EPISODE 1: The Phantom Athlete
Rounding your back in the deadlift is a sensitive subject in the world of lifting, and I’ll tell you now – it is not a terrible crime of strength! As back to back U105kg World’s Strongest Man in 2018 and 2019, I am blessed to have trained with some of the best athletes in the sport and competed all over the world. I also appeared on NBC Titan Games this past year. I am madly and deeply in love with Strongman after competing in the sport for nearly five years. And with that has come to a lot of deadlifts in my training days.
Before getting to where I am today, I was once a young strength athlete just trying to figure out what in the hell I was doing. I was stuck in my ways, thinking I was already strong enough, but soon figured out that I had room to improve. And that meant attacking the deadlift.
When I first started deadlifting, the strength gains came quickly. I thought it as a movement that primarily targeted the back, and it showed
Here are a few of the cues I used at the beginning of my journey to a big pull:
- “Strap in.”
- “Pull at all costs.”
Obviously not the best idea!
This is BEASTLY
EPISODE 2: The Gainz Wars
I had built my deadlift up to about 700 pounds with the worst form possible. My shoulders were a good inch to two inches over the bar at the start of the lift. My knees were straight as soon as the bar left the floor. This is where I was forced to re-evaluate my form. Enter the hip hinge.
Now, learning how to hinge at the hips properly is a skill. It can take months to really get used to the movement pattern and implement it into the deadlift. But once you do, it will reveal advantageous leverages you never knew existed.
If you ask what the hip hinge is or how to perform it, you are in luck:
- Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart and toes pointed slightly outward.
- Place a PVC pipe on your back directly along your spine (you can also practice this with a KB on the floor and not use a PVC pipe if you lack the mobility needed) Grasp the PVC pipe with your right hand in the curve of your neck, and with your left hand at the small of your back.
- Keep your weight back on your heels as push the hips back towards the wall, simultaneously lowering your upper body toward the floor. Basically, you’re sticking your butt behind you (pop it, lock it, but please do not drop it).
- Stop when your torso is midway between vertical and parallel to the floor. Pause here. You should have a slight bend in your knees during the downward and upward phase.
- On the way up, move slowly and with a rigid spine. This will help train your mind and body to execute this movement correctly.
By implementing the hip hinge, you will almost immediately notice that you’re not pulling the bar anymore – you’re pushing down through your hips to your heels as if you’re pushing the floor away from you.
Yes, it’s a pull. But if you do not hinge properly, you are throwing your body out of prime position for the lift. Don’t rob yourself of hard-earned strength gains!
EPISODE 3: REVENGE OF THE BACK
We’ve come to the final episode of the snap city, the rounded back, a.k.a. the “worst thing you can do for your body.” You’ll put yourself in a wheelchair. Yet, it’s the way to deadlift if you truly want to be elite!
Now keep in mind, I am not talking about lower back rounding. I am going to avoid overly complicated anatomical words because I don’t like them and don’t need people to have to Google what the hell I am talking about. This is about rounding at the mid/upper back.
After I learned the hip hinge, the upper back rounding was the single most important thing I started doing during deadlifts to earn a world-class lift. You must remember that this is not a clean or a snatch – a neutral spine is not the most advantageous mechanism for this lift. If you brace and allow your upper back to round in the deadlift, you are giving yourself a better brace, less distance to travel, and forcing antagonistic muscles to stabilize, thus giving you more power throughout the lift. Yes, you need both power and strength, as they are not one and the same.
I often hear that the round-back method of lifting may lead to poor movement patterns and increase the risk of injury in the mid- to upper back. To which I say…IT’S LIFTING WEIGHTS, NOT A DAMN TEA PARTY! Okay, but seriously, there is an inherent risk in anything we do and let me be clear, heavy deadlifts are for those who train for strength, not aesthetics or to feel good about yourself.
Here are some simple steps/cues for a rounded upper back deadlift typed by a dummy, for a dummy:
- Set up by hinging at the hips first to reach the bar.
- Think about pulling apart your upper back/lower traps.
- Start the lift with a slight curve in your mid-back.
- Round more in the upper back.
- Brace like the dickens to lock down your core. Do not allow this position to change throughout the lift.
- Enjoy your new PR!
As I stated, this method of deadlifting is not for everyone. For those who are interested in taking the plunge, I have many tips, rep schemes, and cues to increase its efficiency. However, you’ll have to wait for the next series – as Hollywood has shown us, we can’t give you everything in one sitting! I hope you’ve enjoyed the read, I hope you’ve learned something, and I hope you will continue to pursue a better version of yourself. Be open to tips and tricks from smart people along the way!