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Protect your back and build more strength with these tips
BY TONY GENTILCORE
Trainers like me preach good form for good reason: It allows you to lift more weight, and also reduces your risk of injury.
That rule is never truer than it is with the deadlift.
The “golden rule” of the deadlift is to maintain a neutral spine position at all times. What this means: Avoid any excessive upper and lower back rounding, which reduces the sheer forces on your spine and helps you avoid painful disc bulges.
But if I tell you to “keep your spine neutral,” chances are you still might perform the lift wrong. That’s why I’ve developed a two more cues that I like to use with lifters, which, I’ve found, helps them really nail that critical spinal position.
The result: Big numbers without pain.
Deadlifting form tip: Get tight and wedge
A tight body helps you keep your spine straight. So get tight right off the bat, as you’re setting up for the lift.
If you aren’t tight when you lift, one of two things will happen when you pull the barbell off the floor:
Your upper or lower back will round.
Your hips will come up too fast in relation to your shoulders.
To maintain tension, I tell lifters to pretend they’re squeezing oranges in their armpits, and to “wedge” into the floor. Here’s what I mean:
Deadlifting form tip: Align your armpits and flex your hamstrings
Let’s say you followed the advice I just gave you, and you just can’t seem to keep that neutral spine when you do a regular deadlift. No biggie.
Your history in the gym, past injuries, goals, anatomy, and comfort level can all determine if you should do a conventional deadlift.
For example, the sumo deadlift might be a better fit for people who have chronically tight hips, short arms, or who are taller. Likewise, people who are new to deadlifting—or have a history of back issues—might want to do the more back and beginner-friendly trap bar deadlift.
Regardless of the variation you perform, never stray from this rule: Make sure your armpits are directly over the bar, and that your hamstrings are flexed and tightened.
You see a lot of guys set up with their armpits too far in front of the bar, which makes for a poor line of lifting. It often causes your weight to shift onto your toes. As you lift, you sort of “fall forward,” which adds force directly to your delicate lower back.
An easy fix to get your weight back and armpits over the bar: roll the barbell in closer to your shins.
To build hamstring tension so you can contract the muscles powerfully—think of your hamstrings like a bow’s string—lengthen them by keeping your hips high. Your hips should be as high as possible while allowing you to keep your back straight and move the weight. Like this: