Doing a proper Dead Lift
Jan Fourie (Biokineticist)
The Dead Lift is an exercise that I use extensively in the gym. It is very effective as a rehabilitative exercise for spinal patients, general conditioning exercise for health and wellness, as well as for improving the strength of top athletes.
There are a number of technical things to get right in order for the Dead Lift to be safe and effective. Once these are things are in place and have become a “good habit”, the Dead Lift is actually a very natural movement.
The Dead Lift position is also used in many different sports, because it is such a stable and powerful position for the human body. Think of the position a horse racing jockey would get into on a horse when pushing down that final straight. Or a competitor in the Ski Jump at the winter Olympics. Another example, and probably the best of them all, would be the front row of the mighty All Black pack in the Rugby World Cup. Watch them as they prepare to make a big hit going down into a scrum. The All Black props get into such a great “Dead Lift” position with their backs straight!
The idea with a Dead Lift is to bend over forward and pick up a heavy weight. It strengthens the lower back, spinal extensors and Hamstrings.
Many patients with back injuries are told not to do this movement ever again. But someone with young children or grand-children will pick them up. So I prefer rather teaching such patients how to do the movement correctly. The main thing is to keep the back straight. If you pick up a weight with the spine in flexion (C-curvature), you run the risk of compressing – and slipping a disc.
The following would be my instructions for doing a great Dead Lift:
- Never move the weight you are lifting away from your legs. Keep it up against your legs all the time.
- Never lock your knees. Bend them as you push your hips back. Imagine trying to get your butt against a wall 30-40cm behind you.
- Come down forward with your upper body. Don’t try and stay upright in your spine. Keep your chest out in front and don’t let your shoulders roll forward.
- Always elongate your spine by keeping the distance between your belly button and chest bone at a maximum.
- The weight you’re holding must be sliding down the front of your legs and not be going over your toes as you look down.
- Go down as low as your Hamstrings allow. It should be where the weight reaches somewhere between the knees and your ankles.