Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Torn up Shins from Deadlifts

I love to deadlift. I love it even more whenever I pull the weight out of the hole and everything feels "connected". Those of you that deadlift anything over 300 pounds know what I mean. I love the feeling of the glutes contracted and "connected" to the erectors.  The abs and core musculature forming a tight corset of rigidity; and the shoulders pressed back and down. It is a mechanical phenomenon to see and feel the body execute a lift through a system of leverages and proper timing. It reminds me alot of the board game Mouse Trap that I used to play in 4th grade during recess. 
However, the deadlift is a "technique" driven lift and sometimes one of the parts are not always working at their best. Sometimes it can be simply a question of strength and inadequate progression to a certain weight; or sometimes it can be a technical flaw that is overlooked (because it is so small). One of those minor flaws that can cause a ripple effect on the execution is when the barbell deliberately contacts the shins during the lift.
It is not an uncommon problem during deadlifts among novice lifters. Here is one email that I received regarding the matter:

Question: John, whenever I deadlift I seem to constantly hit my shins with the barbell. I scrape and scratch the shins every time I perform the exercise, and can't seem to force myself to avoid touching the bar when I am lifting it. Is there anything wrong with my deadlift or it is a common thing that does along with the exercise?

Answer: Simply put: Your technique is off. You see this a lot more in guys who are really quad-dominant and try to squat the weight up. They sit too deep into the hole, so the knees have to break forward a bit extra. This pushes the shins a little too close to the bar and makes it difficult to clear without grazing them.  The bar should be close - but not touching. The back should never really be "flat." Arched is actually better in the bottom position, as it puts the lumbar erectors at a mechanical advantage to buttress against shear stress.

Here are 3 things you can do real QUICK to nail down the technique:

1.) Lower the weight. much as you want to deadlift into the 300, 400, or even 500 club, you need to execute with great technique. And sometimes learning the technique means lowering the weight to a manageable degree.

2.) Video your deadlift. In this day in age with YouTube, Flip cameras and cell phones, it is really easy to film yourself during a lift. Chances are you will get some funny looks in the gym but it will serve as valuable feedback. Make sure you place the video camera at different angles--especially  the side. This will give you an opportunity to really point out your deficits and focus on what needs to be fixed.

3.) Rack Pulls. Simply starting the deadlift 6-10 inches off the floor gives you an incredible advantage. If you lack mobility in certain areas such as the ankles, hips, or thoracic spine; rack pulls will help to trouble shoot the form as a whole by negating the effects of immobility simply because the range of motion has been decreased. With the decreased range of motion, the lifter can now concentrate on proper technique by shifting the hips and arching the lower back.

Obliviously,  there are tons of additional ways to help with your deadlift form. Scrapped and scratched shins are not "battle scars" or rewards...they are actually evidence that you still need work on your most prized lift. Go back to the gym and make some modifications and hopefully, your lift will improve.


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