Brought to you by the letter ‘D’

Posted on March 14, 2011. Filed under: Exercise | Tags: , , , |

Every coach has a bit of ‘exercise prejudice’, so to speak.

In bad coaches it usually manifests itself as them being closed-minded to exercises or programs they are not familiar with.  In good coaches it just usually means when they start off a routine they will use certain exercises or variations of it when they start a routine with a client.

Every coach does it.  We all have our go-to exercises.

You can already guess that one of mine is push-ups.  Whether it’s on the floor, against the wall, using a ball, chances are within the course of your training with me you will do some version of a push-up.  The reason being the benefits I explained in a previous blog.  Another exercise I use quite often is the deadlift.

In my opinion, this is one of those fundamental exercises that everyone should do.  Why?  Because everyone at sometime in their life will pick something up off the floor and the deadlift assures you will always get back up.

Plus, there’s something about being able to pick up a heavy weight and set it down again, using practically every muscle in your body, that makes you feel strong. Deadlifts hit every muscle fiber in your butt and hamstrings — areas I find that predominantly my female clients wish to define.
As a bonus, you also engage your core, your arms, and your shoulders. In fact, I don’t think I can name a muscle group that isn’t helping to get that weight off the floor. Talk about a calorie-burning, metabolically demanding exercise!
Now since this does deal with some direct pressure to the lower back,  I am going to be as detailed as I can be.  First, although the mechanics of a deadlift are similar to a squat, they are not exactly the same.  SO don’t think your form for a squat is how you should deadlift.  For one bar is in your hands rather than on your back.

proper form for deadlift:

  • Shins an inch or less from the bar

Approach the loaded barbell and stop so your shins are an inch from the bar or touching.  This is where you start and finish.  The reason is general Physics.  We want the bar as close to your center of gravity as possible.  And since a significant amount of the load is being directed to your hips and low back area (as the axis) the closer the bar is to you the safer your back will be.

Imagine a 2×4 and a rope with a hook on the end is being attached at the end.   We support the other end under a bench or in a slot in the wall.  Doesn’t matter, this is a rough analogy at best.

Now the further out away from the supported end of our board.  The less weight the board will support.  The same thing for your body.  Your torso is the board and the ropes and hooks, your arms and hands.  If you let the weight swing away from your body, your body has to work much harder to move that weight.  And that is not a game you want to play with your back.

During the ascent, the bar will travel as close to the leg and shins as possible. Ideally, wear cotton sweat pants or track pants with long socks to protect your shins

  • Try to grip without looking down

Assume a stance about as wide as your own shoulders while gripping the bar such that the inner aspects of your arms are slightly outside of your thighs. Feet should point straight forward or turned out to a 25 degree angle at most. The best foot angle is one which provides the least amount of hip and knee restriction when you lower the hips in preparation to lift, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit.  Again the shins should be about an inch from the bar and then when you actually bend down and lower your hips in preparation to lift, the shins will touch the bar. Most of the weight will be on the heels of the feet. This facilitates maximal contribution of the glutes and hamstrings.  I suggest learning to reach down to the bar without looking down.  This will help to lock in your form right from the get go.  Not to mention looking down will round the back and if you are first learning the lift, it may put you in a bad position.

  • Arch your lower back, relax your upper back

The entire spine should remain neutral, which means you look neither up nor down, but instead, the head follows the body, almost like you’re wearing a cervical cast on your neck. It’s OK for the head to be SLIGHTLY up (this tends to improve muscular contraction of the low back muscles) but in all cases, the lift must start with the hips down, the entire spine neutral, and the feet flat on the floor.  Your lower back should be arched and your upper back should be relaxed. This provides a safe position for the lumbar spine, while minimizing the total distance of your pull.

  • Keep your arms straight and locked

There should be no sudden movement or jerking. Focus on keeping your arms locked out, flexing the triceps, and generating total body tension. The bar leaves the floor with huge leg drive. Think of driving your heels into the floor

  • Initiate the pull by driving your heels into the floor

As you stand up with the weight, imagine pushing the earth away from you with your feet. When viewed from the side, your hips and shoulders should ascend together; if the hips rise before the shoulders, it means you’re using your back rather than your legs. If this happens, reduce the weight until you can perform the lift correctly and add more specific quad-strengthening exercises to your program.  Again I must re-emphasize when the bar is moving, keep it close to your body.  If the bar drifts out in front of you, it will put a lot of stress on the lower back.

  • As the bar comes past the knees, drive the glutes forwards

There is a difference between driving the glute forward and arching your back.  If you are leaning back to get the weight up, this is wrong and potentially harmful.  Squeeze the glutes in and up.  Obviously the glutes do not go up but as you lift keep that visual cue in mind.  It will help you find the proper feel to the lift.

  • Try to pull your shoulders behind the bar all the way to lockout

This again is merely a visual cue to avoid bad form.  Do not think of this as arching your upper back.  Think of this as keeping your shoulders set in the proper posture.  When you are holding a weight in front of you, your body will attempt to find the path of least resistance or effort.  This means as you lift your body will want to let your shoulders round forward.  Don’t let it.  As the shoulders round so will your upper back, and leverage will not be in your favor.

  • Squeeze the bar hard throughout

As crazy as this sounds, this does help.  It’s a principle called irradiation,  which I will cover in future blogs.  Simply put by squeezing the bar your body will be more in tune to recruiting as many muscle fibers as possible to do the lift.  And will help you to maintain the total body tension that will allow you to lift safely.

In relation to your actual grip I star all clients off with a supinated or overhand grip.  This means both palms are facing you when you grip the bar.  As my clients in progress in strength we then start incorporating an alternated grip. This means that one hand will be supinated (palm faces you) and the other pronated (palm facing away).

  • Ask if you need help

Should go without saying but if you are unfamiliar with this lift you really should have a coach help you learn properly.  Main criteria for picking said coach, is that they do this lift themselves.

Which I do 😉

This actually should be the logic behind any coaching in my opinion.  I would never have a client do an exercise I have not applied in a routine for myself.

Best Health

Coach W

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