Let's finish off this month with a named WOD, what do ya say?!?!
Deadlifting Will Not Get You Laid But It Will Make You Awesome: 8 Common Deadlift Mistakes We Are by DAN RUNION|Coach at CrossFit 77
I have a love/hate relationship with the deadlift. On one hand I love it for its simple brutality — no other lift has the potential for generating more work output in one brutal workout. Yet all one does is pick a weighted barbell up off the floor from a full stop to full extension. It is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity: pick it up, put it down. It’s simple…but it ain’t easy. Besides the heavy weights involved, there’s a lot that can go wrong, and this is why I also hate it. I look around my gym or at a CrossFit competition and see folks making some common mistakes that put themselves at risk of some serious injuries. And why? Ignorance might be a legit excuse, but that’s little solace while recovering from hernia surgery…or worse.
I’ve been deadlifting for a while and I’d argue that I’m pretty good at it. It’s “my jam,” you could say. Still, I consider myself a beginner yet so I’m usually surprised to see others making some very basic mistakes. Therefore I feel compelled to compile the things that I’ve learned over the years that have helped me increase my deadlift weights and remain injury free (knock on wood). I consider these tips to be the “The Basics.” You should know these too, and you should be preaching it to your clients with the vigor of a cheetah chasing a gazelle.
1. Pulling Heavy Weights Without a Stable Neutral Spine You need to make the lift safely or not at all. Contrary to popular belief, the spine is built to handle heavy loads so long as it is in a neutral position. What it is NOT built for is to handle heavy loads while not in alignment and/or while in flexion or extension. What this means to a deadlifter (and a squatter, for that matter) is that it is critically important to get set up in a neutral position and HOLD IT THERE for the duration of the lift. When the spine moves under load is when bad things happen. If you can’t hold your core/spine while performing the lift, then you need to stop. Check your ego. Lower the weight and don’t go up again until you can hold your core stable at the higher weight. Talk to your coach about how to get there. You might be strong enough to make the lift, but that doesn’t mean you should. You need to make the lift safely or not at all.
Speaking of setup, one thing that I see a lot of folks doing that drives me bonkers is that whole “look where you want to go” thing. They get down in their setup, which includes a gaze toward the space where the ceiling meets the wall. What this does is immediately put their cervical spine (the neck area) in nearly full extension, and as we just discussed we want the spine neutral right? Right. Why do it? Don’t. Just…don’t. Instead, let your gaze be about 5-6 feet in front of you on the floor and allow it to move up to straight in front of you as you perform the lift. This will keep your cervical spine neutral for the duration of the lift.
2. Jerking the Weight Off the Floor
How many times have you seen someone set up for their deadlift, and then bear down before violently ripping or jerking the weight from the floor? They get down, grab the bar, set their gaze, take a breath…then in one VIOLENT movement they drop their shoulders or raise their hips suddenly before ripping up on the bar and letting out a grunt and/or yell while pulling from the floor. You’ve seen it. It’s a train wreck and literally it frightens me every time I see it. In your gut you know it doesn’t look right, and it’s not!
The problem is twofold: not only are they moving out of their setup position (which may even have been a good one), but then they are applying force to their body in this now suboptimal starting position. You work hard for your setup for a reason, so don’t ruin it! Moving out of your presumably good setup then violently ripping the weight from the floor puts massive amounts of shear force on countless parts of the body while in a bad position. I’m not an anatomy expert, but you don’t have to be a doctor to know that this is a recipe for disaster. Slipped/herniated discs, hernias, muscle strains/pulls/tears; none of it is fun. Find your setup position and stay there as you begin the lift.
Folks that do this violent bear-down-and-rip-it technique are playing Russian roulette with their bodies. Something’s going to break and break badly. The secret to deadlifting for a long time without injury is getting the body into the correct position and KEEPING IT THERE while applying power. I approach the deadlift like drag racing a car: I want to apply as much horsepower to the wheels as I can without burning the tires off or breaking parts. If I pull up to the starting line in my car and just mash the pedal to the floor, I’m only going to spin the tires all day long; if by some miracle the tires hook up, then parts on the car are going to break. Deadlifting is much the same: I get down in my setup, take a breath (more on that later), and I apply force in a smooth yet fast manner. It starts as a little and QUICKLY increases until the weight starts moving. Once you get the bar moving from the floor you can put the pedal to the metal and hold on for dear life. But if you apply all that force all at once, smoking tires or blown up spines are what you’ll reap. Neither wins the “race.”
3. Incorrect Breathing When it comes to breathing, I incorporate two methods depending on the rep scheme. For example, if I’m going for a 1-rep max, my breathing technique is different from a heavy set of 5. That said, the goal of each is the same and that is to breathe only when I’m not straining to pull the weight from the floor. Why? Well try this: Take a deep breath and hold a tight core. Now let the breath out. What happened? As soon as you let the breath out your core became less stable, right? And what do we need to hold our spine in alignment and avoid nasty injuries? That’s right, a tight core. This applies to more than just deadlifting, obviously, but with the heavy loads of the deadlift it’s just that much more important.
[I]f you’re going to let out a little bit of air (however you choose) just make sure that you do so in a way that doesn’t relax the core, but rather tightens it up even more. For 1-rep max attempts or heavy singles, the lift starts before I even approach the bar. I start to take some deep breaths and get myself moderately hyperventilated. Not to the point of passing out or feeling light headed, but just enough to have a slight excess of oxygen in the bloodstream. This insures that I’ll have enough air in my body while performing the lift without having to take a breath until I’m complete. Only then do I approach the bar and get set. Once I’m set I take a breath and hold it until I begin the lift. My diaphragm will not relax again until I’ve completed the lift and set the bar down. This keeps my core tight, helps me stabilize my spine, and keeps any number of possible places in the gut that could get herniated from moving unnecessarily while under load. There are no guarantees, but why increase the risk unnecessarily? For an added “crunch” of the core I find it helpful to let out a grunt/groan, or a slight, controlled, or “pursed breath.” You may not realize it, but your core tightens when you grunt or yell.That’s the goal here. Remember under no circumstances should the diaphragm relax. So if you’re going to let out a little bit of air (however you choose) just make sure that you do so in a way that doesn’t relax the core, but rather tightens it up even more.
For sets of multiple reps I follow the same breathing method as above, but since the weights are lower I allow myself to take a breath at the top of the lift only. You can take a breath at the bottom if you want, but I feel that takes too long and increases the likelihood of resting too long. This is particularly important if you’re a CrossFitter, but is still appropriate for strength training. Wherever you choose to take your breath, just make sure to utilize the tips above before starting the next rep. Safety first!
4. Incorrect Use of a Belt
When your guts are held in, your core is more supported. When your guts are not held tight is when you mess something up.
Can I get something off of my chest for a second? It’s not a “back brace.” There — I said it! Whoa that feels better. Most people think that the weight belt is to support your back during heavy lifting, but this is only marginally accurate. I like to joke that the belt is really there to hold your guts in, and it’s partially true. The belt does prevent the abdominal walls from expanding beyond the belt. But mainly the purpose of the belt is to give the lifter something to press into, and in turn, further tightening the core and supporting the spine. (I did mention that a tight core is important didn’t I?) Does it feel good to have the belt on? You betcha. But the reason for that is because having a belt tight around your midsection helps you increase the pressure around your spine making your core tighter. Bearing down against it only helps the matter. When your guts are held in, your core is more supported. When your guts are not held tight is when you mess something up. So you could say that the belt “supports” the back, but the reality is that the belt helps the lifter support their own back.
That’s why I say that the belief that the weight belt supports your core is only marginally accurate.
Don’t rely on it as a crutch. Don’t use it as a brace. Put it on and put it on TIGHT. If you put the belt on and can push your belly out at all then it’s too loose. Tighten that $#%^ up! When you perform the lift, flex down and hold on! You should be able to feel a noticeable increase in pressure when used appropriately.
I like the leather belts that Rogue is selling now. I have the Ohio belt and love it, but the Econ belt is a great option as well. I receive zero compensation by recommending them and there are other great options out there, but this is what I have the most experience with. Whatever you get, get thick leather with metal rivets and a single pin buckle. The double pin buckle requires too many holes in the leather and can weaken it. Over time it can wear through and break. I don’t expect to ever have to replace my Rogue belt anytime soon.
5. Deadlifting in Oly Shoes
Speaking of equipment, I see a lot of people deadlifting in Oly shoes. I’ve done this and I’ll admit that it feels pretty good. The flat sole and stable footing make it feel good when you step up to the bar. The downside is that the heel lift in an Olympic lifting shoe makes it harder to engage the posterior chain. Since the deadlift is a pull much more than it is a push with the quads, wearing an Oly shoe is effectively handicapping you. There are exceptions to this “rule” but not when the weights are very heavy. You need all the help you can get.
Rather than an Oly shoe, get yourself a pair of Chuck Taylors. I wear a pair of elastic slip on Chucks, but you can go to Target and get the knock offs and save a little money. Same difference. The flat thin sole will give you a good feel of the platform and will be plenty stable. What about the new “Power Shoe” from Reebok? I haven’t tried them or even seen them in person. I’d try them out if someone sent me a pair but I don’t see myself paying for them. TheNanos are a great shoe for deadlifting as well, but I’d still give a slight nod to the Chuck Taylors.
6. Not Checking Your Ego
Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to be “good enough” on any particular day.
This could be applied to any type of lifting, but since the weights are so high and the learning curve so flat (I’d consider deadlifting a low-skill movement compared to a snatch, which is high-skill) with the deadlift, keeping one’s ego in check is even more important. There’s just too much that can go horribly wrong if you let your ego get the best of you. Comedian Eddie Lift says, “If it doesn’t get me paid or laid, then I really just don’t care about it.” The last time I checked no one is getting paid or laid because they deadlifted 450 instead of 425. And the person that blew out their colon attempting a lift that they weren’t ready for isn’t doing much horizontal mambo either. They’re lucky if they can go to work on Monday. Not paid. Not laid. Not cool. So keep things in perspective. If the pot is hot and you want to go heavy, then by all means — hit it, baby! But if you’re just not feeling it that day, or if something feels off, or you feel weak, then dial it back or stop altogether. Listen to your body. If someone tries to goad you into doing something you’re not ready for, get away from them. If it’s your coach, fire them. I’m being totally serious.
One last thing: don’t max out all the time. Deadlifts stress the central nervous system so much that if you don’t give the body enough rest you’ll just go backwards. Train smart. Don’t try to be a meathead everyday. You’ll just get hurt and not make progress anyway. Listen to your coach and follow the programming to the letter. I once hit a 550# deadlift PR to take the gym record, and I held that record for all of 12 hours because my coach hit 555 the next day. (I know — what a jerk, right?!) So about 3-4 days later I figured I’d try to eclipse him and go for 560. While warming up I hit a mid-400’s lift and just knew I didn’t have another PR in me yet. My body had been taxed hitting the 550 earlier in the week and it needed the rest. Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to be “good enough” on any particular day.
7. Not Respecting the Weight
Deadlifts are typically the heaviest lift an athlete will perform. There are some folks who have aback squat that is heavier than their deadlift, but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Given this fact and given the severity of the injuries that can occur, make sure that you respect the weight. Know the difference between a warm-up weight and a working set. Know at what point you need to really focus on what you’re doing. Respect the fact that the weighted barbell on the floor in front of you doesn’t care if you have your head in the game or not. It’s HEAVY and if you don’t pay attention it will hurt you! Get your head right and stop goofing off. Run through this list and make sure you’re not forgetting something. One mistake could cost you dearly, and as we all know, injuries suck. Serious injuries suck worse.
8. Dropping the Weight During Training
Some might disagree with me on this one, but I think it’s a missed opportunity to not train the eccentric portion of the lift during training. That is, to not only pull the weight from the floor but also to lower the weight back to the floor in a controlled manner. Sure it looks and sounds cool to pull that weight from the floor and then drop it. That thunderous crash is impressive! You look like a man among boys! The reality is that you’ve missed an opportunity to get stronger. Think about this: Do you only stand up with a squat or do you have to lower the weight also?
So there you have it — a short little list of common mistakes that deadlifters make. If you correct all of these you’ll be 80% or more of the way towards a lifetime of happy, healthy deadlifting.
Posted on Thu, January 30, 2014