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The deadlift is the best exercise to build total-body strength, add slabs of muscle to your legs, hips, and back, and increase your pulling power. Better still, when done right, it can fix your posture, strengthen your spine, and boost your neural drive. Yet, what’s the most common problem people face when deadlifting?
Start with your technique: fix that and your deadlifting pain will disappear. But there’s a huge difference between seeing perfect technique and feeling technique, not to mention remembering all the coaching cues for the deadlift: “Drive through your heels,” “keep your back flat,” “brace your core,” “tighten your lats.”
Worse, the more you think, the harder it is to perform the deadlift correctly. So how can you learn the perfect mechanics without confusing yourself or blowing hundreds of dollars on a personal trainer?
Easy, use a simple tool to automatically force you into the right position and movement.
“Strapping a dowel to your back is the equivalent of having a coach watching your every move,” says Matt Malloy, strength coach at Rogue Performance in Denver, CO.
“If you lose technique during a lift, you won’t need someone to tell you because you will feel it. You will also able feel your core working throughout the lift.”
Position dictates function. If you set up perfectly before you lift, your muscles will be primed to help you accomplish heavier weights safely. When there’s pain, however, those stabilizing muscles that keep your lower back happy stay off, which derails your movement and puts stress on the wrong areas. “Maintaining good spinal position with a dowel throughout a deadlift will make your stabilizers fire first,” Malloy explains.
Most people who teach deadlifts or hip hinges with a dowel use three points of contact: the sacrum, the area between the shoulder blades, and back of the head. Malloy, however, adds one extra point of contact: where your thoracic spine meets your lumbar spine just below the middle of your back. This might seem like you’re collapsing your upper back a little bit, but that’s good.
The truth is, a smidgen of upper-back rounding ensures that you engage your core and can maintain it throughout the deadlift.
“This fourth point of contact is the area of your spine with the most movement,” says Malloy. “People with movement problems steal mobility from this area instead of actually driving from their hips. “By pinning this to area to a dowel you create ‘reflexive stability’ in the core and allow the hips to move in a full range of motion.”
In other words, when your core is stiff and stable, you automatically get more mobility and movement from your hips. Not bad for a simple stick, right?
First and foremost, use this for sub-maximum weights only. Don’t try to set the world record with a dowel on your back — you won’t get any of the training benefits.
If your five-rep max for the deadlift is 350 lbs, drop down to 300 lbs and do 10×4; you’ll go down in weight, but you’ll get 40 reps with perfect technique. That does more for your body than 5×5 with crappy technique.
To hold the dowel in place throughout the lift, take two bands and wrap them around your torso: one around the belly button, the other around your chest.
“If you can get over the embarrassment of having a pole strapped to your back, you’ll do some good for your spine, brain, and the rest of your body,” says Malloy. “If, however, you don’t have anything to tie the dowel to your back, just use the dowel to set up perfectly and remove it before doing a rep.”