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  1. #1
    Registered User Xpiro's Avatar
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    Deadlift leverages and upper back

    Would it stand to reason that hips-high deadlifters (me) would experience more thoracic rounding with heavier loads because the torso is more horizontal? I have poor thoracic mobility so it’s almost impossible to resist, but I wonder if it would be easier to keep my shoulders down and back if my leverages were different and my hips started lower?

    I’m basically re-learning how to deadlift after a low back injury and even at loads with a 2 second bar speed yet only 2 sets 6 reps, my upper back rounds slightly. I know that this isn’t necessarily a problem with near max loads but I’m not even close. I think that aspects of the lift just fell out of alignment, so I’m having to work my way back up from the near-bottom so that everything is synergistic again.

    Now if I used 35 plates instead of 45s, I think that my hips would need to stay lower. But not sure if this is advisable.

    Bonus question, what would cause me to not be able to keep the bar against my shins at heavy loads? Weak lats or what? Could it be related to the upper back?
    Last edited by Xpiro; 12-03-2021 at 07:33 PM.
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  2. #2
    Registered User Heisman2's Avatar
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    Rounding your upper back should actually let you start with your hips a bit lower. I do not view it as a problem at any weight.

    If you cannot keep the bar against your shins that would explain lower back issues potentially as it will stress your lower back a lot more due to the torque. You may be starting with your shoulders too far in front of the bar (more likely if your hips are high and back is horizontal) and/or not actively engaging your lats to keep the bar against your shins.
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  3. #3
    Registered User BeginnerGainz's Avatar
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    I’ve never seen the upper back be a limiting factor in any deadlift: conventional, sumo, hex or DB/KB…it just isn’t stressed that much in the movement.

    Most of the time it is the lower back or not breaking the bar off the ground to start. As far as not keeping the bar close…that is usually a set-up issue.

    Maybe you’re not built to deadlift off the floor. I’ve seen that a few times, case and point, my wife. She literally cannot get into a good position because she is short at 5’2” with T-Rex arms and short legs.

    I personally wouldn’t try to deliberately use smaller diameter plates, unless your doing an SLDL off the floor.

    Either way, maybe post a form video?
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    Registered User WolfRose7's Avatar
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    Smaller plates? You create a longer RoM movement which neccessatates your hips being even higher.

    Could be a useful assistance movement for you if that's where you are weak, I wouldn't use it in place of the regular ones.


    Generally we want to focus on where we see weakness not run from it so if you think upper back is that then do more upper back work, if you think keeping your back flat and tight under heavy deadlifts is a weakness than do pause deadlifts just off the floor without allowing any rounding.

    Or god forbid deficit pauses where you pause where the bar would normally be on the floor (not for the faint of heart)
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  5. #5
    Registered User Xpiro's Avatar
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    On holding the bar against me, it was as literally never a problem until the last time I deadlifted before my injury (shocker). I wonder if it happened because I added 10 lbs to the bar instead of 5 when it was time to move up. I never had any issues cueing my lats, form always looked pretty smooth, no lumbar flexion (that I could observe), reps were going up organically for almost two years. And then I accidentally maxed out which I’ve always avoided like the plague.

    I ask about the small plates because I’m working with a spinlock barbell and plates at home and the largest plates I own are 25s, and when I go to deadlift the bar from the floor to re-rack from Pendlays, my hips naturally find themselves lower than they do in the gym with the 45s.

    @Beginner I’m also 5’2” and I always thought this was an advantage because I’m closer to the bar from the get-go... I have no idea about my proportions as they compare to the average person, but I don’t think I have unusually long or short anything. The tips of my fingers hit mid-thigh when hanging down if that says anything.

    The deadlift is actually my favorite lift /because/ I’ve had so much success with it up until now. And it’s a pure shot of adrenaline, of course. My physical therapist gave me a stamp of approval when we practiced, so...

    I can post a form vid next week if it’d help.
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  6. #6
    Registered User EliKoehn's Avatar
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    ^^ Also deadlift #1 believer (I'm also a high-hip deadlifter if that's worth anything to note)

    I actually wrote a lengthy response to this earlier but the stupid "access denied" glitch scrapped it and I decided not to rewrite.

    In short, I do think upper back can be the limiting factor even if it's not an issue of setup, but is it an issue of isometric breakdown or concentric motion to complete the lift? If you're bringing your shins down to the bar, holding the spine rigid, and driving through the hips, the actual completion of the motion need not entail any movement of the thoracic spine. I have been totally guilty of that a lot of the time, but it's often a matter of thoughtlessly pulling with the back and not setting up tightly and pulling the slack out before actually lifting the bar.

    So, are you doing that and your upper back is "collapsing" or are you leaning down with it coiled before actually beginning the lift?
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  7. #7
    Unregistered User MyEgoProblem's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by WolfRose7 View Post
    Smaller plates? You create a longer RoM movement which neccessatates your hips being even higher.

    Could be a useful assistance movement for you if that's where you are weak, I wouldn't use it in place of the regular ones.


    Generally we want to focus on where we see weakness not run from it so if you think upper back is that then do more upper back work, if you think keeping your back flat and tight under heavy deadlifts is a weakness than do pause deadlifts just off the floor without allowing any rounding.

    Or god forbid deficit pauses where you pause where the bar would normally be on the floor (not for the faint of heart)
    Defecit pause tug..
    Add s snatch grip and we have The couch deadlift xD
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  8. #8
    Registered User Xpiro's Avatar
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    The upper back rounding didn’t happen much this time, I mean I can see it a little bit but I’m basically still practicing at this point so I don’t think that anything exaggeratedly bad is happening. Not sure if you can tell if there’s anything wrong with my setup that would lead to problems down the line though, any analyses? 250# x5:

    https://youtube.com/shorts/Sx2dvzSAg9w?feature=share

    I’m working on the slight hyperextension at the top, and I need to remember to pull the slack out of the bar before each rep...

    (Yes I cleaned up the chalk and yes I need to deadlift completely barefoot don’t ask)
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  9. #9
    Registered User Heisman2's Avatar
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    Your upper back is not rounding at all there. The thoracic spine naturally curves forward.
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  10. #10
    Registered User Xpiro's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Heisman2 View Post
    Your upper back is not rounding at all there. The thoracic spine naturally curves forward.
    Yeah, I thought it looked better this time, but it’s more exaggerated with heavier pulls. But you don’t view it as problematic at all? With squats (especially fronts but also high bar) I find that the less upright the upper back, the more likely my lower back is to go into flexion. PT had me working on thoracic mobility for my low back injury for that reason. Is there a point in the deadlift where upper back rounding could result in lumbar flexion, or is a flat lower back alongside a rounded upper back a dichotomy that can be trained for a safe, optimal heavy pull?

    I would think a rounded upper back to be the result of not being able to properly use my lats and scapula to keep my shoulders from internally rotating, which might also lead to the issue of holding the bar against my shins.
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  11. #11
    Registered User Heisman2's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Xpiro View Post
    Yeah, I thought it looked better this time, but it’s more exaggerated with heavier pulls. But you don’t view it as problematic at all?
    No. I've been a round back deadlifter my whole life, got up to 550 at 167 or so, never had an injury, have no posture issues. Obviously I'm n=1, but I haven't come across any reason to think rounding the upper back is a problem.

    With squats (especially fronts but also high bar) I find that the less upright the upper back, the more likely my lower back is to go into flexion. PT had me working on thoracic mobility for my low back injury for that reason. Is there a point in the deadlift where upper back rounding could result in lumbar flexion, or is a flat lower back alongside a rounded upper back a dichotomy that can be trained for a safe, optimal heavy pull?
    You should be able to keep the lower back neutral while rounding the upper back. Simply stand sideways by a mirror, bend over so your torso is 45 degrees, and see if you can keep your lower back neutral while flexing/extending your thoracic spine.

    I would think a rounded upper back to be the result of not being able to properly use my lats and scapula to keep my shoulders from internally rotating, which might also lead to the issue of holding the bar against my shins.
    I'm not sure shoulder internal rotation plays a role here as your hands are fixed to the barbell, perhaps you mean a different term?
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  12. #12
    Registered User Xpiro's Avatar
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    Hmmm I guess I mean, like, my scapula opening up? Losing lat tightness, maybe.

    Any other issues that you can see though?
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    Registered User Heisman2's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Xpiro View Post
    Hmmm I guess I mean, like, my scapula opening up? Losing lat tightness, maybe.

    Any other issues that you can see though?
    No major issues persay. You may find that if you lean back a bit more in the set-up so your shoulders are more directly over the bar (this will cause you to squat down a bit lower and have your back a bit more upright) that it may feel better. You'd have to pull the slack out of the bar as you do this to help let the bar counterbalance your body weight so you don't fall over backwards.

    Regarding scapula opening up, that is likely more due to upper back weakness (ie, rhomboids and traps). Regarding losing lat tightness, again, if your shoulders are a bit in front of the bar it will be more natural for your arms to swing forward with the bar moving away from you, so that may be more due to the set-up and not being behind the barbell enough, if that makes sense.
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