One of the most important skills that every lifter should develop is back awareness. You have to be aware of your back position during deadlifts, squats, overhead presses and many other exercises without doing silly things like looking in the mirror. It takes some time, but after a while it becomes easy.
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.
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 push your chest out as much as possible.
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, and your back will look like a bow that’s flexed too much. That’s essentially what happens when you deadlift with a bent spine – the flexing point is under extreme pressure.
While you’re still in the same position push your chest out as much as humanly possible. You can put your other hand 10-15 inches in front of you and then 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 other similar exercises.
However, when it comes to the deadlift – it’s not that simple.
To the untrained eye, the back positions during a power clean and a deadlift may seem identical, 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 а 2BW deadlift or over, some upper back rounding will start to occur no matter what. That’s fine to a certain point. There are people who deadlift with a rounded upper back all the time without getting hurt.
However, pulling with a rounded back takes a long time to learn and is not designed for beginners. Besides, the rounded back deadlift works less muscle mass than the regular version.
Back in the day, I used to deadlift with a heavily rounded back too. Luckily, I did not get hurt and even my upper back was fine besides a few nights during which I was receiving massive hate from each vertebra.
Use your iFone or whatever to record all work sets. Don’t pay attention to the phonies in the gym! Do it! The footage will serve you well. As a bonus, you will have something to show to your grandchildren in 2055.
“Hey look, this was me when I thought that a 225lbs deadlift turns you into Ronnie Coleman.”
LOWER BACK VS. UPPER BACK ROUNDING
The upper back can round to a certain degree, but the lower back shouldn’t. A rounded lower back makes you weak and prone to injury.
In some rare cases, people keep a somewhat straight upper back, but the lower back rounds as shown in the photo below.
There are two main reasons for this scenario – 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.
Lower the weight and rebuild your deadlift from the grounds up.
The ability to maintain a proper back position is a skill that will serve you well during your whole training career.
Push your chest out.
Record your work sets.