4 Tips If You Are Scared Of Deadlifts
I’ve been intrigued by this fear for a while now and finally decided to pinpoint the most scary parts about Deadlifts and maybe make them less scary 🙂
I was the same for the past 4 years, I was worried about my back and since I am very careful person, I was very scared of an injury. I don’t know what would I do if I got permanently injured and couldn’t go to the gym anymore.
#1 UNDERSTAND THE MOVEMENT
Deadlift is quite often listed as a back exercise, but I believe it should be put under legs.
The legs, after all, do most of the work and you should never initiate the Deadlift with your back!
That’s probably why people are scared of it and so was I. I was thinking: “There’s no chance I am going to risk a back injury for an exercise that bodybuilders do.”
I had no idea on how many benefits I was missing out. Deadlift, if performed correctly, is an incredible way to build strength in legs, hamstrings, glutes and, towards the very end of the movement, in your back, too.
But the back act only as a stabiliser and helper. Back muscles should not engage until the bar passes your knees, which means that most of the work will be done by your lower body.
First movement in the Deadlift is flexing the legs and bringing your thighs parallel to the floor. They will not be completely parallel for everyone due people’s differences in ankle mobility and individual morphology – some individuals have longer limbs than others. People with long limbs will not be able to fold themselves so that their femurs (thigh bones) are parallel to the floor. It’s important to understand that people are all different and that’s why I don’t recommend looking at other people in the gym. Everyone’s Deadlift will look different and nobody should force you to adopt the same position as they do.
A 5ft person’s Deadlift will look totally different to someone’s who is 6.4. This is very important to understand and it doesn’t just apply to a Deadlift. Squat is very similar regarding this.
Another thing you have to remember in Deadlift is: “Do not EVER round your back!”
Easy way to ensure this is to fill the lungs with air prior to the lift. Expanded chest will physically prevent the back from rounding. I think correct breathing should be discussed a lot more at the gym because it’s such an easy way to prevent an injury.
I think Deadlift is predominantly a leg exercise but it involves nearly every muscle to a certain degree.
- Quads (thighs) engage to initiate the movement.
- Hamstrings have to work because they are opposite to Quads – opposite muscles help the prime movers to be balanced
- Glutes fire in when the bar hits the knees and essentially help us to straighten the legs
- Abdominal and Back muscles stabilise the whole torso and prevent it from collapsing forward, back muscles further assisting with lifting us upright
#2 WARM UP IS ESSENTIAL
As with any resistance training, this should go without saying. Failing to warm up and stretch can lead to pain in muscles (best case scenario) or even injury and torn muscles, tendons or ligaments (worst case scenario).
With Deadlift, though, I feel this issue should be stressed even more. It’s an incredibly demanding exercise, which gets your heart rate up in no time and the muscles cannot be shocked into performing this movement when cold and stiff.
Great idea is to warm your entire lower body, which can be done in several ways:
- Walk or a gentle jog on a treadmill. I did say gentle and I do mean gentle – don’t knacker yourself out before your session even started. The intensity obviously depends on your current fitness level. For me, 1km is a perfect warm up, for someone else, it’s a workout. So listen to your body, only you can know what is a warm up for you and what is a workout. If you feel like to passing out when stepping off the treadmill, you might have done too much 🙂
- Stair – climber. Awesome way to engage the leg muscles, especially Glutes and Quads. It might not be obvious, but deadlifts are great for building glutes. Gluteus Maximus is a very large muscle and needs proper activation prior to demanding exercise. Same applies to your quads (thighs). Again, don’t go overboard and spend half an hour on there, you are supposed to warm the muscles, not beat them up. 5 – 10 mins should be more than enough, but you have to judge that yourself. And please, don’t lean on the railings. Use them only as a support if needed. I see so many people at the gym, leaning on the cardio machine, trying to cheat the movement. Why? You are only cheating yourself.
- Skipping. Great way to warm up and increase the heart rate, however a lot of people find it either boring, or hard because it requires some level of coordination. I, myself, don’t find it interesting, but I cannot say it’s not beneficial. Skipping is a very quick way to warm up the whole body and prepare it for what’s to come next.
- Dynamic stretching is also a good way to prepare the body for intense exercise if you don’t fancy hitting the cardio. Focus on lower body stretches, great way to prepare for a Deadlift is to get the bar and weights ready, wedge your feet against the plates and lunge side to side, using the feet against the plates as an anchor. Doing a few body weight or light weight squats could also be a good way to prepare your lower body muscles for the action. However, I do find hitting the cardio machine for 5 mins far more effective than dynamic stretching, at least regarding lower body warm up.
#3 PRACTICE CORRECT FORM
And no, it’s not as difficult as it looks.
Amazing way to get used to the Deadlift posture and form is to use a trap bar.
This clever piece of equipment will not allow for any common mistakes. It compromises the Deadlift efficiency a little bit in a way that trap bar Deadlift engages glutes a little less. But I believe compromising efficiency is a lot better than compromising form and safety.
Even though trap bar Deadlift decreases glute engagement, it’s only a temporary issue because I am assuming that you will move onto a regular Deadlift after mastering the right posture. And if you want to stick to the trap bar, that’s OK, too. Your glutes work either way, just in case of a trap bar Deadlift, they work a little less.
The trap bar allows you a different grip, too, which is an incredibly important difference to a regular Deadlift. This side grip and centered position of the bar allows the body to decrease the lean in the torso, which limits the pressure on the lumbar region (lower back) and glutes by throwing some of the work onto the quads (thighs). The torso is, therefore, not being pulled forward by the weight of the bar as it would be during a regular Deadlift.
Trap bar, therefore, makes it a decent solution for people with weaker back.
All this form practice is very important in muscle – mind connection. While performing Deadlift safely with a trap bar, your brain will remember how the movement feels and which muscles it has to engage to perform the exercise correctly. It will remember this when you move onto a regular bar and apply the same strategy.
Going back to the Grip, there is an obvious difference between a trap bar deadlift and a regular one.
The regular deadlift grip is narrower. Your hands should be just outside your legs to create the best leverage. If your hands spread too wide, your body will have to sink a lot lower, putting more pressure on lower back. Also, never bend your arms, especially when using a reverse grip (one overhand and one underhand grip). Easy way to avoid this issue if in doubt is to perform overhand grip all the time.
#4 CONTACT WITH THE BAR IS KEY
If you decide that you are comfortable with a trap bar and want to move onto a regular bar, I suggest performing this simple technique which, again, creates important muscle memories in the brain.
Load the bar with as little as possible. Most gyms, these days, have the large plates in different weights, going as low as 2.5 kg. With a regular olympic bar and a 2.5 kg plate on each side, this should give you 25kg to lift, which is very doable and even if you are thinking that 25 kg is a lot, when you actually try it, you will find out it’s not.
Just make sure you use the large plates that are usually found near a squat rack, not the small ones because these will make you bend a lot lower, which could make it more difficult to engage the legs first.
When you are ready, practice lifting up this small weight with one rule in mind. The bar has to ALWAYS BE IN TOUCH WITH THE LEGS!
This is probably the most important rule in deadlifting. The bar cannot move away from the legs. If it does, you are putting incredible amount of pressure on your back, which can have terrible consequences when heavier weights are involved in the future.
That’s why it’s very important to practice with low weights and master this technique properly. If you feel like you cannot keep the contact with legs anymore, drop the bar and rest.
Deadlift is not an exercise requiring a lot of sets and reps. The less is often more with this movement.
6 reps is enough with a Deadlift and don’t be scared to rest for longer. The movement is incredibly demanding on the body and there is no shame in needing to recover. You will see people performing fast deadlifts, quite often compromising on their form, but they are probably very experienced and the amount they are lifting during this fast exercise is probably just a fraction of what they usually lift.
- Never look at what other people are doing or how much they are lifting.
- Listen to your body, everyone started somewhere and even if you think that everyone is watching you, they really are not!
- Warm up properly and please do not underestimate this step.
- Make sure your legs are in constant contact with the bar, if you haven’t mastered this, don’t add any more weight.
- Take time to understand the movement and which muscles are engaged.