Ever since I started educating myself on the subject of lifting I was left with the impression that the deadlift is a scary thing to do. I remember reading on a popular website dedicated to lifting weights that the deadlift is not recommended for people with less than two months experience in the gym.
What’s the logic behind this statement? What are beginners supposed to be doing during those two months? Maybe get to know the machines and do biceps curls?
How come the bench press, which is one of the few exercises that can actually cut your head off, is always done straight from the beginning, while the deadlift is supposed to be scary and thus avoided? In terms of execution difficulty and required skills the two lifts are not far from each other.
The truth is that people are afraid of the deadlift. Maybe it’s the name, who knows? What’s certain is that deadlifting is hard, although it’s a fairly simple movement.
The fear that you’re going to break in half during the deadlift is one of the reasons the form police was established.
When people post videos on the Internet the form police calls the special units in order to analyze the footage, and decide whether to condemn the lifter. One of the biggest issues when it comes to deadlifting is, of course, the rounded back. Many people have been charged with similar crime. Sometimes, they deserve their sentence, but there are innocent victims as well.
The Rounded Back Deadlift: How Round Is Too Round?
The lifting manual says that the back must be in perfect neutral alignment and straight posture must be maintained at all times when performing the deadlift.
Any potential rounding of the lower back or the upper back could snap a vertebrae and/or cause strain of the spinal ligaments. Truth be told, this is a nasty injury that takes forever to heal.
Therefore, anyone who deadlifts with a rounded back has always been considered a “stupid brah” who wants to go to “snap city”. However, at one point people became aware that there are individuals who were able to deadlift a ton of weight with rounded backs without suffering any injuries.
One of the biggest defenders of the rounded back deadlift was Bob Peoples. He used a hook grip and a rounded upper back in order to shorten the range of motion.
When you deadlift with a hook grip, instead of the popular mixed one, you can hold the bar with a narrower grip (observe the picture above). This style improves your levers and shortens the range of motion.
Another popular rounded back deadlifter is the legendary powerlifter Vince Anello. He is well known for his word class deadlift done with somewhat ugly form.
The picture above will certainly give nightmares to the form police. After all,they don’t teach you anything like that in school.
Question is, how come Vince Anello is still in great shape and was able to hit many world records despite his rounded back? What’s the secret?
Rounding of The Lower Back Vs. Rounding Of The Upper Back
Beginners really need to know the difference between a rounded upper back and a rounded lower back.
Rounding of the lower back does not help your deadlift one bit. You will never see a deadlifter set world records with a rounded lower back. It just doesn’t work. When you round your lower back you’re exposing the weakest link during the lift to a tremendous stress without getting the benefits of improved levers.
In the image above you can see the kid rounding his lower back. This should be avoided at all costs.
In the next photo you see the popular Latvian powerlifter Konstantīns Konstantinovs. He is also known for rounding his upper back when doing the deadlift. He holds the world record for a completely raw deadlift done without even a belt.
Konstantinovs rounds his upper back significantly when he deadlifts and this becomes even more apparent in videos:
Conclusion: Rounding of the upper back can allow you to lift more weight and many people can get away with it. On the other hand rounding of the lower back absolutely sucks.
The examples above are of powerlifters who deadlift with a rounded back by choice, not by accident. There is no doubt that they have done their fair share of regular deadlifting.
Why aren’t they getting injured?
The body adapts to stress in order to survive. When you deadlift with a rounded back, little by little the vertabra and the upper back muscles get stronger and stronger. Otherwise deadlifting 400 kgs would be impossible.
The deadlifters above have/had super strong backs built with years of training. As you know – a little bit of poison everyday creates strong resistance to it. That’s why passive smokers often experience worse side effects than active smokers. It’s not uncommon for the spouses of smokers to suffer from lung cancer while the actual smoker lives longer.
It’s also worth noting that besides Vince Anello not many people use terribly rounded upper backs.
Keep in mind that those guys carry a lot of muscle mass and this creates the illusion that the back is rounder than it actually is.
In the photo below you see the popular powerlifter Ed Coan deadlift. Notice how the arch of his lower back is not as pronounced. That’s because his spinal erectors are big and have filled the “gap” mortals have when they deadlift with proper form.
Also, his lower back looks rounder than it actually is, because of the thick upper back mass. Of course, there is some rounding and shoulder slouching, but it’s unavoidable when the weight get’s really heavy.
Your Form Will Suffer, When You Deadlift Really Heavy Weights
When you are doing heavy singles and doubles your form will suffer. It’s unavoidable but it should be kept under control. Stupid things like hitching and letting the bar rest on your knees should never be done.
Deadlifting with a rounded back could be done safely, but should be performed only by guys with experience. If you are just starting out, you have no excuse to do it. Beginners should use the standard form before doing advanced pilotage.
However, you should not expect heavy attempts to look like sets with 135 pounds. The goal is to minimize the form deviations to a minimum, but total elimination is really hard to achieve.
The guys who are most likely to benefit from a rounded upper back are the so-called back deadlifters. Those are the lifters who use primarily back strength to move the weight up. Usually those individuals are tall and have short torsos coupled with long arms and high hips, just like Bob Peoples. On the other hand lifters who are more leg dominant would not get much out of this style because it uses less leg drive.