Just wanted to put out a quick post to link to an interview by Chad Waterbury with the one and only Dr. Stu McGill on T-Nation.
It’s worth the read for the section on flexed spine deadlifts alone. If you follow my blog, you’ve seen my previous article where I discuss how I struggled during rehabilitation from a back injury and theorized how weak posterior chain function contributed to an inability to maintain a neutral spine during heavy deadlifts. What hopefully came across was that lumbar flexion was a distinct strategy to compensate for deficient hip extension strength, as this kept the bar closer to the hips than with a neutral spine and ultimately reduced the required force to move the bar.
In the T-Nation interview, McGill acknowledges that many professional lifters flex their spines during the deadlift and he highlights the tradeoff between neutral and flexed lumbar spine deadlifts. Flexing the lumbar spine in the deadlift reduces the moment of the bar around the hip, effectively reducing the torque required to lift the weight as compared to a neutral spine deadlift. But this can put the lifter at an increased risk of injury due to the elevated pressure on the posterior aspect of the intervertebral discs. In a competitive situation, the glory of making the lift may skew the ratio in favour of using the rounded technique, but for the general population, an approach with a neutral spine is probably the prudent option.
Friends don’t let friends flex all the way
An important distinction that is often missed in the details is that while many experienced lifters flex their lumbar spines, they don’t reach terminal flexion at each vertebral segment (1). To put this in perspective, we’re talking the difference of only a few degrees here, not a huge range of motion. This level of kinaesthetic awareness is pretty phenomenal, but I’m left wondering how does this develop? How do these lifters know how to flex just enough to gain the mechanical benefits without sustaining injury, is this an innate ability or is it developed through training over time?
I’m willing to guess it’s probably not an inborn talent, as many others have tried and have the herniated discs to show for it. So is it just a painful process of trial and error through training or is there something more to it?
Either way, if you’ve got some spare time to read some articles, I definitely recommend adding this one to your reading list.
- Cholewicki, J & McGill, SM (1992). Journal of biomechanics, 25(1), 17–28.