Lifelong Movements – The Personal Trainer’s Guide to Injury Prevention
Movement No.1 – The Deadlift
This is the first blog post in the Lifelong Movements – The Personal Trainers Guide to Injury Prevention series. I feel compelled to write such a series because of my own desire to know more about the anatomy of movement in order to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries. There are two approaches to the study of movement:
- Kinesiology – the study of the mechanics of the body.
- Biomechanics – the study of mechanical laws related to movement.
In these posts, I will focus mainly on kinesiology, although I will include some aspects of biomechanics. I want to focus here on what is best for the body – NOT what is best to lift the greatest loads.
In each article, I will cover the same areas in relation to the movement discussed. These are:
- Background of the movement;
- Movement analysis;
- Literature that is freely available;
- My top three key coaching cues;
- Limitations and correctives.
Background of the movement
In my opinion, the deadlift is the most valuable injury-prevention tool in the exercise catalogue. The relationship it creates between the activities of daily living and the mechanical strength gains needed for sports performance places the deadlift at the heart of almost every programme I prescribe.
Often compared to the squat (meaning the loaded back squat within this discussion), the deadlift has similar kinetic movements but different biomechanical loading. This is because of the centre of mass and lever length. I will not go into too much detail here, but just think of where the loading mainly is – see the hip-hinge video later in the post.
There are many deadlift techniques and there is an ongoing debate on how to deadlift correctly. Here, I will discuss the high hip-hinge technique. This is where the hip dominates the range of motion and the knee has minimal flexion – around 30-45 degrees.
- To address the bar, we will come into 100-120 degrees of hip flexion with minimal knee flexion of around 30-45 degrees.
- The hips will already be in around 20-30 degrees bilateral hip abduction from the anatomical position.
- Supination will be created at the subtalar joint and then spreads up the kinetic chain as slight external rotation at the hip.
- For this deadlift type, we are promoting a vertical shin, so there will be minimal dorsiflexion.
- The grip of the bar for the purpose of this article is mixed (this could prevent the bar being dropped if the grip is weak) – the right hand is supinated and the left hand is pronated (or vice versa; whichever is preferred).
- The shoulders are then depressed and slightly retracted (not glenohumeral external rotation – it is important to understand the difference).
The action – part 1
- Tension must be encouraged between the latissimus dorsi (lats) and gluteus maximus (glutes). This is achieved by depressing the scapular (as the lats are attached to the inferior border of the scapular) and squeezing the triceps into the lats (video).
- This prepares the thoracolumbar fascia to take up the slack of the posterior chain and prepares the spine to take load.
- Creating intra-abdominal pressure also secures the spine’s safety during heavy deadlifts.
- At this point, the spine will appear flat. The eyes should be gazing and the neck should be in neutral:
4.The erectors will contract in an isometric manner, preventing the torso from folding under load.
5. Deeper spinal muscles will contract to stabilise the spine during movement.
The action – part 2
- The centre of mass must now be shifted backwards, ready to load the hamstrings, adductors and glutes.
- The lower leg and the intrinsic foot muscles work hard to maintain stability of the supinated arch by making micro-adjustments throughout the entire lift.
- The inertia fires up the major hip extensors with the adductor magnus, gluteus maximus and hamstring group being the lead (hamstrings being the main extensor at this point).
- The force closure mechanics of the hips also activates the glutes for their secondary role and then creates a crushing feeling of the hip promoting extension of the lumbopelvic region and stability for the hips themselves.
- The lateral rotators of the hip along with the hip abductors prevent any unwanted internal rotation and hip adduction (video)
Literature that is freely available
The first topic when it comes to the deadlift is spinal loading. There isn’t anyone better-qualified to discuss this than Dr Stu McGill. You can find some great videos of him on YouTube here
A couple of good articles by Escamilla on the kinematics and electromyography analysis of the deadlift can be found through google researchgate.com.
There is also a good article by Tony Leyland on the numbers (shear force etc.) during the deadlift, which can be found through google also.
My top three key coaching cues
Coaching cues are the absolute pinnacle for great technique, but can also be the downfall of the best academics in the world. It’s one thing to be able to recite the latest evidence-based practice, but another to put it onto the shop floor. A bottom-up approach is:
1). Screw the heels in – the penny didn’t drop for me until I worked with Strong First Coach Claire Booth. Then I revisited an anatomy video (found here):
This really set in motion my understanding of what we actually mean by this terminology.
2). Keep your shoulders away from your ears – this one may sound silly, but it is something that hit me like a ton of bricks. The depression of the scapular can be initiated by coaching the client to take the shoulders further away from their ears (As in the video earlier).
3). Break the bar – this leads on from the previous coach cue. Regardless of what grip your clients prefer, getting them to attempt to snap the bar in half flares out the lats like a bat and lights up the entire posterior chain like a Christmas tree.
Limitations and correctives
1). Hip-hinge mechanics – this may sound easy to you, but your clients might find it quite difficult to grasp. There is a difference between bending over and hip-hinging:
Gray Cook highlights that a great way to find out if the client is ready to deadlift is to see if they can touch their toes. This tells us two things:
a. If they have any functional restriction – poor motor pattern and control of their centre of mass;
b. If there are any tissue restrictions.
There are some good correctives for them to gain a better toe-touch within the book Movement by Gray Cook.
2). Poor grip strength – For many reasons, grip strength can be the limiting factor, but I have yet to see any studies on the link between the two. I bought a dynometer recently to gauge my own grip strength and am currently assessing my grip weekly as my lifts increase.
If your clients do, however, find that their grip strength is affecting their deadlift, try these finishers after their workouts:
Day 1 – 10 x 10 metres farmers’ carry: 75% bodyweight
Day 2 – 10 x 20 meters farmers’ carry: 50% bodyweight
Day 3 – 10 x 10 metres farmers’ carry: 100% bodyweight
This concludes my first blog post in this series. I hope you enjoyed it. The next exercise I will cover is the kettlebell shoulder press.
Thanks for reading.