Deadlift Lower Back Rounding

Hey all,

could you guys please take a look at my deadlift form? This is 160kg which should be about 90 to 95% of 1RM. (I did this after my squatting session so I was pre-fatigued, but I wanted to see how my form would be at a near max attempt.)

My concern is that I fail to keep my lower back neutral. Would you guys say that this is to dangerous extent which may cause injury? If so, any advice on how I can correct it? Or is this within an acceptable range for near max attempts?

Also, I am considering whether to switch to sumo. From what you can see, would you say sumo could be better for me?

Thanks a lot in advance.

Here is a video with slightly lighter weight (152.5 kg).

Lower back seems to be ok here (still no lordosis, but at least no severe kyphosis…)

It’s borderline, but at that load that isn’t uncommon. I think the important question was whether it hurt or was uncomfortable. If the answer is no, then I wouldn’t worry too much and just keep an eye on it with heavy pulls.

You could add in some reverse hypers if you have access to one, and also things like cambered bar squats and good mornings. They’d all strengthen your lower back (cambered bar will hit your whole back).

Also as a technical cue at the set up point the bottom of your ribcage at the floor and pull the bar back and up rather than straight up. Drag it up your shins. Those helped me a bunch.

Thanks a lot for your advice. It doesn’t hurt 99% of the time. once or twice a year I have issues with a displacement of the SI joint. Probably due to higher volume deadlifts or pre-fatigue (which I try to avoid now).

I’m afraid my gym has neither a cambered bar nor a revers hypers machine. Also, I started doing RDLs after my normal DLs to strengthen my lower back, but would you say I would be better off doing good mornings instead?

RDLs do a great job of hitting hamstrings (isometrically), but just an ok job of hitting erectors in my opinion (at least in comparison to SLDL). I’ve switched to sumos and my low back loves them. Somewhere on T-nation there was an article that showed which deadlift stance is best for you, given your measurements (there were three measurements to take).

It doesn’t look too bad for a maximal lift but then again, the lighter lift doesn’t look much different.

Weak hams are often the culprit.

That’s all very helpful advice. Thank you guys.

So I’m gonna try good mornings instead of RDLs. And I found out the gym does have a cambered bar. Gonna take a look how that works.

Maybe I should open a new thread for this question, but another thing bothering me about my deadlift is that I actually got weaker in the last year. At the end of 2014 I pulled 175 kg, which was my all time best lift so far. The thing is, in 2014 I didn’t focus on training the deadlift. I only head one lower body day per week, on which I first did squats (which I wanted to improve), followed by deadlifts - but without too much effort. I basically use the 5/3/1 progression, but on deadlifts I never went AMRAP but only did the prescribed reps.

In 2015 I wanted to improve my deadlift further, so I spun it off and made a separate day for deadlifts, with 5/3/1+, but I’m not only stalling; I’m pretty sure I couldn’t hit the 175 kg now. For the last few months I even tried the Powerlook Program by CT to see if that would help, but that just led to accumulated CNS fatigue for me…

What was the best way for you guys to improve your 1RM on the deadlift?

That’s a tricky question. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for you. But, here are some ideas that might help:

  • like any lift, deadlifting is a skill. To pull more weight you need to pull better. So: find the optimal technique and setup for you and practice it with manageable loads. I’ve found 60-75% for 3-5 reps and 3-5 sets works well.

  • minimise the time spent between gripping the bar and pulling. Take enough time to get everything right, but no more.

Work on your breathing and tightness. The tighter, the better.

  • pulling heavy is taxing. Pull heavy once a week at most, and when you go well over double bodyweight once every 8-10 days.

  • you cannot have too strong a back. Heavy row variations for high reps, lighter rows for high reps, pull ups, good mornings, back extensions, box squats, front squats (especially paused in the hole), SSB squats. These are all your friends when it comes to the deadlift.

  • get your weight behind the bar and pull back and up.

  • snatch grip deadlifts either with or without a deficit can be a big help. So can sumo, but only as an assist to your conventional (vice versa if you pull sumo).

  • I doubt you can go wrong with a GHR of some kind.

Earlier on what worked well for me was doing my squats and then immediately after doing five to 10 doubles of snatch grip DL from a deficit at around 75% (and snatch grip is generally 75-80% of your conventional). Then on my deadlift day immediately after my DL I’d do five to 10 doubles of front squats paused in the hole at around 75% (again, front squats are generally 75-80% of your squat). That helped me move from a max of 180 kg to 215 kg over three months. I wouldn’t recommend that for any longer than that, and definitely not at all once your squat and DL are over double bodyweight for training weights.

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Awesome, thank you so much for your reply.

My bodyweight is 75 kg now, so I guess I shouldn’t pull much more than 150 every single week, but I’m definitely going to try some of your exercises! Hopefully a stronger back will also help my back squat go up a little bit.

A lot of this is very personal too.

I pulled over double bodyweight for 2 sets of 5, 5 days a week, for several months straight. That was using the routine from Pavel’s Power to the People.

But, I also spent a lot of time figuring out what worked well for my build. For me that meant focusing on keeping my shins vertical, and initiating the lift by pushing through the ground with my heels, and during the setup, keeping tight and pushing my butt back to lower myself to the bar (rather than bending over first).

There seems to be a lot of individual variation between what works for people.

That’s impressive. I doubt I could manage that now (2x5 at 440 lbs/200 kg) five days a week. Did you do much else during that period?

OP, that sounds like a decent plan. Working up to a top set of 150 kg for 3-5 once a week and then having another day of lighter deadlifting would probably work well. Or, you could have a heavy day with five to 10 singles at 150 kg and add weight every couple of weeks.

No, I didn’t do much else. I had started doing the pulls and a press every day, and eventually it just became pulling every day.

It’s basically a linear progression of the first set, and then the 2nd set at 90% of that. When the first set “stalled out”, I used a 10 or 15% reset.

Eventually I did have some SI joint issues as I was around 2.5x BW, and it just didn’t heal until I took time off of that. So, I mean, it did catch up to me in that way. I wasn’t burnt out otherwise though, surprisingly.

Holy shit. May I ask what your max is/was and your bodyweight? I’m interested because for me that’d be 250 kg for five and I’m a fair way off that.

Honestly, it’s not that impressive because I weighed 145-150, so in an absolute sense it wasn’t that much. Most of the training was with mat pulls (~5" elevation), and with chains. Since the top half the lift is easiest for me, and I was trying to build muscle – rather than improve my 1RM – I used the chains to make the tension more “even” through the whole ROM.

With my training setup, it looked like my top set was 405x3. With the chains that made it 405 (2.7x) at the bottom and 440 (2.9x) at the top. My top set of 5 in training was 395/430.

I don’t actually know what my max was from the floor. I know around that time I pulled 365x3 easily from the floor with octagonal plates at a commercial gym I had a 1 month membership to. (~2.4x BW)

So, I guess, take from that what you will. I think the relative numbers make it sound more impressive than it is.

Probably the biggest takeaway though is that as long as you work into it, and the training load cycles frequently enough, deadlifting can actually be done fairly frequently. Even if by deadlifting, I mean “mat pulls with chains”.

The setup I was using:

[quote]Mat Pulls are 5 times a week. They follow Pavel’s Power to the People routine:
5 reps at training weight
5 reps at 90% of training weight
Training weight increases 15-20 lbs every session. Push each cycle until no reps can be made, then reset to 70% of the actual 5RM.[/quote]

Yes and no. It’s still damn good, but using mat pulls and chains explains a lot. I can definitely see how that would work.

Once I started pulling over 2xbw regularly I was already weighing close to 190 lbs, now I’m around 218 lbs and the most I’ve managed for five is 495 and that nearly killed me. I managed 3x5 at 473 the fortnight before that. Those were in the last month.

I really should look at mat or block or rack pulls, and I’ve never once pulled anything other than off the floor. Probably accounts for why I find DL harder to recover from.

So you would recommend deadlifting twice a week (heavy day and lighter day)?

By the way, here is a video of me pulling 160 kg half a year ago. Seems like I was struggling less and was faster off the floor, although the preconditions were nearly the same. I wonder what caused me to get weaker. (Lower back not visible, but form looks solid to me…)

Absolutely. Keep the light day light and use it to work on speed and technique. Or, don’t go so light but use things like mats and chains like LoRez did. Or do snatch grip.

That makes sense to me too.

As far as setup, something you can try. May help for you as far as keeping your low back more stable.

  1. Stand upright and set your feet right with the bar (bar over midfoot or so)
  2. Take in a deep breath in your belly.
  3. Stretch your arms down to the bar.
  4. Keeping your shins vertical and your back straight, push your butt straight back. You should hinge primarily at your hips. Your knees shouldn’t bend any more than necessary; shins should stay vertical and not go over the bar. You should feel a ton of tension through your glutes and hamstrings as they stretch.
  5. When you’re mostly to the bar, tense your lats as hard as possible. Use them to pull your hands down to the bar. This will help make your whole torso a lot more solid too. Keep them tensed through the whole lift.
  6. When you reach the bar, set your grip.
  7. Pull the slack out of the bar. Keep your head neutral to your spine.
  8. Without bringing your knees forward, press your heels hard into the ground to start the lift, and push your hips forward. You’re folded over, now your goal is to just unfold by reversing what you did to get down there.

I’m certain that will feel quite a bit different than what you’re currently doing. You may need to play with the breathing a bit too. You may need to let a bit of air out, or take a small breath at the bottom.

The key points are really… don’t let your knees drift forward, and keep your torso solid via your air and tight lats.

Thank you! I’m going to practice this setup on one of my light days.