Written by Nash Woods

          It is not uncommon for CrossFitters to be relatively weak in the deadlift. Many write it off as a dangerous movement and opt out of the risk involved in lifting heavy weight against the perceived rewards. Although the thought is correct that you do not need to be competition ready for powerlifting or sport specific activity, the human function of picking heavy things off of the ground is essential to health and wellness. The inherent nature of a deadlift is not the problem, it is the way that we have been doing it. 


       The cues “knees out” and “weight in your heels” are commonly used in the squats but do not directly apply to deadlifting. “Knees out” is a common verbal cue used by trainers to have an individual externally rotate their femur in relation to their pelvis. Although this is a mechanically advantageous position to ascend from the bottom of a squat, this is not the case to pick up something heavy from the floor, such as a deadlift. Externally rotating the femurs locks the pelvis into place in relation to your legs. Doing this while attempting to pick up an object from the floor results in flexion of the lumbar spine in such a way that the musculature of the lumbar spine is not equipped to handle, especially under heavy load. To alleviate the lumbar spine, the pelvis must be able to hinge. By internally rotating the femur we unlock the pelvis and allow it to properly hinge while 


       If you are having lower back pain while deadlifting, achieving a proper set up will be the first place to start. With your feet directly below your body, think about squeezing the floor together with your feet as you reach down for the bar. Once you have a grip on the bar, imagine that you are sitting back and down as you drive your entire foot (not just the outside edge) downward into the floor. 


Deadlift set up in internal rotation torque – entire ball and inner arch of foot is pressed into the floor, shins are vertical. 


Deadlift set up in external rotation torque – ball and inner arch of the foot are not driving into the floor, shins drive outward.



   Positioning externally, the hips are at a higher position with a slight degree of lumbar flexion. The remedy to this mechanically unsafe position is to instead, position in internal rotation torque. This allows the hips to set in a lower position and keep the lumber spine in neutral. This set up allows maximal force to be used by the hamstrings and the glutes. 

Deadlift setup in internal rotation torque.


Deadlift set up in external rotation torque – notice lumbar flexion. 


      The fear of deadlifts is most often reflective of a lack of knowledge in rotational torque and the proper mechanics of the lift. Because functional movements such as picking items off of the floor are essential to human function, the deadlift must remain a corner piece to fitness training. With the tips above and the knowledge of an experienced coach, learn how to apply the mechanics of your body best and strengthen yourself for better function and performance.