone being “kind of douchy,” and I continue on with my life. But this (callous) comment by some dude who, presumably has never trained a person in his life (since he never offered any explanation or has ever commented on my website prior), rubbed me the wrong way, and really got me fired up. I just couldn’t ignore it.
First, lets clear the air on the whole “pulling back the shoulders” comment:
Here’s an excerpt from my Much Ado About Deadlifting article from t-nation.com:
“On several occasions I’ve noted that one should retract (pull together) their shoulder blades when setting up for the pull. This stiffens the mid-back, engages the lats (which in turn provides more spinal stability), and activates the thoraco-lumbar fascia, which helps to better transfer force from the lower body to the upper body.
Based on feedback in the LiveSpill as well as various emails I’ve received, this whole “retraction” thing has confused more people than Chaz Bono in a men’s room.
As such, while I still feel that stiffening the upper back and activating the lats is integral for improving the deadlift, I’ve modified my approach. Slightly.
Trying to actively pinch the shoulder blades together while deadlifting just feels awkward. But when I use the phrase, “lock your shoulder blades into place and think about putting them in your back pocket,” it’s like magic, and people get it.
As a result, many of the benefits that I described above come into play. You shorten the lever arm length from the shoulder to the lumbar spine, and you also engage the lats to help protect the lumbar spine and the SI joint. But as a general observation, the pull just “feels” stronger.
Try it out on your next deadlifting day. I can almost guarantee you’ll notice an improvement.”
To summarize the whole shebang: by “setting” the shoulders and “stiffening” the upper back, one will activate the lats and thoraco-lumbar fascia, which in turn will provide A LOT more stability and help to resist shearing load on the spine.
This isn’t to say, of course, that the upper back won’t round AT ALL during ME lifts – that’s just looney talk.
I’ve said it once, and I’ve said it numerous times – lifting heavy ain’t always going to look pretty. But I sure as hell ain’t gonna coach someone to (purposely) round their back when coaching them through the lift – especially beginner and intermediate lifters.
Advanced lifters get a little more leeway as they’ve trained themselves to stay out of those last 2-3 degrees of end-range motion when lifting with maximal (and sub-maximal) weight.
BUT, for brevity’s sake, lets show that it IS possible.
Here’s CP athlete and Stanford University pitcher, Sahil Bloom, pulling 405 for 10 reps:
David Stanton, another CP athlete and collegiate baseball player, pulling 515×5:
Yet another CP athlete, AJ Wnukowski, repping out 465 lbs plus four chains (which adds an additional 60 lbs at the top):
Here’s female athlete, Becca R (15 when this video was taken), pulling 255 for an easy single:
And while we can sit here and nit pick each of these lifts on a few minor technical aspects like bouncing the weight, not getting the hip through enough, or whatever, not one of them rounded their upper back.
Putting a nail in the coffin (and demonstrating that I practice what I preach), here’s me pulling a PR of 570 lbs:
But the jokes on me, I guess. You can’t pull “any real weight” without rounding your upper back, right?