17 Jul Deadlift Warmup Essentials
The deadlift is one of the best exercises for both the power and strength athlete as well as the recovering patient in rehab. Not only can the lift be progressively overloaded for a proper training/rehab stimulus, but most importantly, it gives individuals the confidence that they CAN in fact lift heavy objects off the floor and combats the notion that “the back is inherently fragile”. I mean, if the back was so fragile could it withstand the forces from a world-record 501kg (1104.5lbs) deadlift set by Hafpor Julius Bjornsson, better known as “The Mountain” from the Game of Thrones!? Yes, we are all not built like a strongman, but that doesn’t mean that our inherent anatomy precludes us from picking up heavy objects off the floor aka deadlifting. Every individual can and should be able to bend over and pick up an object off the floor. Think about how many times you have helped move furniture, open a garage door, or help a buddy lift an object. Failing to warm up properly before deadlifting is the biggest mistake one can make in the gym, especially when lifting heavier loads. In this article, we’re going to go over deadlift warmup essentials to make sure you are prepared and ready to lift some furniture with a friend or hit a new PR in the gym!
Deadlift Warmup Essentials Video Follow Along
Deadlift Warmup Essentials: Injuries Can Occur Due To Lack of Preparation!
Injuries happen when our body tissues are not prepared for the loads applied to them. In the case of small muscle strains, there is micro-tearing of the muscle due to a rapid eccentric contraction that exceeds the capacity of the muscle fibers to transmit the force applied to them. Or in the case of ligament tears, there is an excessive amount of tensile force applied to the ligament that exceeds its capacity and thus is torn.
The goal of a proper warm up is to prepare the body for the demands placed on it.
The demands we place on our body all depends on what movements we are doing! This is why a warmup for an NBA basketball player looks a lot different than a PGA golfer. The basketball star has to prepare for the high musculotendinous forces involved with jumping and the lateral movements required to cut and guard an opposing defender. Thus, things like light plyometrics, lateral slides, and multi-planar movements will be a stable in an NBA player’s warmup. On the other hand, the PGA golfer has to prepare for high amounts of rotational forces to generate power in the golf swing and needs to ensure that they have the proper mobility in their hips, mid-back, and shoulders for a proper golf swing. Thus, mobility drills that focus on thoracic rotation and hip internal/external rotation and activation drills for the hips, core, and shoulders will be a stable in a PGA golfer’s warmup. Now, just because the NBA player doesn’t have to swing a golf club doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t also benefit from thoracic rotation drills, it just means that if you have to pick the highest yield/bang-for-your-buck drills to implement, thoracic rotation drills would be lower on the list.
3 Deadlift Warmup Essentials
When it comes to deadlift warmup essentials, we must prepare our bodies to handle the stresses placed on it. In particular, the 3 essentials to any deadlift warmup must include:
- Segmental mobility and exposure to end ranges of flexion/extension
- Nerve mobility and exposure to end ranges of nerve excursion/tension
- An active warmup to expose the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and fascia to progressive loads!
Deadlift Warmup Essentials: Segmental Mobility
While the majority of the power and movement in the deadlift should be driven by the hips, it does not mean in any way that the rest of the body is simply “turned off” and “inactive” during the deadlift. One of the best aspects of the deadlift is that it is a full-body “functional” exercise that truly requires your entire body to exert energy to perform. Furthermore, while we may teach a “pure hip hinge” in the deadlift and teach a “neutral spine”, it’s inevitable that our backs will go into lumbar flexion with any sort of lifting technique. Our pelvis moves posteriorly immediately upon bending forward to allow our hips to go into more hip flexion, this, in turn, flexes our low back as well – even when it looks like we are in neutral! Taking a look at this graphic from Greg Lehman¹ which was taken from Holder 2013² expanding upon the work from Arjmand 2005³.
What looks neutral and “perfect” to the naked eye is around 22 degrees of flexion! Which represents around 35% of maximal flexion. Other studies have shown that kettlebell swings show an average of 26 degrees of flexion and the good morning exercise shows between 25-27 degrees of flexion. It’s basically impossible to avoid flexion in the deadlift – so if we can’t avoid it, let’s prepare our low back to MEET the DEMAND placed on it with some segmental mobility programmed into your deadlift warmup. I would highly recommend checking out more of Greg’s work, and if interested listen to him share his experiences and philosophies on The [P]Rehab Audio Experience.
While many exercises can suffice, my favorite low load segmental mobility drill for a deadlift warmup is the cat-cow.
Sample [P]Rehab Exercise Library Video
- WHY: This exercise will help with learning back and pelvic body awareness as well as promoting global mobility in these regions. This exercise also provides the opportunity for your back to get comfortable with moving in and out of your spinal flexion and extension range of motion.
- HOW: Get set-up on your hands and knees. While keeping the rest of your body still, round your entire back followed by slowly arching your entire back. Repeat
- FEEL: When you round your back, you should feel like you’re pushing your chest away from the ground by pushing through your hands. You should also be performing a posterior pelvic tilt with rounding your back, thus your back looks like an angry cat. When arching your back, you should feel like your chest is dropping towards the ground, but you don’t want to bend at your elbows, keep your arms straight. You should also be performing an anterior pelvic tilt with arching your back, thus your back and head make the shape of a camel. Follow the video for other cues and tips.
Deadlift Warmup Essentials: Nerve Mobility
Ever stretch your hamstring but then feel the stretch in your calf or foot and wonder, “do my hamstring run all the way down to my foot?” You’re not alone, and this is a totally normal phenomenon! In fact, it’s not your hamstrings that you’re feeling stretched but actually your nerves and the dura in which they move in. We have miles of nerves that course through our body in “nerve freeways” called dura. Our dura can be stretched in the same fashion as our muscles can; with one big distinction. When our dura gets stretched, our nerves actually elongate and lengthen inside of them. When nerves elongate past a certain degree, it actually limits the amount of blood flow the nerve gets and can cause the very familiar symptoms of pins and needles!
Lower Extremity Neurodynamics
While our nerves can handle a certain degree of stretching and elongating, our body will many times try to subconsciously limit how much elongation our nerves undergo to avoid limiting its blood supply. When it comes to the deadlift, in particular, the sciatic nerve that runs down your backside is also stretched when bending forward at the hips with a relatively straight knee. Thus, in order to properly deadlift, we must prepare our nerves and dura for the massive amount of elongation it will undergo with each rep!
Nerve mobility as a deadlift warmup essential can come in many forms, but my favorite is the down dog exercise. Not only are the hips flexed and knee extended (which elongates the nerve) in the down dog, but it’s a very active variation that puts the nerve/dura in a maximally stretched position for just a brief amount of time, before letting it relax. This deadlift warmup essentially gives your sciatic nerve “mini stretches” in an unloaded fashion to prepare it to life much heavier loads in the barbell deadlift!
Global Down Dog To Up Dog
- HOW: Starting in a tall plank position with your hands and feet on the ground. Push your arms into the ground and protract your scapula to push your hips into the air in the down dog position. Really drive this motion through your shoulder blades. Next, shift your weight forward and let your hips sag to the ground. Arch your upper back as you assume the up dog position. Then repeat.
- FEEL: You should feel all the muscles in your shoulder working, especially in your shoulder blades under your arm-pit during the down dog. During the up dog, you should feel a gentle stretch you’re the front of your hips and your middle back.
- COMPENSATION: Do not push back simply by moving your hips backward. Actively drive your hands into the ground and use your shoulders to perform the movement. Do not let your hips touch the ground during the up dog, keep them elevated just slightly.
Deadlift Warmup Essentials: Active Warm Up
You’ll notice with the global up dog to down dog, the exercise combines both segmental mobility with nerve mobility to knock two birds with one stone! What that exercise also accomplishes is a dynamic active warmup to expose my muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and more to load while also increasing heart rate and tissue temperature to prepare for the deadlift! Similarly, this variation of the World’s Greatest Stretch not only includes tons of hip openers and dynamic hamstring stretching but also some nerve mobility in the form of a single leg down dog. If you stay active in this dynamic deadlift warmup, 5 reps is plenty of enough for your tissues to feel warmed up and ready to go! We would also recommend slowly building up the weight on your deadlift and not just jumping to your top set (duh)!
Deadlift warm up essentials should prepare your body for the demands of deadlifting, it’s that simple! We must prepare our bodies for end ranges of flexion (and extension), nerve elongation, and movement, and generally warm up our tissue temperatures so we can lift heavy! When it comes to warmups for other movements like a squat warmup, just ask yourself, what am I asking my body to do in the squat, and then find exercises that replicate those demands!
No matter how long you have suffered from back issues, it is never too late to start feeling better. We get it, we have dealt with low back issues too! We have blended science with our clinical expertise and our personal experiences to provide you with the ultimate solution. This program has been tested and proven by countless people both in the clinic and digitally, and we know it can help you too! For more click HERE.
- Arjmand, Navid, and Aboulfazl Shirazi-Adl. “Biomechanics of Changes in Lumbar Posture in Static Lifting.” Spine, vol. 30, no. 23, 2005, pp. 2637–2648., doi:10.1097/01.brs.0000187907.02910.4f.
- Holder, Laura J. “The Effect of Lumbar Posture and Pelvis Fixation on Back Extensor Torque and Paravertebral Muscle Activation.” Auckland University of Technology, 2013.
- Lehman, Greg. “Reconciling Spinal Flexion and Pain: We Are All Doomed to Failure but Perhaps It Doesn’t Matter.” Greg Lehman, Greg Lehman, 2 Apr. 2018