Deadlift Correctives — Part II: Bent Over - Upright Health

Deadlift Correctives — Part II: Bent Over

Recall that proper deadlift form essentially has you ask yourself three questions:

  1. Can I form a neutral spine?
  2. Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I bend over and reach down?
  3. Can I take my neutral spine with me, as I stand up and pull back?
Kettlebell deadlift neutral spine

Why a neutral spine?

Because the curvatures of a neutral spine allow for the most balanced loading of each segment of the spine. Neither the backs, the fronts, nor the sides of any spinal segment are unevenly compressed.

Being able to direct your spine towards a "neutral curvature" on command... enables and reinforces:

  1. the most balanced activity of all “spine muscles” to stabilize your spine (and reduce the likelihood of injury)
  2. the freedom of all other muscles to move your body (since they don't have to work double duty as primary spine stabilizers)

​Thus is the benefit of being able to form a “neutral spine”, and why it’s a key component of proper deadlift form.

In this lesson, we’ll cover why bending over and reaching down (with a neutral spine) requires access to adequate:

  • shoulder flexion
  • hip flexion
  • hip horizontal adduction
  • midfoot rotation
Shoulder flexion

Shoulder Flexion

Hip flexion

Hip Flexion

Hip horizontal adduction

Hip Horizontal Adduction

Midfoot rotation fixed ankle foot tripod navicular

Midfoot Rotation

Shoulder Flexion

Adequate shoulder flexion allows you to reach your arms in front of your torso while maintaining a neutral spine.

Flat thoracic spine shoulder flexion angle

Your capacity for shoulder flexion (the drawn angles) affects how well you can move your arms in front of a neutral spine.

My key pose for shoulder flexion is “butchers block pose”.

You may use additional exercises to master this pose. Regardless, keep it simple in your mind. Let your exploration of the pose be the tool that mediates your success.

Butchers Block T-spine mobilization lat tricep stretch handstand drill
Hip Flexion

Adequate hip flexion (with minimal knee bend) allows you to bend over while maintaining vertical shins and a neutral spine.

Neutral spine flat back hip hinge deadlift

Your capacity for hip flexion (the drawn angles) affects how far you can bend over while maintaining a neutral spine.

My key pose for hip flexion is “half split pose”.

You may use additional exercises to master this pose. Regardless, keep it simple in your mind. Let your exploration of the pose be the tool that mediates your success.

Half split pose neutral spine hamstring stretch biceps femoris
Hip Horizontal Adduction

Adequate hip horizontal adduction allows you to keep your knees from bowing out (as you bend over). In turn, this allows you to maintain stable footing (as you bend over).

You cannot get around this by forcing your knees in. Attempting to do so will round your back instead. So adequate hip horizontal adduction also helps you to maintain a neutral spine (as you bend over). 

Hip knee toe alignment adduction foot tripod

Your capacity for hip adduction (the drawn angles) affects how well you can root your feet.
Unless you plan on using a sumo stance for every life activity... stable footing will require adequate hip adduction.

Neutral spine flat back hip hinge deadlift

Your capacity for hip adduction also affects how well you can bend over while maintaining a neutral spine.

My key pose for hip horizontal adduction is “pigeon pose”.

You may use additional exercises to master this pose. Regardless, keep it simple in your mind. Let your exploration of the pose be the tool that mediates your success.

Pigeon pose neutral spine
Midfoot Rotation

Adequate midfoot rotation allows you to control your foot’s three arches. These three arches share three roots. Together, these three roots form a tripod -- the shape of a maximally stable foot.

Unstable footing restricts your body's movement options. Whereas stable footing frees your body's movement options -- this is essential in being able to bend down and stand up with a neutral spine.

midtarsal rotation

Another way to understand midfoot rotation... is to think "front of foot twists inward, as back of foot twists outward".
By twisting the front of your foot inward... and the back of your foot outward... your foot's three arches appear.

Foot arches tripod

The three arches of your foot share three points of contact with the ground. These three points of contact form a tripod.

Active foot tripod vs navicular drop

(L) photo -- the foot tripod is active... allowing the ankle, knee, and hip to align above it.
(R) photo -- the foot tripod has collapsed... dragging the ankle, knee, and hip down with it.

My key pose for midfoot rotation is “hero pose”.

You may use additional exercises to master this pose. Regardless, keep it simple in your mind. Let your exploration of the pose be the tool that mediates your success.

Hero pose neutral spine

So which of these pose explorations did you find most enlightening to your limitations? Take note of this (as well as your previous insights) as you move onto the next article.

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About the Author

Vincent's first passion is powerlifting. Over the years, his desire to master his body and mind have led him into deep explorations in stretching, mobility, and mindfulness.