Alright, before y’all start freaking out and talking about shear forces, anatomy of the spine, degrees of flexion, intervertebral disc pressure or screaming out quotes from a popular beginner lifter book written by some non athletic regular person (narp) let me get some things straight. If you are stronger when deadlifting with a neutral spine, lucky you. This article doesn’t apply to you.
Let me first begin by making the distinction between health and performance. I see people get these two confused often. Elite athletes deadlift to win competitions, they don’t deadlift to be healthy. Because of this, they must utilize a technique than enables them to pull the heaviest weight possible.
Beginner lifters on the other hand, must learn the rules before they can break the rules, and learn how to deadlift with a neutral spine since this is the foundation that will keep their back healthy as they develop the technique that will suit THEM the best.
On to the fun stuff. The lumbar spine is weaker and more susceptible to injury in EXTREME flexion, where the lordosis completely disappears. Applying compression on a lumbar spine at end range of flexion, poses a high risk for disc herniation and possible nerve root damage. Slight flattening of the lumbar spine is actually protective to it, like I discussed in my previous article (Part I).
Good powerlifters avoid injury by avoiding full lower back rounding, rounding mostly from the upper back, and (this one is key) maintaining the same spinal curvature throughout the entire lift. Having said this, understand that there is NO single way to deadlift and that anatomical differences play a big role on how your spinal curvatures look. Taller people might have more pronounced lumbar and thoracic curvatures for example.
In conclusion, if you want to pull the most amount of weight possible, find a technique that suits your anatomy and that feels most comfortable to you, while taking into consideration the points mentioned above. Use a neutral spine for your warm up sets and lighter sets, and as it gets heavier, allow for controlled rounding of the thoracic segments, but always avoid end range flexion. If you’re too worried about getting injured, or simply are not planning on competing stick to lighter loads forever.
Round back deadlifts are an advanced technique, and should not be taken lightly, and never used as an excuse for poor form. Its a TECHNIQUE like any other, that requires hours of practice and perfecting. You need experience to know how far/hard you can push a lift before you let go. And if you chose not to pay attention to any of this, you run the risk of suffering from an injury sooner or latter.
Stay strong, stay healthy!