How to Fix Your Deadlift Form: Back Extension

Fix Your Deadlift Form

For all barbell lifts when we stand – squats, deadlifts and overhead presses – we must be able to maintain isometric control of the low back or lumbar spine and put the spine in normal anatomical extension. Learning how to set your back in normal lumbar and thoracic extension will fix your deadlift form, since you’re likely not doing this correctly.

Deadlifting without normal lumbar extension is dangerous, and the most common form error we see. Keep reading to learn how to set your back for squats and presses, as well.

Scapular Retraction is NOT Extension

There is a difference between scapular retraction and thoracic extension. Most lifters squeeze their shoulder blades together (scapular retraction) and believe they are extending their thoracic spine, or upper back. First, learn how to properly control your thoracic spine without your lumbar spine.

Lift the chest and pull the shoulder blades down into the back pockets. This is thoracic extension. Keep your lower back relaxed as you do this, and only focus on setting your upper back.

How to Set the Lumbar in Extension

While standing, contract your lumbar spinal erectors, located at your sacrum (the bottom of your low back). If you can’t do this, refer to the Superman prescrioption below. If you can, apply it to your deadlift. During the deadlift, once you complete step 3 of bringing your shins to the bar, you will squeeze your chest up without dropping your hips. This replicates how you set your back when you were standing up straight. Learn all 5 steps to the perfect deadlift here. During squats and overhead presses, properly bracing of the abdomen and a big held breath (Valsalva) will set the lumbar spine in extension. Learn how to squat and press.

The Superman exercise is extremely useful if you struggle with setting your thoracic and/or lumbar spine in extension. If you can’t contract your spinal erectors while standing, you’ll have to learn how. Try the Superman exercise! Lay flat on your stomach, arms out in front and legs straight behind you. First, only lift your arms up off the ground – this is thoracic extension. Practice this for 10-20 reps. Then, lift your legs up off the ground – lumbar extension. Practice this for 10-20 reps. Finally, lift both your arms and legs up off the ground at the same time to perform both thoracic and lumbar extension.

Be sure to watch the video to see how to set your back – in action!

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