T Nation

Big Deadlift Form Issues


I'm trying to fix some major form issues with my deadlift and squat. I have a pretty weak core and overactive spinal erectors that seem to be putting me at a lot of risk for injury.

The video below shows that I have some major form issues at weights well below my one rep max. The lift in this video is at 68% of my one rep max - imagine what 95% looks like...

I'm not really sure if the rounding is coming more from the lumbar or thoracic region. Any critique on my form and advice on what corrective lifts, mobility drills, stretches, etc. that would help me improve my form would be greatly appreciated.


Thats a lot of bending for 68%.

Do you do any ab/ back work? I'd recommend bent forward rows in an Oly 2nd pull position where your shoulders are bent over the bar and the bar is in mid thigh position or so. SHOULDERS OVER THE BAR. This will tax your back a lot.

I also noticed the bar is very low to the floor as your weights aren't standard weights. Standard weights are higher off the floor.

Can you do over head squats with just the bar? I'd get your trunk stronger as your back shouldn'er curve like that with 68% weights.



I suppose it's just something simple but the bend in the back is not good.
i would try lowering the weight and concentrating on moving your backside backwards as if your trying to hit it on a wall, that should keep your back a bit straighter
The weight is pointless lifting if you dont get technique right i reckon
work your way back up to heavy weights


try doing good mornings, they can target just the hams/glutes/low back and aren't as taxing as deadlifts. practice makes perfect.


I realize that the spinal flexion is really bad and puts a lot of compressive force on my discs. I actually haven't done any squatting or deadlifting since last night - and that was just a test of my form. I've been trying to do a lot of remedial work to get my core and hamstrings stronger and my glutes firing better, but I still have these big form issues with less than 70% of my best deadlift.


I used to be someone who thought "I don't need core work because squats and deadlifts provide enough demand on the core" - despite the fact that I squatted and deadlifted with horrendous form (unbeknownst to me because I trained alone and didn't have a camera). However, I've been doing a lot of core work lately to try to correct my movement issues - mostly stabilization movements like weighted planks and rollouts. I figure that if I lack lumbar stabilization, then I should focus on getting my abdominals stronger at stabilizing my spine as opposed to moving through a range of motion. Do you think that's a flawed perspective?

I don't do any lower back work because my lumbar erectors are already very overactive. I'm the poster child for anterior pelvic tilt. I haven't deadlifted in a little while, and although I've never videotaped myself deadlifting before yesterday, I sort of feel like the rounding was a bit higher in my spine than usual. Are you able to determine which spinal discs have the most flexion? It kind of looks like my lower thoracic spine, so I'm not entirely sure if the problem is lack of core strength, or lack of thoracic extensor strength. What do you think?

As for overhead squats - I can do them with just the bar pretty easily. However, I think they're a bit complex for someone like me who is trying to relearn the squat and deadlift.

As for my weights - they're 2" "olympic plates" - obviously not REAL olympic bumper plates, and the bar is 8" off the ground at the center. Is that not standard?


Actually, you just gave me a thought to do good mornings from a dead stop. This might really help if I have a thoracic extensor weakness which I kind of think that I do...

Does it look to you like the rounding is more in the thoracic area?


If that's 68%, yea I wouldn't want to see 95%.

The lumbar region as a whole is rounded, I wouldn't blame it on thoracic extensor weakness although it's never a bad idea to improve upper back and lat strength/hypertrophy. My roommate has a very similar pulling style to this except with 620 unequipped and he can do pullups for reps at 240 lbs.

IME most pulls of this type are caused are a form issue first and foremost. Most people can't tell whether their lumbar spine is rounded or not- the fancy word is kinesthetic sense. This is especially true with people who've had APT (which you've stated) or PPT less commonly, the glutes tend to become underactive and the lumbar spine take over a roll in both lumbar flexion and extension. Your lockout looks clean so I'm incline to believe it's mostly the hip flexors and form.

Bottom line is, keep stretching your hip flexors and work on your form consistently. Like Dan John likes to state, if it's not worth doing everyday then it's not worth doing it at all. My pulls were always good but I rounded big time on hitting depth with squats, I did reps with an empty bar arching as tight as possible and doing hip mobility work and lo and behold I was fine in a couple months. Supermans are a good drill to teach you what a tight and arched spine will feel like.

Keep video taping your lifts and working on it.


I'd say to do Romanian deadlifts/good mornings with much reduced weight +/or reduced ROM, along with additional core work. Make sure that you have a partner to give cues while lifting. Or do it with a mirror by your side, slowly transitioning towards depth. Look up Dan John's Romanian deadlift technique on Google Video.

Your rounding definitely looks like lumbar to me, with anterior pelvic tilt visible on standing. There's no need for overanalyzing, just hammer really well on your dynamic stretching/mobility work, and get the anterior core-glutes firing, and slowly build the depth for deadlifting via other exercises first.


You're right about it being initially a form issue - when I first started deadlifting I had NO idea what I was doing, and the entire lift was spinal extension - I didn't even try to get my hips low. For a couple of years I encouraged really bad form by repeating it over and over.

I'm curious what hip mobility work you did. Currently I'm doing lots of hip flexor and rectus femoris stretching, static abductor and adductor stretches, bird dogs, fire hydrant circles, forward and side leg swings, dynamic hamstring stretches, and glute activation (bridges and x-band walks). It seems to be working alright, especially the glute activation. Three or four weeks ago my lockout would have looked horrendous.

Also, this may sound ridiculous, but do you think it's possible to static stretch the lumbar erectors in order to inhibit them? It seems like static stretching might not be appropriate for all muscle groups, and I think the spinal erectors might be one such muscle group.


This sounds like some very solid advice.
Would you recommend training my core in a way that involves me stabilizing the lumbar area, or moving through a range of motion, or a combination of the two? I might be overanalyzing and splitting pubes here, but over the past month I've been doing FAR more core training than I've ever done in my life (about 20-25 sets per week), along with mobility training six days a week, and my deadlift form did not appear to be much improved. All of my core training has had an emphasis on stabilizing as opposed to moving through a range of motion, so I'm wondering if what I'm doing is just ineffective.
I realize a month probably isn't enough time to make substantial improvements, but I was definitely disappointed when I actually saw what my deadlift looked like, and it made me doubt that what I'm doing has been effective.



If you've really done enough core work correctly + mobility work try correcting your anterior tilt while looking into a mirror - by clenching your glutes & tensing your abd core while standing, you should achieve neutral pelvic tilt. And better yet, learn to brace while breathing, via abdominal breathing of course.

You might do all the core exercises in the world, but if you can't fire it when needed, you haven't learned the proper motor control yet. I'd say planks (side, front) +/or pallof presses are enough for a start, by just learning to know how to "brace" correctly your abs doing them, and then using that to brace your abs in your other exercises. The same bracing will spare your erectors a lot of work when deadlifting.

No, you shouldn't stretch the lumbar erectors. Use your "bracing". I really think that you're overanalyzing here.

In summary:
1) look at the links
2) make effective use of the core work, by learning to use the abdominal core during the exercises and outside of it, continuing with the glute activation-mobility drills
3) start learning to do a RDL without loading, say a broom/empty bar, and progress from there while using your core to stabilize the spine, using the glutes for lockout

I've a friend whom we train together, and I've not allowed him to deadlift yet after 2 months, because of the same issues as you as regards to form. And I probably won't until he can get to do RDL's with the standard 45 lb's plates with good depth; so far he can RDL with good form with the 25's. Progressing slowly is not a bad thing if you're just lifting for overall health. You'll be happier in the long run.


No one has said this yet, but I am sure people are thinking it. I know it sounds harsh, but you need to gain weight to get stronger. I have not seen many little guys who can lift a lot of weight with good form. You will be amazed how your core strength goes up as your weight goes up.

It is hard to be strong with good form at 140lbs or whatever you are. I am not saying you need to be some fat slob powerlifter but putting on a good 20-30lbs would help the cause big time.

I know it sounds harsh, but it is true.


You've gotten some great advice from the last two posters. I have some low back rounding at the bottom of my deadlift but that's due to hamstring tightness pulling my hips down. lots of mobility work and low weight work has made a big difference. Listen to ironabrams and anakayub and you should be fine. PS, foam rolling is amazing for APT, use it all the time with my clients.


From what I see:

  1. You set up too far away from the bar. It should be in the middle of your foot, not at your toes.
  2. Don't let your shoulders hang forward. Scaps back, chest up. If the weight pulls your shoulders forward on heavy lifts, that's fine, but try to keep them back.
  3. Look at the vid starting at the lockout and watch how you put the bar down. If the bar was just a bit closer to you, that would be close to perfect form.


Some helpful advice that I definitely plan on using - the Mark Rippetoe article was particularly helpful.
As for the anterior tilt - I understand and have the capacity to tilt my pelvis posteriorally as you described, but in my relaxed or static posture, the sum of all of the forces tends to pull me into an anterior tilt or so it seems. I guess I could use my static posture as a benchmark to show me how I'm improving in my anterior tilt.


While I agree that gaining weight would be very conducive to strength, I think it doesn't really address the main issue here, which is that I have some muscle imbalances and postural issues that cause me to round my spine. Gaining 20-30 pounds would take me a year or two. While I do intend to gain weight, I think that I have bigger issues than being too thin.


I noticed the setup being too far away. However, your second piece of advice is really helpful since I've never thought about my scapulae on the deadlift. Almost all of my focus is on keeping the core tight. It's totally apparent that I just allow my shoulders to completely hang.


Start PRACTICING deadlifts every time you workout. Do something light like 135 and do 10-20 singles. Make EVERY rep perfect. This isn't work, its just practice. It can also act as part of your warm-up.

Do this and train for strength with other movements like RDL's, squats and goodmornings until you can start to build up with good form on deadlifts.


That is a damned fine idea.