‘The best exercises are those which mimic natural movement patterns, like the deadlift.’
Young children typically perform squats and deadlifts without anyone having to show them how. Yet when a deconditioned adult tries to perform these movements, they may feel very unnatural. Many adults have spent their entire life sitting in chairs and cars, avoiding natural movement. Many adults and even school children have done this to the point where they have unlearned instinctive habits like lifting from the hips and legs, and replaced them with lower back pain and hip ailments.
In my experience as an ex personal trainer deadlifts improve your performance in everything – from daily tasks, like picking-up groceries or playing with your kids on the floor—to more athletic tasks, like sprinting and jumping.
When beginning the movement, the most susceptible position to injury will be the bottom of the movement, where the spine is more likely to slump (enter lumbar flexion) and has the greatest shear force on it. Start the lift off a rack or bench if you have flexibility issues.
Begin standing up straight with your hips about shoulder-width apart. The bar should be hanging at arm’s length with the overhand grip. The ability to maintain lumbar lordosis is absolutely the most important factor. Once it’s lost, the movement is over. Re-set and try it again. No exceptions. Your knees begin slightly bent, and the movement begins at the hips as they are pushed backwards, while your shins remain close to vertical and weight remains on the heels. Your back should remain straight and never round. In the deadlift the spinal muscles are trained statically, meaning that there is very little movement in the spine throughout the movement. The bar is lowered as far down as possible but should not touch the ground. Once the lowest position is reached, pause and reverse the movement leading with the hips and torso until you’re again standing straight and not leaning back.
Improper deadlift form can have serious implications for your spine. Failure to maintain a concave lumbar curve and straight thoracic spine (neutral spine), during the movement creates undue stress on the spinal discs, joints, ligaments and muscles and can cause back pain and sciatica.
If you lose your concave lumbar curve during the deadlift you are at risk of suffering from a prolapsed lumbar disc. When the lumbar spine is held in neutral position (concave curvature), the middle of the lumbar disc is in its normal safe position. However once the spine is flexed (bent over), the pressure within the lumbar discs rises. Add an explosive element (like a kettlebell swing) and the pressure will increase further. This is especially true of the lumbar region of the spine, which bears the bulk of the compressive forces on the upper body. Leaning back at the top of lift will can cause abnormal loading of the facet joints. Using a mixed grip sets up an imbalanced torsion through the spine and using an underhand grip shortens the biceps muscle and increases the load on it, possibly leading to a rupture of the muscle or connecting tendons.
If you suffer from back pain and/or stiffness associated with poor posture or need advice on what movements are best for your back consult an osteopath.
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