For years, deadlifts has always been an exercise I liked least. I knew when done properly, they're an excellent exercise for overall strength. However, getting to proper form was the problem. Without good form, compensation occurs and an easy way to lead to early low back issues.
Because of the motion and the muscles being trained, the deadlift is one of those exercises that should be utilized in all training programs. It creates positive changes on the body including increased strength, muscle, bone density, Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), and can help decreases body fat percentage, weight and lower back pain. These effects can last long term as we grow older.
Think about the motion and how we use it in every day life. Whether it be doing chores around the house or if your job requires moving around, we are constantly using our trunk, which is why it's so important to perfect proper body mechanics. Learning to activate the core to stabilize the spine and drive through the legs is crucial to protect the spine. Also, learning to activate the lats by bringing the shoulders back will help to stabilize the bar and core. Learning to drive through the legs will help activate the glutes and hamstrings.
When learning to deadlift, it took me certain coaching and key words to find the proper way to achieve results without increasing my risk for injury. I find it most helpful to break it down into four of the most important tips for deadlifting to not only increase your PR, but also decrease injury rates.
Head Posture Slightly Upward
This topic has been debatable as you may have read that keep the head neutral where the may head drift forward. When the head is slightly tilted upward, it helps to keep the shoulders back and the spine more more neutral. It also helps activate more of the glutes and hamstrings. When the head drifts forward, it is harder to use those muscles and distribute the weight back. It has been thought that with the head up, it will cause neck issues, but research has yet to prove this theory true.
Learning to engage and activate the lats allows the bar to stay close to the legs, placing more involvement on the posterior chain. This allows increased leg drive and less strain on the lower back. When the bar is further away from the body, the opposite occurs and more of an increase on lower back issues. A feedback response is if the bar is able to mark up the shins, the you're probably doing it correctly. By bringing the shoulders back, lats are able to engage and allowing the mid and low back to stay more upright.
Push Knees Out
By pushing the knees outward, it will activate the glutes. At first, most tend to use more quads or low back to lift the bar off the ground. When the glutes are activated, it stabilizes the pelvis and also engages the hamstrings. A cue of driving through your feet and pushing feet into the ground is also helpful. THe lateral pressure of the knees will build a stronger base of support.
Train your weakest position
There's not just one way to perform a deadlift. In fact, there's different positions and stances - sumo, conventional, wide grip. Everyone is different and one position may feel more natural than the others. I myself am one to train more sumo as I feel I am able to lift heavier loads by engaging more of the posterior chain while maintaining more of an upright position. That being said, sometimes focusing on your weakness can help improve your stronger lifts. Deadlifting with a wide grip may feel uncomfortable, but it will help focus on more lat activation. Working on a sumo deadlift will help engage more hip strength and mobility. Usually the sumo stance will feel easiest for most due to the fact that it can withstand higher volume due to less stress on the lower back.