The Definitive Deadlift Guide - Part 2: Mobility

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In the first chapter of the ‘Definitive Deadlift Guide’ we looked at 3 common Deadlift mistakes and how to correct them to help improve your ability to pick a bar up and put it down without hurting your back.

However a lot of individuals that come to us at Physique Performance Specialists, come from a sedentary lifestyle and therefore do suffer from movement or mobility issues, that inhibit their lift rather than just purely technique issues.

If mobility is the limiting factor (i.e. ‘tight hamstrings’ from sitting down all day) rather than technique, we find it a lot easier for our clients to address these issues first for greater long-term benefits. It can be a frustrating experience for all involved if you (as a client) are being told to move into a position by a coach that your body just doesn’t agree with and/or causes some discomfort.

In our experience there are 3 muscle groups that get wound up from hours of sitting at the desk all day and also restrict one’s ability to Deadlift:

  • Hamstrings

  • Hip Flexors

  • T-Spine (Upper Back)

But never fear, as always we are aware of the problem and we have the solution.

Hamstring Mobility:

99.9% of the population have a case of self-diagnosed ‘tight hamstrings’ and nobody likes that burning sensation up the back of your legs from a stiff pair of hammies being put under stress.

The 'Active Leg Raise' can help unlock some hidden hamstring mobility

The 'Active Leg Raise' can help unlock some hidden hamstring mobility

When it comes to Deadlifting, a tight pair of hamstrings will limit your ability to get into an efficient starting position, without your lower-back rounding to compensate for their lack of range.

The thing with hamstrings is that no matter how much we try and stretch them with static movements, they never seem to loosen up. This generally means that this is a ‘motor control’ issue, where your nervous system has shut down the range of your hamstrings to protect itself from further damage. This could be because your hamstrings have grown tired from picking up the slack from weaker and lazier muscle groups like your glutes or core.

Our solution would be to unlock your hidden hamstring range of motion pre Deadlift with an ‘Active Leg Raise’ rather than a basic Hamstring stretch and then reinforce this new found ROM with some glute activation work to wake your lazy butt up and take the slack off your poor hammies.

Problem:  Hamstring mobility/tightness
Solution:  Active Leg Raise to unlock range and reinforce with glute activation

Hip-flexor Mobility:

As you are sitting down and reading this blog, your hip-flexors and quads are in a ‘short’ position…

Using a band can make the basic 'couch stretch' far more effective

Using a band can make the basic 'couch stretch' far more effective

They flex to bend your knees and as you sit down for longer periods of times, they get use to being in this ‘short’ or tight position and want to stay this way. Having tight hip-flexors is going to inhibit your Deadlift by;

A) Preventing you from getting into a starting position that loads the posterior chain instead of your quads without having a massive arch in your lower-back (a.k.a ‘Duck Butt’).

B) Inhibit the use of your glutes in the ‘lock-out’ or top position and instead causing a ‘rib flare’ and forcing your lower-back into extension to lock-out.

At Physique Performance Specialists we encourage our clients to perform a ‘Hip Distracted Couch Stretch’ to effectively stretch the hip-flexors without pulling their lower-back into extension. The band will help keep your pelvis in a neutral position which is what we are trying to mimic when performing a Deadlift.

Problem:  Hip-flexor mobility
Solution: Banded couch stretch

T-Spine Mobility:

Basic 'Thoracic Extensions' over a roller can help mobilise your upper-back

Basic 'Thoracic Extensions' over a roller can help mobilise your upper-back

T-Spine (Thoracic Spine) mobility is just as important as hip or hamstring mobility when it comes to performing a pain-free Deadlift. Tight/short Pecs, rounded shoulders, a weak and/or stiff upper-back are all symptoms associated with thoracic spine immobility which is very common amongst desk workers.

In part 1 of this blog, we wrote about the importance of having a strong pair of lats to engage the bar, get tight and help to form a neutral spine. However if your T-spine is immobile and stiff, it’s going to severely inhibit your ability to retract and depress your scapula to engage your lats. Your lower back (lumbar spine) will then be a very compromised position as your spine rounds (think of a dog doing number #2) when pulling the bar off the floor.

'Quadruped Thoracic Rotation' - shown above can help free up the T-Spine

'Quadruped Thoracic Rotation' - shown above can help free up the T-Spine

If you want to open up your T-Spine and encourage some more movement in your upper-back, we would suggest you start by doing ‘Thoracic Extensions’ over a foam roller each day and before you lift.

You can also couple these extensions with some thoracic rotation drills such as ‘Quadruped Thoracic Rotations’.

Problem: T-Spine Mobility
Solution: Thoracic extensions + Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

If you feel that your own body's limitations are letting you down in the gym and preventing you from taking your Deadlift to the next level…

Try these simple drills to unlock your Hamstrings, free up your tight hips or get some movement happening in your Thoracic spine. You’ll be amazed at how much stronger you’ll feel when Deadlifting in a more efficient position and the pain-free lower-back will be the cherry on top.

Get in touch by clicking the button below if you would like help with your Deadlift: