Deadlifting 101: Mother Nature Engineered Us To Lift Heavy S**t [2018 Update]
The hinge is one of the fundamental human movements in our hierarchy of athletic development, yet we often get asked or told that Deadlifting can hurt your back. Well, we asked Perry Nickelston to tackle the debate on deadlifting once and for all.
Final score—Dr. Perry, 1; Naysayers, 0
“Don’t deadlift because it will hurt your back.”
This is one of the top ten dumbest things said by human beings. No, the way you deadlift will hurt your back. There is no evidence that deadlifting itself hurts your back. Common sense dictates that if you lift heavy things incorrectly lots of bad things can happen.
What’s the biggest mistake? Lifting with your back and not your hips. More about that later.
I contend that your back hurts because you haven’t been deadlifting your entire life. How’s that for a switcheroo? The human body is resilient and designed to move. We wouldn’t have been on this planet for very long if we didn’t have strength. Lifting heavy stuff and carrying it was a necessity of human function. It’s only in the last hundred years or so that we’ve been sitting on our rear ends for too long, giving us weak glutes and backs. If lifting heavy things wasn’t a birthright, we would have been knocked off the top of the food chain long ago.“Don't deadlift because it will hurt your back.” This is one of the top ten dumbest things said by human beings.Click To Tweet
Deadlift. The word itself brings death to mind. It doesn’t exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside does it? If anything, it can set you up for a mindset with a mess of vulnerability. In other words, your back starts hurting at the very thought of doing a deadlift. Or perhaps you had someone who knows jack squat about lifting telling you not to lift. So you fear the movement. How you think changes your biology. Be careful what you think about deadlifting because you can set your body up for injury. Here are three brain-benders to ponder about the deadlift, then you decide for yourself.
Mother Nature Engineered You To Lift Heavy S**t
You have joints that bend, otherwise known as hinging joints. Your hips in particular—those suckers are a powerhouse of flexion motion. Their motion determines the threshold of power available in the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body. If you can move your hips well, the glute max has more motion available to accelerate and decelerate for power. Glutes are the key to a deadlift.
You have hands that are unique in their grasping capabilities. You can hold heavy things. Just think about the enormous amount of weight you can maintain in your hand. Do you think Mother Nature would give you that ability without the innate sense to control it? The hand is an exquisite design. We can use tools unlike any other species on the planet, and we can transport the heavy stuff that we make with the tools.
Dead “Bending” Will Destroy Your Back, Deadlifting Won’t
Don’t blame the movement, blame the way you are doing it. If you bend over at the back as opposed to hinging from the hips—well, there you go. Lifting from the hips and glutes is completely different than doing it with the back. The biggest mistake people make is forgetting how to hinge from the hips. Watch and observe a toddler lifting something off the floor. They don’t use the back; it’s grace and beauty in movement. We all used to do it; nobody told us how. It is just that we have simply forgotten the pattern.
Why did we forget? Because we stopped doing it. If you don’t use it, you lose it. We stopped lifting heavy stuff because there is no longer a need. Modern society has made us weak movement wussies. Thousands of years ago, as a young member of the tribe you had to contribute. That’s how the culture and community survived. Now you don’t have to lift anything except your finger to get what you want.
Swipe your finger and presto—almost anything you want or need is delivered right to your door. However, the human body has not changed fundamentally over time. It craves a heavy lift. So give it one or two or three.
Other Body Parts Can Hurt The Back When Deadlifting
If your ankles can’t move, your hips are locked, your thoracic spine won’t rotate or your neck is weak, performing a deadlift won’t be easy. If you can’t get the requisite motion and stability to even get into a deadlift position, your brain will take the path of least resistance and use the lower back to generate force. Stability always precedes force production.
If you have a mobility problem, then you don’t own stability. And you need to restore mobility before you can lock in stability. But it has to be done right. Don’t do mobility work and then deadlift. That’s too much neural load. Do your mobility work and then move on the ground first. That’s low neural load, making it easier for your brain and nervous system to learn new patterns and generate strength.
Now, as with everything in life, there are some caveats. Sometimes biology won’t let you do something because you got messed up with an injury and stuff is just broken or your DNA set you up with roadblocks. Shit happens. Then maybe you can do a restricted motion deadlift from higher off the floor. Simply reduce the distance you have to travel.
The body is amazing in its capacity to adapt. Just because you can’t do a full range deadlift doesn’t mean you have to stop altogether.
This week’s homework: Learn to hip hinge. Pick heavy stuff up. Don’t go fast. Always control it. Take the brakes off your fear. Embrace your primal strength.