Setting the Back for Deadlifting

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Deadlifts are the best exercise ever. Debatable, but it’s my blog so whatever.

I think that everyone should deadlift in some capacity regardless of what their goal is. The only exception is those that cannot tolerate loading to the spine.

There are tons of variations and there is one for everyone.

The hardest and sometimes scariest part of a deadlift is setting the back.

Deadlifts can become really dangerous when flexion and hard, jerking motions come into play. Spend some time at a commercial gym that allows deadlifting and you will know what I am talking about.

Setting a neutral spine sounds easy but it can be very difficult for people that have never been in that position before.

Sometimes we are too rounded and sometimes we are way too arched. Both can lead to significant back pain and neither are neutral.

This is a topic that was covered at the TPI certification, relating to the golf swing.

To keep things simple we can show C-Posture (rounded), S- Posture (arched), and neutral. We want to be neutral when swinging a club because it will reduce damage to the spine and allow for a better golf swing.

A lot of theories go out as to what can cause these different types of postures. Is it sedentary lifestyles, tight lats, or lower crossed syndrome? It doesn’t matter.

At the end of the day the person cannot get into the position.

Teaching the person how to control their pelvis to find neutral is the first step to maintaining neutral. If a lifter doesn’t know what it is then they definitely can’t hold it through a deadlift.

The way we practiced finding neutral was done through a simple acronym from Mark Blackburn: ARAN. It stands for Arch, Round, Arch, Neutral.

neutral pelvis

We start by hinging the hips back. In the golf swing it is a mid-iron stance.

From there we ARAN. Now if the person is in an anterior pelvic tilt to start that arch isn’t going to go very well. I imagine they won’t move a centimeter. Going into the round or flattening may also be a real challenge. The goal is to find something between an arch and a round to come up with neutral.

For anyone that displays either extreme of the postures, neutral will not be natural. It will take some effort and it will feel uncomfortable but it is a good strategy to find a straight back.

This actually could be an exercise in and of itself. This may require going to all fours and working on moving the pelvis and figuring out what neutral is.

I do want to say that I absolutely am not proposing that someone who cannot move their pelvis freely should not be exercising hard. People have to train hard, but also intelligently. Someone who cannot maintain neutral with a barbell can get a lot of deadlifting with a kettlebell or a dumbbell.

Having too much of an arch is just as bad as having a rounded back when you deadlift. They can each cause different types of injuries so one is not better than the other. Find neutral.


Too much arch (and poor head position)


There are tons of people out there that want to “treat” this posture without ever getting someone to sweat. Leave treating for doctors and focus on training hard with the appropriate exercise.

Once we have found what neutral is we can use that position in the deadlift.

Hinge the hips back, find neutral, lower yourself down to the weight, and without losing that back position pick it up. If only deadlifts were that simple.