TIP 1: HINGE FROM YOUR HIPS Key to being able to deadlift safely is being able to hip hinge. Which essentially means, you are able to dissociate your body's movements at the hip from your movement at the back, and are able to bend forward at the hips, whilst not bending from your back.
When shifting heavy loads, it is essential we primarily use the powerful muscles in our legs and hips to create the majority of the force to lift. Hingeing at the hips will ensure you do so. Whereas if you are unable to, you will be transferring a lot of load through your spine.
TIP 2: KEEP THE BAR CLOSE TO YOU AND YOUR SPINE There are two important and distinct aspects to this tip.
(i) Keep the bar close to your body at all times. For beginners, try to actually run the bar up and down your legs. If you can feel it in contact with your legs, then you will always know it's close.
This is a super important tip. As the further forwards, in a horizontal direction, the bar is from your spine, the greater the torque that it is producing at your spine.
If your spinal extensor muscles are not able to produce enough force to counteract that torque, it will be transferring force to structures of your spine.
(ii) Keep the bar close to your spine. I commonly see people attempt to keep their torso very upright whilst deadlifting, in an attempt to try to "protect their back". However, this in turn causes you to bend your knees excessively, and forces the bar to travel around your knees and translate forwards considerably. So in trying to "protect their back", they are in fact forcing their back to work considerably harder.
Take a look at these two photos to observe the difference:
In the first photo, my torso is very upright, however this forces the bar to travel around my knees and in turn ends up a long way forward of my spine. The second photo, I'm hingeing a lot more at my hips allowing me to keep the bar almost directly underneath my lower back.
The second position is much safer.
TIP 3: MAINTAIN A STIFF SPINE IN A NEAR NEUTRAL POSITION Throughout the full range of motion of your deadlift, you don't want your spine to change it's position/alignment. This will only be possible if you can correctly achieve tip 1, hinge at the hips, as the movement should come from there and from your legs.
For best results, you want to get your set-up right before you commence your lift. Here are 3 important cues to remember in your set up, before each and every lift, to help you with maintaining a stiff spine: (i) Strongly engage your back muscles before each lift.
When you get down in to position to commence your deadlift, before commencing start to pull on the bar a little bit and lift your chest up to get your spinal erectors strongly engaged.
(ii) Attempt to engage your lats during your deadlift for maximal stiffness.
Your lats are large muscles that run from your arm to the bottom of your spine and are very powerful muscles which can assist in creating a stiff spine. To better engage them, think about squeezing your armpits before commencing the lift.
(iii) Take a deep breath and brace your abdominals.
Hold that until you complete each full repetition (or if you need, take another breath at the top of the movement, and hold once again for the descent).
This is called the valsalva manoeuvre, and it creates an increase in intra-thoracic and intra-abdominal pressure. This increase in pressure assists in maintaining a stiff spine.
TIP 4: DON'T START FROM THE FLOOR
The most demanding aspect of the deadlift is picking the bar up from the lowest position, and the most technical aspect is the portion where the bar is below your knees. However, it is not necessary to perform a deadlift through its full range of motion, to reap significant rewards from the exercise.
So, to begin, the squat rack can be a great place to start. Set the safety bars to the height of your knees or higher, then place the bar on top. As your confidence grows, picking the bar up from a lower position can be a great progression. Going forwards, placing some weight plates on the floor and setting the bar on top of those plates, can be another great way to perform the exercise without going to full depth.
TIP 5: YOU NEED TO DEVELOP FULL BODY STRENGTH
Deadlifting is a full body exercise. If you want to be safe deadlifting, or even lifting things in your everyday life, be sure to develop full body strength. Pay particular attention to developing the strength of your core through all planes of movement, your legs, hips, upper back, and grip strength.
There are a tonne of exercises you can do to achieve this, have a look at some of these videos for a small sample...
If you are unable to safely perform any of these important aspects of a deadlift, this will increase your risk of injury. Injury usually does not occur immediately, but over time, with enough repetition, these flaws usually catch up with people.
But many people do struggle with these technical aspects of a deadlift. If you are having difficulty with this, Arana Hills Physio can help. Some coaching from our experts, can ensure you are moving well and lifting safely.