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September 12 2022

The Hunchback lifter – Rounded back Deadlifts – Part 2

The Hunchback lifter – Rounded back Deadlifts – Part 2

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The Hunchback lifter – Rounded back Deadlifts – Part 2

Long and Intimate

I deadlift with a slightly rounded spine and always understood this to be wrong but before I kicked rounded deadlifts to the curb, I thought I’d better do a little research about the pros and cons of this lifting style.

One thing I’ve learnt over the years is “ question everything”. There’s just so much bullshit and misconception in the fitness industry it’s hard not to be a skeptic these days.

So flexion is bad, right?

YES – it CAN be, if it is end range, repeated and under load, there CAN be an increased risk of injury.

Specifically how can this occur?

When the loads on the spine are of a high magnitude and repeated flexion is taking place, the rings around the disks (annulus) can become “worn away”. Slowly the nucleus (the jelly stuff inside) of the disc will work through these rings to create a disc bulge. The greater the load and the greater the repetitions, the faster this will occur (1)

Of course this is highly variable not all people have the same type of discs. Some are fuller and bigger than others. The shape of someone’s disc can influence the type of herniation or the rate of decay they experience (2). People who have had prior injuries or are known to have poorer disc health should AVOID flexion under load and maintain a neutral spine technique.

The real DANGER zone as McGill describes it, is with end range flexion. Research by Stuart McGill showed that in approximately the last 2 degrees of spinal flexion there is diminished control and increased pressures on the discs (3). This zone and the zone leading into it have significantly higher risks of injuries. So avoid end range flexion under load irrespective of your back health.

So flexion is defiantly bad then?

No flexion CAN be damaging, where as end range flexion carries a significant risk with it but before we rule out flexion under load completely, we need to first remember the SAID principle:

(Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand)

Which basically states that if you put stress on a living organism the system that experiences those stressors will adapt as to no longer have it be a stress.

In the case of the rounded back technique the example would be with repeated exposer to lifting, lifters can expect both the larger and smaller stabilizing muscles of the spine to increase in size and strength. Additionally the integrity of the passive structures (i.e. ligaments, connective tissue etc.) will also adapt as to better handle max loading whilst in a flexed position.

So rounding is Good then!

Well YES is CAN be. Many competitive lifters use a Kyphotic or rounded lifting posture as they find they are stronger in this position, but why is this?

1) Rounding your back takes the shoulder blades forward (scapula protraction) this in turn brings the hands closer to the floor. The net result is less work for the lifter as they have less distance to move the bar.

Work = force x distance. Hands closer to the ground mean longer arms, longer arms mean less distance, less distance = less work
2) This style of lifting also shortens the spine, which means torque loading at the hips is significantly less. (See image). This again allows the lifter to do less work for the same amount of weight being lifted.

The smaller a lever arm is the less force (aka torque) the joint needs to deal with. In this case that means the muscles at the hip joint have less force to overcome for the same amount of weight being lifted.

However not all lifters adopt a Kyphotic technique , some are “pulled” into this flexion due to weakness in the stabilizer muscles of the back – i.e. erector spinae. In this case the back muscles are their “weakest link “ and the weight of the bar is “pulling” them into flexion despite the fact they normally train with a neutral spine

But this will NOT happen to every lifter and in fact it doesn’t (see video)

At powerlifting competitions I’ve watched many lifters keep a neutral spine whilst still missing lifts. This was because the muscles at the hip which where needed for force generation where to weak to over come the weight of the bar.

But their back certainty wasn’t the problem!

So to summarize: Read just read part 1

References:

1) Tampier et al, 2007, Veres et al, 2009
2) Yates and McGill, 2010
3) McGill – Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance (5th Edition)

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