The Most Important Tip To Avoid Back Injuries During Deadlifts Just “push your chest out”

One of the most important skills every lifter should develop is back position awareness. You must be able to tell in what position your back is during deadlifts, squats, overhead presses and many other exercises, without doing silly things like looking in the mirror. It takes some time, but after you have developed the skill – it’s like riding a bike.

In a neutral state the spine resembles the letter “S” as seen in the photo below. This is the strongest and the safest position for the spine. Therefore, it must be maintained during squats and deadlifts. If there’s too much flexion in the upper or lower region, you are risking ligament tears or worse. That’s why it’s crucial to develop lower and upper back position awareness at all times.

avoid-back-injuries-deadlift

IT’S SIMPLE: JUST PUSH YOUR CHEST OUT


There are many different “coaching cues” that can get you there, but one of the simplest approaches is to just try to push your chest out as much as possible.

Try the following exercise: Sit in a chair, put your fingertips on the lower back area, look down towards the ground and relax the upper back completely.

You will feel your lower vertebrae pushing out. You back will remind you of a bow that’s flexed too much – almost to the point where it may break. That’s essentially what happens when you deadlift with a bent spine – there’s too much pressure on the location that’s flexed. Therefore, you can never deadlift super heavy weights with poor lower back position. You will just get hurt or forced to use light weights.

While still in the same position just push your chest out as much as humanly possible. You can put your other hand 10-15  inches in front of you, and try to touch it with your sternum. You will naturally assume a much better posture, and your vertebrae won’t be pushing out anymore. The same position (chest out) must be maintained as much as possible during squats, power cleans, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell swings and many similar exercises.

However, when it comes to deadlifts it’s not that simple.

To the untrained eye the deadlift and the power clean, for example, may look similar in terms of back position, but that’s not really the case. A heavy deadlift requires a different set-up (hips high) than the Olympic lifts and their variations. Once you get to about 2 BW deadlift or over, some upper back rounding will start to occur no matter what. That’s fine to a certain point, and there are even people who have embraced pulling with a rounded upper back as a gift from heaven.

Pulling with a rounded back takes a long time to learn and is not designed for beginners. When I was first starting out, I reached a point where my upper back would round a little bit, but not too much. I thought it was all fine, which was the case, and stopped recording my deadlifts. As a result I ended up with an ugly cat back deadlift a few months later. The ironic part was that I was still thinking that my back is rounding “just a little bit”, but that was not the case at all. Once I decided to record a PR deadlift of 170 kg and saw something that could never be unseen – I looked like a camel. It still hurts me, just thinking about it. The reason for the mistake?I failed to maintain proper back position and my awareness and perception were poor.

Luckily, I did not get hurt and even my upper back was fine besides a few night during which I was receiving massive hate from each vertabra.

Part of the reason for my successful survival was that I have a kyphotic spine. From the side my back appears way more bent compared to a more normal version. I dropped the weight and worked back up to it with much less rounding. In a few short months I was up to a 197,5 kg deadlift for 2-3 reps. It was still done with upper back rounding, but not too much. At that point, I just got tired of the deadlift. To me the deadlift end up to be this girl that you really, really like, but once you get to truly know her, you realize that your expectations were way too high for no reason. Of course, I realize that this could be said just about anything.

Anyway, the main reason I failed was because I forgot the golden rule – chest out as much as possible. That’s it. Unless you are a really rare and weird case, this cue fixes almost everything. However, it’s also worth noting that when you reach weights over 2 BW, your upper back will round a little bit despite your efforts. You should try to limit that, but don’t expect to completely remove it for your top sets. {evil}

I recommend that you use your iFone or whatever to record all working sets for the first six months or so.Don’t care what the phonies in the gym think! It will serve you good, and you will have something to show your grandchildren in 2055:

Hey look, this was me when I though a 225 lbs deadlift was going to make me look like Ronnie Coleman.”

Ronnie, who?”

LOWER BACK ROUNDING VS. UPPER BACK ROUNDING

The upper back can round to a certain degree, but the lower back must never be compromised. The risk of injury becomes too high and your are actually weaker in a similar position. In some weird cases, people are able to keep a somewhat straight upper back, but their lower backs flex as shown in the photo below.

flexed-lower-back-deadlift

That could only happen for two reasons – you are not actively trying to set your back in a proper position by pushing your chest out or the weight is too heavy for your weak lower back.

The way to fix this is to use light weight and make sure that your lower back is arched and then build up while using proper technique.

In conclusion

The ability to maintain proper back position is a skill that will serve you well during your whole training career, which makes recording your sessions for the first six months a worthy investment. Besides, what else are you using your iFone camera for anyway?

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