Deadlifting: It’s All About The Set Up
Let’s face it; the deadlift gets butchered on a daily basis across the country, probably across the world. This happens due to poor coaching, poor mechanics or a combination of both. For today I will assume that the mechanics allow for an athlete to perform a trap bar deadlift if coached properly. There are many coaching points that might not seem like a big deal, but once that weight starts going up every part of the set up is extremely important. Here are some coaching cues that can help you teach your athletes to pull heavy weight soon if attention to detail is paid.
1. I always like starting from the bottom up when it comes to coaching the deadlift. With that in mind let’s start with the feet. It is so important to get the feet set up and engaged properly. First, instruct the athlete to square their feet and leave about 8-12 inches between. Two things I also want to focus on while we are down there are to spread the floor and driving through the heels. Spreading the floor activates the glutes and also keeps the knees tracking properly over the foot. Instruct the athlete to drive the outside of their feet into the floor. Driving through your heels is huge for a big pull. That is where you should focus the majority of your weight. Instruct the athletes to push the floor away from them.
2. The knees will take care of themselves if the athlete is activity using their glutes and driving the outside of their feet into the floor. If this becomes an issue a mini band can be used to give the athlete feedback on having the knees continue to track over the knees.
3. the last thing a coach ever wants to do is injure an athlete’s lower back. If the lumbar spine cannot become neutral I will not have the athlete perform this variation of the deadlift. To get an athlete in the proper position they must be able to go into a significant anterior pelvic tilt. In a perfect set up you would be able to rest a glass on the lower back without it falling over before the lift is perform. Always make sure the lumbar spine is in neutral before a lift takes place!
4. The upper back has a lot going on. The athlete has to be able to maintain thoracic extension, the scapula has to hold onto the back without winging off and the back and shoulder musculature needs to maintain posture through the pull. The tail bone to the cervical spine should look to be in a straight line. Yes, the spine is curved, but when observing the side view of an athlete the back should look flat.
5. The cervical spine and head need to be in a neutral position. It has been going on for far too long that athletes have been instructed to look up when deadlifting. This should not take place. A neutral spine should be maintained throughout. Instruct your athletes to “pack the neck”. This can be done by making a “double chin”. If you can picture this you will see an athlete will a neutral spine. This not only keeps the spine safe, it has been demonstrated to increase the load in which athletes are able to lift.
6. last, but not least, I could not forget about grip and where the trap bar should be set up in relation to your body. Too many times I see athletes barely holding onto the bar. Take a big, tight grip and get ready to pull! As far as set up, the athlete should grip the bar in the middle of the knurling and line the hands up with the ankles. This gives the athlete the best mechanical advantage when pulling the bar.
There is somewhat of a joint by joint approach when it comes to using the trap bar for deadlifting. Let me know if there are any other coaching cues that you are using with your athletes.
So many parents ask when their kids should start lifting, if lifting is safe at certain ages, if it's important for high schoolers to move heavy loads. There isn't truly a straight answer to this question, but there are a few myths to bust.
Myth #1 - Lifting weight young stunts growth
Truth - No, lifting does not stunt growth. When you grow, the bones get longer, and the muscles stretch to catch up. So, as a kid gets taller he or she might get "tighter" or lose mobility, but they aren't losing height.
Myth #2 - Deadlifts hurt your back
Truth - No, deadlifts don't hurt your back. Doing deadlifts wrong can hurt your back, yes. But, doing proper deadlifts greatly improves glute function which actually helps keep a healthy spine. Proper deadlifts are one of the best things you can do for your back.
Myth #3 - When kids start lifting they need to learn squat, bench, clean
Truth - While those are great exercises, not every kid is ready for them. Many kids want to start those lifts because that's what their high school does, but first the athlete needs to have the biomechanical integrity tested to see if they are ready for those lifts. If not, there are some other great lifts to do to help them get ready to do those 3.
The right age to start lifting weights at really depends more on the athlete's physical maturity age than their actual chronological age. What we should do is promote exercise and activity from a young age, and when they have mastered the basics, begin to slowly introduce an external load at the appropriate rate. We have athletes as young as 11 years old doing great trap bar deadlifts, and we have seniors in high school that still work with body weight exercises. Regardless of age, proper mobility, stability, and neuromuscular patterning determine exercise and weight selection.