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Eliminate Back Pain & Lift Heavier: 3 Cues to Improve your Deadlift

What do you think about when you’re deadlifting?

The person who cut you off this morning?

The weight of the world on your shoulders?

How satisfying it is to pick something heavy up off the floor?

While these thoughts may be useful for having a great deadlift session, let’s talk about some other things you can think about to improve the mechanics of your deadlift and keep you healthy while you are picking up heavy barbells!

The 3 cues that we will talk about here are:

1) Head Neutral

2) Push the Ground Away

3) Shut the Drawer

Cue 1: Head Neutral

This is where we will start. Setting the head in a neutral position from the get-go can help set the stage for a good movement pattern through the whole lift. If you want to see how head position can affect the deadlift, try this exercise:

Stand up and pretend you have a loaded barbell in front of you that you are about to deadlift. Bend down and set up exactly like normally would before you start to lift the bar off the floor, but make a point to keep your eyes facing down in front of you (1). Now while you are here, keep everything else in the same position and lift your head up like you are trying hard to look at ceiling (2).

Does anything jump out at you? What you may have felt was all the extensor muscles along your back light up, maybe even cramp a bit.

So how does this apply to the deadlift? Well, while we do want the muscles along the spine to work, they shouldn’t be the main drivers of this movement. The deadlift is primarily a hip hinge movement, and the glutes and hamstrings are the primary muscles used for driving this type of movement. So, if you know that you normally look up during your deadlifts, and you feel like your back muscles are always doing most of the work, give this “head neutral” cue a try.

Cue 2: Push the Ground Away

The main goal of this cue is to get our legs more involved. The deadlift often gets labeled as a “back” or “pull” exercise; and while these aren’t completely inaccurate descriptions, there are a few other things to consider. With the “head neutral” cue, we talked about how we don’t want the back extensors to be the primary drivers, but that we want the legs to take that job. Let’s also consider the fact that the bottom position of the deadlift is the most unfavorable position we will be in during the whole lift…we are completely bent over have to find a way to develop tension so that we can pick up this heavy weight in a safe manner. All the more reason to get the legs involved! So, thinking about pushing the ground away is a great way to get the legs working right from the get go.

Deadlift Leg Drive, Using legs in the deadlift

Cue 3: Shut the Drawer

The first two cues we have covered apply a bit more to the setup and initiation of the pull, but this last one is targeted towards the portion of the lift when we begin to lower the bar back to the ground. After all the things we have covered about getting the legs more involved in the deadlift, we have to be sure we don’t neglect this mindset in the eccentric, or lowering component. A common fault we will see when athletes begin to lower the bar is starting by bending the knees and then using the lower back to control the bar as it moves around the knees. Not only is this a very inefficient movement pattern because we are having to lower the bar around the knees, but it doesn’t allow us to use the glutes and hamstrings to provide stability.

Once we are ready to lower the bar back down to the floor, thinking about shutting a drawer behind you with your backside can put you in a good position to sit back into your glutes a bit more, which also takes some stress off the lower back.

We’ve seen a pretty common theme show up in all of these cues: getting the legs involved! The deadlift is one of our favorite exercises for lower back health at EVO Performance Therapy - we use it frequently when treating patients with low back pain. And while deadlifts can create a strong, resilient lower back, the function of the muscles of the lower back during this movement is to hold the spine in a stable, neutral position while the hips and legs do the lifting.

So, use these cues to get those glutes and hamstrings involved for a stronger, healthier deadlift!

Are you struggling to return to lifting after an injury? Do you have low back pain when you deadlift? If so, our team can help. At EVO Performance Therapy, we work with people every day to get out of pain and back to the things they love doing. Our team can help you identify mobility limitations, correct technique errors, and put together a custom plan to get you back to training pain-free.

Call or text the number below or shoot us an email at the address below to learn more!

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