The Deadlift Edition

For many clients who are just starting CrossFit or Weightlifting, learning the barbell movements is like learning a foreign language. While learning the language of the barbell a lot of people get tunnel vision on one part of the lift. Primarily, I am thinking of standing up the deadlift or finishing a shoulder to overhead movement at lockout. But what about getting the bar back down!? We will talk shoulder to overhead movements in the next installment as there are some caveats to this concept. For now let’s focus on the deadlift. As they say the meet doesn’t start till the bar hits the floor!

Just for your reference, in Powerlifting there are commands in competition you have to adhere to in order to get white lights. (good lift!) Depending on the federation a judge will tell you when to rack, when you can press, and even with a down command on the deadlift you have to keep your hands on the bar to the floor. These commands are a judging standard. I understand that most of us are not in the gym training for a powerlifting competition but the reason standards are helpful to us because they establish whether you have control over the lift or if you don’t. I put it to newer athletes to “prove their lockout”. Establishing control getting the bar back to the ground or back to the shoulder at appropriate loads helps to prove you actually had the lift in the first place.

We teach the descent of movements for 2 primary reasons:

It is reasonable to expect that the overwhelming majority of the things we lift off the floor or over our head that are obnoxious or heavy also need to be put down. They are just as heavy and obnoxious on the way down. Imagine a newlywed couple entering their home for the first time. The groom bends down and lifts his bride up to carry her across the threshold. Hopefully the “lift” goes well and they can avoid the awkward side shuffle through the door. But can you imagine how much that special moment would change if he decided the “lift” was complete and he just dropped her!? He would be sleeping on the couch! When you move boxes in and out of the attack you don’t just get to ghost ride them from over your head. We learn to lower things because it is a practical and natural part of the functional movements that are the staple and meat of our program.

Strength is a part of Safety.
Lowering weights makes you a stronger and sturdier human being! The safety point builds off the practicality point above. If you know that you are going to be tested in functional movements you leave yourself at a safety risk if you never prepare with them! Just like knowing you will have a test but never studying.

The injury argument:
If I have an athlete that is scared to at least re-hinge with their hands on the barbell I have an athlete that probably shouldn’t be handling that weight yet. “Oh but coach, I drop from the top on my max deadlift because I hurt my back”. Say it outloud to yourself until you hear the irony. If you are coming back from an injury controlling the weight back to the ground will probably limit the weight you are able to pick up…. Which is just a smart part of progressing back up in weight after an injury rather than jumping back in head first. Consider it a built in check and balance to our egos.

How to lower:
Now let’s be a little more specific. We are talking about the eccentric phase of the movement (that just means the part where you are lengthening the muscle). I am not saying you need to do a 3 second slow eccentric lower (like performing a negative on a pull up). Control can still be fast! Here is a perfect example of keeping control of your bar but still lowering fast: https://youtu.be/FuKEvICQW1w)
A good habit is to keep your belly braced, push your butt back and let your knees bend more after the bar passes them. If your brain registers “keep your back flat” as “keep your chest up” and you shove your knees forward first, you are actually sending the weight farther away from your middle. This puts more stress on your lower back than if you sat your hips back first. Lowering correctly takes a lot of trust in your ability to hinge and keep your spine as one solid lever arm! If you want to cycle deadlifts you will need to master this skill and then build strength there by training it.

It is suggested that muscle fibers are about 10% stronger during the eccentric phase of a movement thus you can support more weight in them. This also comes with more break down of muscle, which means repair, adaptation and you get stronger. However, that also comes with the little side effect getting, “sore as hell”.

Now I write this with a bit of fear and trepidation. Because I do believe there are some athletes that are lifting weights outside their sphere of success. Kind of like “people who promote past the position they are actually qualified for.” (Cook, Hilary, That doesn’t describe her, she just taught me the concept!) If you are used to dropping bars from the top and want to start working on this lowering business please, please practice starting with your lower end weights. All the points of performance that apply on the way up still apply on the way down: back flat like a good kid! If you start getting into weights that you can’t control at the top you have probably reached your limit!

Just for inspiration check out good ol’ Benny Magnusson; one of the heaviest deadlifts you will find on the interwebs. Not only does he pick it up but he stands there and trash talks the room with his eyes, then sets the bar down like it’s a sleeping baby…. elephant.