Deadlift technique advice for an older weights newbie

Would appreciate some advice here…I did much Googling on this but not finding the answer.

I recently decided to see what all the fuss with weights is all about. I’m approaching 50 and have never really lifted weights. I spent about 3 months with a private trainer at the gym getting mobility and stability in place first. I proceeded to low-weight deadlifts and the PT said I had good form. I must say, the DLs have really improved the way I feel and ride. Where have they been all my life?

My PT moved to Florida and said I’m good to go to progress on my own. I had a few good sessions progressing to over 100% of body weight (8 reps). I also recorded form on GoPro to see if I am actually keeping form - because looking at the mirror during deadlifts is not ideal. I noticed that on the vertical axis my hips were not at the midpoint between knees and shoulders as I have seen on YouTube - they were higher. I thought this places more strain on my back and I should squat a bit more to get the hips to midpoint (far from a normal squat). After a session where I tried to lower my hips I felt the wrong kind of pain in my back so I took time off until I felt completely back to normal. Then I had another good session where I didn’t try to make any adjustments to hip height. This morning I decided to drop my hips again and I felt a kind of pain spike that tells you to stop everything and get an ice pack.

I will once again stop all DLs until I feel 100% again, but they are too good for me to start getting scared. I just need to get better informed. What error might I be introducing into my form by dropping my hips (not below the midpoint)? My hypothesis is that with hips slightly below where it feels comfortable I might not have enough muscle power to initiate momentum through hip extension and, without realizing it, I’m using my back to pull… does this make sense? If so, should I forget the hip height adjustment or should I focus on strengthening the muscles that deliver hip extension?

Thanks!!

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YouTube ‘Mark Rippetoe’ for deadlift form videos. He is excellent. All of your questions will be answered in a very simple way. Goodluck

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Maybe raise the barbell onto blocks or a stack of plates so you’re not having to go down as far. This is not uncommon.

Not uncommon at all. I’m 47 and despite many years of lifting I still have this happen with the DL. I eventually got frustrated with repeated low back tweaks and subsequent time off that I started only using a trap bar for DL’s. Even ended up buying one for home.

Haven’t had an issue since.

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Lots could be going on but it’s difficult to determine anything based on the description. Most common is an error in the hip hinge. If you have bad hip mobility, tight hamstrings, weak psoas, or other restrictions your back will round as you lower your position. You may also just have poor motor control or not be familiar with the hip hinge movement.

Are you setting up further away from the bar in order to get your hips lower? A general rule is the bar should be positioned in the middle of your foot and then lower until your shins touch the bar. If you are bending your knees more have you moved further from the bar to accommodate the extra knee bend? This could account for the difference between the two positions.

Once you are in a good position over the bar with a good hip hinge it is important to tighten your lats before pulling. Some call this taking the tension out of the bar. If you don’t pretension your body the bar will instantly break down your form as you begin the lift. Maybe in getting lower you are not creating the same tension on the bar to begin the lift?

Are your hips shooting up prematurely? Have someone film you and check or if the bar is not in contact with your legs all the way up you are leaning forward at some point. To fix this, think about pushing through your quads, keeping your knees bent longer, and dragging the bar up your legs.

My take on it is that you did exactly the right thing working with a PT to ensure you had good form before lifting bigger weights. And then went astray when you started analysing your own form and comparing it to YouTube videos and reached the conclusion that your hips needed to be lower. You said the problem has now occurred twice, both times when you tried to lower your hips more than felt comfortable. In which case the obvious answer to me is to stop trying to lower your hips and go back to using the form that feels right, that your PT said was good, and that wasn’t causing problems!

If you do feel your form has changed from when you were working with the PT and that you do need help with it, I would find another PT local to you to help fix it. This forum is a great source of info but this isn’t something like bike fit where you can use trial and error to figure out what works for you. As you’ve already found out, lifting with poor form can cause pain and injury.

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I do all this. Have GoPro evidence that I do. I also tighten up fist making sure there is pressure on the bar before lifting. Lats fully engaged. Bar follows shins up. Back definitely not rounded that is the first thing my PT got into my brain…

I think you’re right. Will recover and try not to depart from the technique I used with the PT. I will probably not increase weight for a while until there is a longer period with no issues. 8 reps per set @ slightly above 100% body weight seems to be making enough positive change to my riding. Not looking for other benefits…

And if this doesn’t work, I’ll get another local PT.

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Here is what I wrote in another thread:

Here is a checklist I always recced to new lifters…

1.) wiggle your toes. You want to keep the projection of your center of gravity at or behind your mid foot. Don’t move the COG out over the balls of your feet or your toes. Keeping your toes pointed up or wiggling during the lift helps prevent this.

2.) bang your shins. Move the bar back against your shins then adjust your starting position to keep the bar close to your legs through the motion.

3.) PA fart. Stick your chest out like Pam Anderson. Clinch your lower abs like you’re going to fart (but please don’t).

4.) arms are ropes. Think of your arms as ropes that are strung between your shoulders and the bar. Don’t initiate the lift with your biceps. You’re arms are ropes so they should just provide tension between your shoulders and the bar.

5.) keep your back angle. This lift is a leg extension that pushes the world away. The angle your back makes with the floor should not change until the bar is past your knee. Once the bar clears your knee as far as I’m concerned you can put it back down & be proud…the RDL is done. If you keep your back angle static throughout the lift you will feel it most in your glutes & hips when the bar approaches and clears your knees.

A guy in a skirt once suggested that I do these at an ‘inch a minute’. (That was Dan John…a guy who also takes weight loss inspiration from bathroom walls but does know a thing or two about strength) I’m gonna suggest the same to you…take the bar and just drill this lift moving super slow, Ibrahim Shams style. Wiggle your toes, bang your shins, PA fart, arms are ropes, back angle, push the world away.

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By the way, I’ve said on this forum before that the return from deadlifting might not be worth the risk for a cyclist…a sentiment that was once shared to me by an elite World’s Strongest Man competitor. That sentiment was decidedly unpopular to the forum…but if you gather a bunch of dudes that have been really into lifting weights for a few years and ask for a show of hands for anybody that has been injured deadlifting pretty much every hand will go up. So that is one more thing to consider…

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You could also consider the Hex Deadlift Bar. Safer to use and you’ll still get great benefits.

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I definitely have not been doing 5. The angle of my back to the ground changed from the moment I lifted the bar. Straightening the knees at the same rate as performing hip extension. Could failing to do item 5 lead to injury?

Sometimes people’s upper back rounds and that’s a little normal, but what you would want to avoid is rounding your mid to lower back. @Brennus kind of said it already, but a que that always helped me was that I wasn’t lifting the weight up, but I “Pushed the earth down with my legs.” That let me keep a better angle and avoid pulling with biceps at the start.

Well if your hips are coming up faster than the bar it causes your lower back to do more of the work.

This is a common problem, btw. I usually associate it with relatively weak glutes. For sure, I always had this problem. For me this weakness really showed up as the bar came up to & passed my knees…glutes were too weak to take the load so my hips would move ahead of the bar and I’d basically do a good morning to compensate.

Scratch that. Just reviewed the GoPro footage. Hips not coming up faster than the bar. I have been doing this bit correctly but just haven’t been aware of it. Perhaps I need to check the PA fart thing. Could loose lower abs that do not result in curved back be a problem?

I’m not a trainer so I might be talking out my ass, but I would think that the “problem” with deadlift is the lifter chasing more weight because they can squeeze a bit more with bad form when they have actually plateaued or aren’t ready to increase with good form. Ego is a likely culprit as much as anything.

I have given myself an approximate 100% of bodyweight ceiling until I KNOW I have good form through a longer period of no-issues lifting.

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Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply this applied to your situation as opposed to a general statement as to why people get injured doing deadlifts. It’s a lift that is easy to slip form but still make “increases” and move some heavy weight until the injury wall gets hit. The tendency is to blame the lift not the lifter.

FWIW, at approaching 54 I use a hex bar now. I used the low handles until I got to about 1.25 BW then switched to the high handles. If I go back to low I would reduce the weight by 25% at least

I would look at Mark Rippetoe on YouTube again (he has many videos all saying the same thing).

Basically, if you set up your body for the lift correctly, there is nothing to focus on besides driving your legs into the floor. The bar will travel along your shins and along your thighs up to the hip as a result of proper set up and extension of your hips when you drive your legs into the ground (not because you are purposefully guiding it along your body).

I think some newbies get hurt bc they think DL is a squat starting from the floor rather than off the rack. Experienced lifters get hurt making heavy-reach lifts where form falters (and they have their body on a compromising position under extreme load). However, they are an excellent full body compound/functional lift that is very important for developing total strength.
Honestly, if these tips and videos don’t immediately help, go get a new trainer next time you hurt yourself. Back pain can be life long and debilitating

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I strongly recommend the book “Starting Strength - Basic Barbell Training”. It really covers form and biomechanics of all the main lifts in-depth. It covers the deadlift, squat, bench, overhead press, and clean.

Being 50+ myself, I stay away from the clean. I’m too beat up from years of old injuries to do Olympic/plyometric work with the barbell. But I deadlift and bench all year and it does wonders for my general health and fitness. Also, there’s a subreddit called /r/formcheck and people film themselves lifting and ask for advice on their form. Might be helpful for you.

Good luck!

EDIT - I do NOT lift heavy or chase big numbers on the lifts. I stay in a range that’s moderately heavy for me. I have a goal of 5x5@225lbs for deadlift. That’s a pretty low number for strength athletes, but should be a doable number for general health and strength, given my age and size (5’6" tall).

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