When you push your body to the absolute limits as we do in strength sports, injuries are bound to happen. However, how you react to them will dictate how long you will last in the iron game, and continue to get stronger despite these setbacks. Aside from poor technique, the most common way a muscle is injured is because it is weak. There’s much variability when it comes to form on a lot of the big lifts, and for good reason. When you are a beginner, you should use absolute perfect form, and that means keeping your spine in a neutral position on deadlifts, for starters. The more advanced/stronger you are, the more leeway you have on technique. This is where we see big deadlifters rounding their back yet pulling over 700lbs with no injuries.
I’ll use my favorite example with Orlando Green:
Now this is not how I would ever teach a beginner how to deadlift, but obviously, Orlando’s back is extremely strong. I know many lifters in Strongman that pull this way, using very little legs, mostly use their back and move huge amounts of weight with zero lower back issues.
Your lumbar spine is not as delicate as most people think, as long as the supporting muscles are strong enough to protect it. Many times when people have bulging discs, the doctor recommends a lot of abdominal work to protect the lower back. The reason the lumbar region is injured is because the abdominals are weak to begin with as they are not able to support the load you are moving.
Another one of my favorite anomalies of deadlifting is Konstantin Konstantinovs:
Konstantinovs is known for pulling big weights with a rounded back, but you can’t question a guy’s form when he pulls over 900lbs beltless. Now the trolls can critique his rounded back all day but the only time Konstantinovs has suffered a back injury is from back squatting, NEVER deadlifting. Just by looking at him, he has extremely thick erectors, so he’s able to use his strongest muscles to move the weight. Also, he doesn’t need a belt, because his abdominals, and especially his obliques are extremely strong, like any good deadlifter’s should be. The erectors and abdominals are what protects his lumbar spine, and allows him to get away with this kind of form.
Most deadlifters who pull with a rounded back do so for another good reason; it makes it easier to pull from the ground. The hips start closer to the bar making it a faster initial pull. However, as we have seen in the last two videos, the lockout will be more difficult. There is a trade-off with this technique, and this is why you see many strong(wo)man pull like this because they are allowed to hitch in competition making the lockout easier. For any of you that compete in strong(wo)man you have no choice but to have a very strong lower back, or it will be a matter of time before you get injured.
Check out Nick Hadge; a training partner of mine, and this year’s winner of Junior World’s Strongest Man pulling 815 with this technique:
As Nick sets up, he has a slight round to his back, you can see he is extremely fast off the floor. Once the weight gets to his knees his legs are almost locked out so he uses a slight hitch to lock the bar out. Now I have to add this in, HITCHING IS ALLOWED IN STRONG(WO)MAN. So I do not want to hear any complaints about this.
For anyone that has lifted an atlas stone properly, you can and should have a rounded back when you first lift the stone off the ground. Trying to arch the lower back will make you much weaker off the ground, and I guarantee you won’t be lifting any heavy stones that way. In fact, most injuries I see with the lower back on lifting a stone come from over-extending when loading to a high platform, as I’m sure some of you experienced stone lifters are nodding your heads.
I must stress that beginners should not use this technique to avoid injury. Everyone is different, so I’m not saying this is the ideal way for everyone to pull, but your lower back is not as weak as you think it is. A lot of people will say lifting with a rounded back is dangerous but, I would argue being weak is far more dangerous. If you haven’t checked out my previous article on how to strengthen your low back, you can here. Questions or comments drop them below or on the facebook page.