For this week’s post I wanted to feature an article written by my friend Dr. Dan Pope of FitnessPainFree.com. This guy has some great ideas on functional assessments and correctives and this piece on the deadlift pattern is one of them. Dan has some of the best information out there on improving performance, optimizing programming, and increasing training longevity. Not to mention he’s a beast of a CrossFit athlete himself.

We all know how important it is to keep a neutral spine while deadlifting. For most, just cueing to keep your back flat is enough to square things away and get the spine in a neutral position.  For others it’s not so easy.  If you’ve coached people in Olympic lifts or deadlifting for long enough you’ve probably encountered this.

For some athletes as they reach the bottom of the deadlift, their lumbar spine starts to round.  It’s even worse with a snatch grip or deficit deadlift.  Your first intuition is to tell the athlete to keep their back flat.  Then their snatch or deadlift ends up looking like this:

So your next logical cue is to keep the knees back so the bar travels up in a straight line and doesn’t grind your patient’s knee caps off.  So now the lift looks like this again:

The lumbar spine starts to round again.  Despite all of the cueing you give your athlete, you can’t clean things up.  If you’re looking for a more in depth explanation of why this happens and why it’s important to correct this, then read my article HERE.

This is where a bit of corrective exercise is going to be needed.  However, the first thing that is needed is an assessment or screening tool to determine if there is a problem.  If you’ve got an athlete like the one I just described above then you can bet that you’ve got some issues that need to be addressed.  A major assessment I like to go through with my patients is whether they can keep a neutral spine on their way through a snatch grip deadlift.  Here’s the test:

What you’re looking for is whether your athlete can keep a neutral spine while keeping a straight bar path throughout the lift:

If you have someone who fails the test then it would be wise to avoid any loaded deadlifting patterns that expose this fault.  In the meantime, you can modify the patterns by deadlifting from an elevated position or performing your olympic lifts from a hang position.

Then it’s time to hammer away at this issue with some correctives.  Here are my favorite corrective exercises to address this issue:


These exercises can be performed as often as you’d like (I tell my patients to perform them twice per day for best results with the exception of the eccentrics).  Make sure you test your snatch grip deadlift before and after to ensure you’re making a change with the exercises.

Seth’s thoughts: I love the systematic assessment and correctives laid out here by Dan. As he says, it is crucial to maintain a neutral spine throughout in order to optimize position and ensure efficient mechanics. Those who are able to maintain neutral spine under load are those who can lift more weight and maintain longevity, period. Loss of neutrality is a dead giveaway for performance loss and injury risk.

For more from Dr. Dan Pope check out his most excellent website at FitnessPainFree.com

– Seth

P.S. My last post on grip training and hacking the nervous system was extremely popular – thanks for the readership fellow performance junkies! Expect more on how to hack the nervous system and optimize adaptation in future posts.

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