I Love Internet Warriors

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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?

I WIN!!!

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

I don’t share email information. Ever. Because I’m not a jerk.

Comments for This Entry

  • Donovan

    i bet he has never lifted heavier than what tracy anderson taught him to do. anyway, on a day when i just pulled a PR of 180kg, you just had to show more of these videos and fire me up to be even stronger. good job, my man!

    April 16, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, I usually don't go out of my way to "address" internet warriors, but like I said, I felt compelled to do so in this case. I'm not a huge fan of calling people out in a public forum, and I honestly have no idea if this guy lifts weights or not. I just hope I was able to get my message across. Glad it inspired you!

      April 17, 2012 at 7:43 am | Reply to this comment

  • Jay

    Great post! As someone who was lucky enough to have trained at CP albeit for only a short period I have seen tons of heavy pulls, yet no back rounding! Since you are in the calling out sort of mood what's up with Bobby V calling out your boy Youkilis, and in a indirect way CP? "I don't think he's as PHYSICALLY or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason," Valentine said.

    April 16, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for the kind words Jay! Don't know what Bobby V is thinking to be honet. Hopefully it was just taken out of context or something. I'm not too worried. We're only ten games in, Youk will turn it around!

      April 17, 2012 at 7:44 am | Reply to this comment

  • Barath

    hahahahahaha...that dude totally got to you, didn't he? If you had deadlifted after seeing that comment, you might just have broken the 570 PR :)

    April 16, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply to this comment

  • Albert Park

    Haha. Awesome post - "Hi Hater" is right. 

    April 16, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply to this comment

  • Timmers

    This reminds me of Ross Enamait's haters: http://rosstraining.com/blog/2007/10/22/sht-hits-the-fan/ I do think people need to be reminded from time to time that there are coaches who walk the walk and not just flap their gums.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply to this comment

  • DrT

    Good thing you have your own personal Flavor-Flav in that video or you may not have pulled the lift in your video! Everybody needs a hype man. 

    April 16, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Tim

    Tony,  I don't know why you bothered responding to that guy. Something about being stable through the thoracic spine and controlling the weight seems intuitive to me. Olympic lifters are the prime examples of lifting any sort of "real" weight with damn near perfect stability.At the Chinese National Games 4 days ago a 77kg (169lb) lifter set an unofficial world record in the snatch by lifting 175 kg(386lb). The last weightlifting meet the cue that was given most often by coaches was "keep your upper back tight" and "stay over the bar." Probably, though, the lifter wasn't lifting much weight.

    April 16, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      I know I made it seem like I lost sleep over it, but at the end of the day it wasn't THAT big of a deal. I know I didn't have to say anything, and that most of my readers would understand his comment was a bit absurd. But I just wanted to win....haha.

      April 17, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply to this comment

  • BM

    How do you cue someone who constantly raises hips first causes undue tension on the lower back?

    April 16, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      In my experience, when someone raises their hips too soon, it's because they're rushing the movement. Help them to "feel" tension in the hammies and glutes, and tell them that when they perform their initial pull, that the hips and shoulders should move simultaneously. It's kind of a hard cue to describe with words. Another cue I like to use is to tell them to "press or push" themselves away from the floor.

      April 17, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply to this comment

  • Juliet

    Definitely some good counter points here and informative to say the least. Haters gonna hate, my friend. I have no problem with people writing a counter point or posting opposing opinions as a discussion. It's how we *learn* after all. However, when I see, as you said, callous comments like that one it just makes me wonder: How much free time do you have and how lame is your life that you expend energy to try and bring strangers down on the interwebz?  Last, at the end of the day, tonygentilcore.com is your blip of the internet. Automatic win! Just like I claim automatic victories on heyjoob.com. lulz.

    April 16, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Reply to this comment

  • Brett

    Good article Tony, the videos definately helped me clarify a few things, Thanks. I don't see why people spend so much time responding to posts like this though, I feel that in order for me to reply to something that someone says they have to have some level of respect or they have not earnt the right of a response. Silence is the answer, people who make negative posts are just looking for a response. There's a reason that certain celebrities are so big, it's because of all the people who post negative comment's about them are actually giving them exposure. The harshest reply to anything is no reply at all. I would rather spend time helping the majority than starting an argument with the minority.

    April 16, 2012 at 11:58 pm | Reply to this comment

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yeah, I know. After the fact I was thinking to myself, "why did I waste so much time writing that?" But, then again, it DID give me a great opportunity to post my 570 lb DL. Sooooooo, that's something. Honestly, this was ONE case where I went out of my way to respond to a comment. ONE time in the 4+ years I have had this blog. Thankfully I don't make a habit of it. Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the kind words (and support).

      April 17, 2012 at 7:56 am | Reply to this comment

  • Rip

    Hey, Tony, I just re-read all of the comments from your DL post.  I don't know if you considered my comments "hater-esque", (is that a word?), but I promise you my goal was to discuss, not hate.  Which is why I re-posted to elaborate further, apologize.   The comment that got under your skin and inspired this post appears to be the ONLY negative one. Granted his post wasn't very politely expressed. (long pause)..However... Rudely expressed or not, I thought he had a legitimate question.  Now that you addressed it further in this post, your thoughts on the matter make a little more sense. I remember reading your T-Nation article and being confused by your scap cues, which I had previously seen opposed by Mark Rippetoe. (no relation, ha).  Sometimes cues are hard to understand, esp. when other recognized experts disagree with them.  And sometimes cues mean different things to different people.  We are singing about dancing, as the old expression goes. Shortly thereafter, another DL article by Zach Gallman was published, which included these vids. These guys are pulling 8-900 lbs.  If they took the cue literally to lock the scaps back, then they might tear their rhomboids off the scapula, much like trying to flex the supinated bicep on a heavy DL, increases the risk of tearing it. Anyway, maybe writing a blog and opening up the floodgates to comments is like working the counter at a fast food joint, and pretty soon, everybody that walks in the door seems to be a douchebag, when in reality only a few are.Also, I'm not interested in "winning", maybe learning and discussing, though.Thanks, Rip.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:28 am | Reply to this comment

  • Rip

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQOXfOp5Tlk&feature=player_embedded http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoSck6Q6eP4&feature=player_embedded#! Also I clearly suck at embedding videos!  So here are the links.  Peace.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply to this comment

  • Prakash

    Damn TG - you just administered a smack down! 

    April 17, 2012 at 4:08 am | Reply to this comment

  • Callum Mahoney

    If you don't have haters you must be doing something wrong. Keep up the great work Tony.

    April 20, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply to this comment

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