Article written by Seth Larsen
Strength athletics are a dangerous pursuit. There is no denying this. We subject ourselves to things that the average person would consider insane and most medical practitioners would say are severely detrimental to our health. I consider that half of the fun, but there’s no reason to be an idiot about it. One of the steps on the path out of the realm of idiocy is this: stop bouncing your deadlifts! That’s right, I’m joining in with the trolls on this one. I’m not about to go around to each of your videos and critique them, but I am happy to say that bouncing your deadlifts off the floor is both stupid and dangerous. Yes, it helps you hit more reps for time and makes you look more bad ass when your non-lifter friends watch your videos, but to those of us in the know, you look like less like a bad ass and more like a jackass when you do it.
Did I hurt your feelings? Good. Maybe that will make you pay attention so you don’t wind up walking around like Herbert from Family Guy in your mid-twenties. Pop culture references aside, this is a serious issue in the age of high-rep deadlift WODs and YouTube heroes. If you have a minute, go watch some videos of people doing the Open workout 14.3 from last month. You will see countless deadlifts accelerated into the floor with such force that they literally fly up into the next rep due to the rebound. I’m not talking about touch-and-go deadlifts here; I mean the bounces that were heard around the world that week. Newsflash, guys, this is not what bumper plates were designed for! Now I’m not going to sit here and talk about the benefits of dead-stop pulls versus touch-and-go, as many people far stronger than I am have already beaten that topic into the ground. At this point, we should all be aware that the dead-stop has a far greater strength benefit. It is also significantly SAFER than bouncing, which is what I’d like to address.
The importance of a stable and tight back position while deadlifting can not be overstated, but it has been discussed ad nauseam by myself and others, so I will not rehash proper positioning here. However, it is this position that is compromised when one attempts to bounce the barbell off the ground to gain momentum for the subsequent reps. It takes a significant amount of tightness in the upper and lower back and force from those same muscles to achieve lockout on any deadlift, but the same can not be said for the bar’s path back into the ground. Controlling the eccentric phase keeps you in the same strong position you used for the lockout. Now I’m not saying a negative is necessary on every rep, or even that you can’t set the bar down quickly. Bouncing is the key issue here. When you actively accelerate the bar into the ground, the force shifts from your posterior chain to your anterior musculature. This makes it difficult, if not impossible to maintain the proper curvature of your spine to prevent injury during heavy lifting. Repetitive cyclic flexion of the lumbar spine has been shown time and again to result in injury. Why do you think construction workers, movers, and all manner of laborers wear back braces and trusses to protect themselves? When you attempt to bounce a deadlift, you deactivate the muscles that compose your own anatomic back brace. These muscles are designed to resist flexion, so when you accelerate into flexion, you are taking them out of the equation. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty bad idea to me.
Now that we’ve established the muscular issues with the bounce, we need to talk about the forces resulting from this accelerated impact into the floor. Multiple studies have documented the extra force on an athlete’s body when landing during plyometric exercises, and this is no different. Gravity is responsible for this increase in force. I’m going to get a little mathematical on you here, so I apologize in advance for that. The equation for force is mass times acceleration, something basic physics has taught us. When gravity is added into the equation, it multiplies that force by 9.8. That means that gravity is taking your force of bouncing the bar and making it almost 10 times stronger. 10 times! And where do you think that force is going? Into YOU. These forces are rebounding from the floor, through the bar, into your muscles, joints, and bones, all of which are in a compromised position now due to your desire to get that extra rep, that faster rep. The supportive musculature has been disengaged, throwing all that force into the joints, specifically those of the spine. As I have discussed before, your intervertebral discs are fragile and protecting them is paramount in maintaining your long-term health as a lifter. By bouncing, you are essentially causing a self-induced whiplash injury, which is as detrimental to your lumbar spine and its discs as it is to those of your neck. However, it is actually worse than such an injury caused by a car crash, since in such a collision your body can actively use its supportive musculature to resist the force. Unfortunately, that has already been shut down.
Don’t take what I’ve said here the wrong way; like I said, touch-and-go deadlifts are not going to kill you or put you in a wheelchair. When you are deadlifting for time, feel free to continue to use that method. I can’t argue that it isn’t going to be faster than resetting on every rep. But do yourself a favor and stay tight, touchingthe bar to the floor instead of bouncing it. Unless you’d like to increase the chances of playing with your children and grandchildren from a wheelchair or repeatedly going under the knife to fix what’s left of your spine. Stay strong and healthy, my friends.
1. Chiu, L, Schilling, B, Fry, A, Weiss, L. “Measurement of Resistance Exercise Force Expression.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 2004. Vol 20, 204-212.
2. Sandhu, J. “Low Back Pain and Concept of Segmental Stabilisation.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2010. Vol 44(Suppl I), i1-i82.
3. Hoops, H, Zhou, B-H, Solomonow, M, Patel, V. “Short rest between cyclic flexion periods is a risk factor for lumbar disorder.” Clinical Biomechanics, 2007. Vol 22, 745-757.
4. Fast, A, Sosner, J, Begeman, P, Thomas, MA, Chiu, T. “Lumbar spinal strains associated with whiplash injury: A cadaveric study.” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2002. Vol 81, 645-650.
5. Solomonow, M. “Neuromuscular manifestations of viscoelastic tissue degradation following high and low risk repetitive lumbar flexion.” Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 2012. Vol 22, 155-175.