the joy of strength training


November 14th, 2007 at 12:51 am

Leave your ego at home: lifting safely

I admit I am sometimes guilty of ‘ego lifting’, i.e. lifting more than I can manage with perfect form just to be lifting heavier. You see it in every gym in the land but it’s a bad thing to do in the long run. After all, how cool is it to pop a disc in the middle of a lift?

Form is everything. It will allow you to lift safely and to gain maximum benefit from the lift. You can still lift heavy, you just have to be patient and work up to it properly.

This is what I was telling myself in the gym today as I worked on my deadlift. Last time I deadlifted, I filmed it to check my form. There were some problems, the main one being that my back was rounding slightly. So today I wanted to correct those errors. However, I found that today I could not do the same lift with perfect form; I had to drop the weight by 10kg.

So here’s a clip of today’s deadlift. This is only the warm up but you can see the form is much improved from last time. I wasn’t able to film the 80kg attempt but I got someone else to watch my back (literally) and let me know if there was any rounding.

It is important to be able to analyse what you are doing. I suspect that a lot of people think their form is fine – but they’ve never actually analysed it. With a move like deadlift, the only way you can analyse your form properly is to film yourself or get someone else to watch your lift. You shouldn’t look in a mirror to get the side-on view as this will compromise your form. If there’s no-one else to ask, get one of the gym’s fitness instructors to watch you. With simpler bodybuilding lifts such as one-arm dumbbell row, you can and should use the mirror – not to check out your buff body but to make sure you are keeping good form!

I started off the session today feeling quite disappointed that I’d had to drop the weight. I want a really impressive deadlift and 80kg is a long way away from that! But as the session went on, I felt much better about it. It is actually more satisfying knowing that you lift well, regardless of the weight. And you know that in the long run it’ll help you lift more too.

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  • 1

    Hello, congratulations on your blog! I’ve been looking at your deadlifts and I’ve been noting that there may be a problem because of your morphology. From the video, your starting position has your back almost parallel to the floor, despite your low squatting position. It seems that you have a relatively short arms. Compare the deadlift in this video exhibiting perfect form
    The guy’s back is at a 45 degree angle in the bottom position. Compared to you, he is putting less stress on his lower back, even if you keep the “neutral” back posture. The reason is that there will be more of a lever action essentially increasing the pressure on the lower back due to your back starting out horizontal. I think you have room to squat lower and raise your back a little, but not that much. It seems that you might have to raise the bar a little to get a healthy back position, or user taller plates at least. I hope all this makes sense, good luck with your lifting!!

    ilan on November 17th, 2007
  • 2

    Thanks for the feedback. I am not sure why I can’t seem to get my back at more of an angle. Possibly lack of hamstring flexibility is coming into play as well. I have been working on this and also doing rack pulls.

    gubernatrix on November 19th, 2007
  • 3

    I think a big part of the problem is your build, that is, long femur, long lower leg, and short arms. You should compare your build with other people to see what kind of back angle you can expect. That is, at the start position, assuming thighs horizontal, shins and arms vertical and very close, your thighs, arms – (lower leg), back form a right triangle, so you can compute the approximate back angle in this position. For example, for me:

    Lower leg + shoes (measured to top of kneecap) = LL = 53cm

    Femur (front of knee to hipbone) = F = 50cm

    Arm (centre of grip to centre of shoulder) = A = 55cm

    Radius of 10kg plate = R = 14cm

    This gives a right triangle of height

    H = A + R – LL = 15

    and base = F. The approximate back angle is therefore

    arctan (H/F) = arctan(15/50)= 17 degrees.

    This computation does not give the correct back angle for a deadlift, but is an absolute number you can use to compare to other people’s morphology. In particular, compare this with yours (I have long arms and femurs, but short lower legs).

    In fact, the back angle will be greater. One reason is that the lower leg is inclined forward, reducing the height of the knee. So, you can increase your back angle using any of the following methods:

    1. Squat lower.

    2. Incline your lower leg more by moving your knees forward.

    3. Use thinner soled shoes or go barefoot.

    4. Hunch your shoulders down. Apparently this is a technique used by top powerlifters.

    5. Use larger radius plates.

    I am not an expert on deadlift biomechanics, some of these measures may increase stress on your knees or on your back.

    Good luck!


    ilan on November 19th, 2007
  • 4

    Oops! I subtracted wrong :). A – LL + R = 16. So the angle is arctan(16/50) = 18 degrees approximately.


    ilan on November 19th, 2007
  • 5

    Sorry for this Nth message but I’ve looked over your latest deadlift video for the Nth time and note that there is a problem with your lower leg angle. In particular, on your first lift you exhibit generally good form and keep your knees forward. However, as your form deteriorates (each time you put the weight down and on subsequent lifts), your lower leg becomes vertical, increasing the distance between your shoulders and the weight (as explained above) forcing your back to be lower. So, apart from everything else, you should also concentrate on keeping your knees forward.


    ilan on November 19th, 2007
  • 6

    I see what you mean. Thanks for the observations!

    gubernatrix on November 19th, 2007
  • 7

    There’s another way of thinking about correcting this flaw. Rippetoe says that the back angle (against the floor) should not change during the first phase of the deadlift. This means that once you set your form, the lift should begin with the bar coming off the floor while your hips & back simply translate upward. The problem is when your hips raise faster than your shoulders.

    In your video, your first pull is fine. In the last two pulls, your hips rise before the bar starts to move, and your back becomes closer to parallel with the floor. This decreases your pulling leverage and probably makes the bar feel heavier.

    I suspect this is related to the issue that ilan was discussing above.


    Bonnie on November 19th, 2007
  • 8

    Related to what Bonnie was saying is an excellent set of videos on the squat, namely, Squat Rx. In particular, the second video Squat Rx #2 deals exactly with this problem and how to correct it, namely “good mornings out of the bottom of the squat”:


    ilan on November 19th, 2007
  • 9

    […] Leave your ego at home: lifting safely […]


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