The deadlift is by far the number 1 exercise people screw up and when they do, they often pay the price. Ask any weekend warrior that likes to “lift heavy” on the weekends and they will probably tell you, they’ve had at least 1 visit to a chiropractor due to their poor deadlift form. So, what are the most common deadlifting mistakes that put fit people on their ass for a few weeks? This one gets a mini-list of things you’re probably screwing up.
- You’re not stretching or warming up. I’ve got a great idea. Let’s go straight to the gym, completely cold and stiff, and try to lift 405lbs right off the floor. Spend 15 minutes warming up with some light cardio or some light stretching that targets your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. It can make all the difference between you set a personal best or, you having your significant other drive you to the local doc in the box.
- You’re just pulling the bar and not using your legs to push through the floor. Sure, it’s a deadlift. We get it. But the actual proper movement to deadlift is to literally try and push through the floor. Doing this puts less stress on your back and allow you to lift more controlled and, more weight.
- You’re wearing running shoes. We are not ones to advocate for a bunch of useless gear when the best solution is to just move your ass. However, deadlifting in a shoe that is not flat can cause some serious issues. Have no fear though. While weightlifting shoes such as these Reebok Nanos are a great idea, your humble writer prefers old school Vans or Converse all the same.
- You’re rounding your back. Bingo Bango as the kids say. This is the #1 problem people have deadlifting and often, it is the result of several other factors including the ones already discussed. Keep your back flat the whole way through the motion. A great technique to practice is to have someone keep a broomstick vertically across your back to keep that back straight and not allow you to round.
Why are the best compound movements always the ones that cause the most damage? Squats, like deadlifts, are part of any serious lifter’s arsenal. They work the core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. But wow, do people screw them up. While there are plenty of mistakes people make, let’s not make a list for this one but single out the most common issue: not enough depth. People do half squats. When in doubt, remember the wise words of many high school coaches “Ass to grass!” That sums it up, get your butt to the floor for these.
The Flat Bench Press
3 for 3 on important compound lifts that people screw up. This is another exercise that people make several errors when performing but for simplicity’s sake, let’s talk about only a couple. Wrist alignment is a big one. Often when people barbell bench, their wrists end up too far back or too far forward. This can cause a myriad of problems including the obvious wrist pain as well as poor mechanicals while you perform the lift. Remember, keep your list aligned straight up and down. Your wrist should not be handling any of the bar’s weight. The next big one is an uncontrolled lift including bouncing the weight off your chest. You should have a nice even tempo and not rely on momentum at all when you bench press. Bouncing the weight off your chest may help you get a few more lbs up or a few more reps but it is not helping your muscle growth.
If you practice Crossfit, you may want to cover your eyes. The pull up is a very important exercise but over the last several years it has been completely bastardized by the idea of “kipping.” What is kipping you ask? Well, to the untrained eye it looks like a fit person doing way more pull-ups than most humans are capable of in a very fast manner. To the trained eye, it looks like someone having some kind of an episode while trying to work out. There are several other things that can go wrong when doing a pull-up but let’s just focus on the very basic mechanics of the exercise. It should be a slow and controlled movement that does not use any momentum to accomplish. In other words, hang from the bar and pull your dead weight up. Now, if you are Rich Froning (read his book or watch his documentary here) then you are excused but if you are just an average Crossfitter who thinks they know something, enjoy those 300mph pull-ups and let me know how those lats look.
I remember a guy in high school telling me he grew his arms by doing “crazy sets” of bicep curls. I went to work out with him and although it was well before the advent of Crossfit, he may have been the inspiration for the previously mentioned “kipping.” This guy threw his WHOLE body into those curls. Biceps have long been seen as a symbol of strength when it comes to physique but you do not get Arnold’s biceps by putting on a weight belt and thrashing around like a lunatic during your curls. Unlike other exercises on this list, curls are an isolation movement and you should be ISOLATING your biceps. Slow, controlled motion and you may even count your tempo. There are some pretty good products to help you focus on those guns but slow and controlled is the key to this one.
The Final Word
We all lift weights for different reasons but the primary two are to look good and to feel good. If you are jacking yourself up every time you walk into a gym or, if you are taking shortcuts to get through your workout, you’re depriving only yourself and wasting time. Arnold’s classic book is a great place to start for the tried and true methods of bodybuilding. If you want something a bit more new-school, Louie Simmons (yes, you have heard him on Joe Rogan’s podcast) and Westside Barbell are featured in this documentary. Lift well, lift heavy, and above all, lift right!