As you wander through your bedroom in the early morning, reaching for shelves that seem to shift as you approach, you realize how helpless you are without your eyesight. Instead of walking, you carefully scootch your feet step by step, hands forward like a zombie, into the inky outline of a bathroom door.
Now it may come as a ‘duh’ kind of question, but why would we do this? Why would we modify our behavior to accomplish a goal that could easily have been accomplished much faster and efficiently if we just marched right through the dark towards what we thought was the bathroom?
I’ll allow these gifs to speak for me:
We modified our behavior based on those memories of SLAMMING our toe into that damn table one too many times, just as we modify our behavior when anything incredibly painful happens to us. Remember that time you sprained your ankle when trail running? I’m sure you learned to be more careful with your steps! Remember that time you played volleyball for four hours and woke up like a train rolled over you, backed up, then body slammed you? Sure you do.
You remember. Your body remembers. And, due to these memories, we do our best to make good decisions to avoid these painful problems in the future.
The reason I’m telling you these stories is to paint a picture that our body and mind remember injuries, and that these injuries that may have occurred decades ago are still affecting our bodies today. Don’t believe me about your body remembering injuries? Research shows a good ability to predict osteoarthritis in patients decades before it occurs… the main predictor is if they’ve had a knee surgery or injury.1,2 That osteoarthritis is your body’s ‘bad memory’ of your bad night you messed up that knee. And your mind remembers injuries just fine as well… just think of one of your many injuries and I’m sure it’s as vivid as a firework on the 4th.
Growing from these painful metaphorical and literal memories is a major challenge, and that challenge is met daily with the help of proper physical therapy treatment; to reset your body’s movement and your mind’s pathologically-based control of your body in order to imprint a new patterning system that accommodates your injury. In short: Unlearn old patterns. Build new ones. Grow.
Let’s go through a typical case of how I teach my patients to build these new patterns:
Bob Smithy Jones Fake Name Jr III comes into the clinic with back pain due to paratrooping since he was 5. He’s now 31 and his lumbar spine is comprised mostly of Legos and popcorn. He likes to deadlift small horses and fight yoga instructors to pass the time, but his lower back isn’t letting him do the things he loves. Bob is desperate. He knows he has to live with this spine for the rest of his life and is concerned with what the future holds. After going through a thorough physical movement and manual assessment, I see half a dozen regions that are contributing to Bob’s pain and dysfunction.
His mechanical memories are leaping out at me from each of my assessments, and his compensations are showing me exactly how he has been subconsciously “avoiding stubbing his toe” for decades. His mental memories are evident every time he guards, takes a sharp breath, or shows hesitation when trying a new exercise. The good news is, the more time I spend with him, the more I can help him!
Breaking these movement dysfunctions down, one by one, session by session, into compartmentalized pearls of digestible information for him to relearn movement is the treatment program. Some of these memories need to be processed with manual therapy, stretching, and motor control training. Some of these memories need to be processed with a good dose of strength training. Through time, grit, and trust, these memories no longer have their teeth around the throat of Bob’s aspirations. The “memories” such as osteoarthritis will always be there, but with the dozens and dozens of pearls in his toolbox, he is able to manage and grow into a new version of his old self. He is also better able to step back and contextualize the different types of pain he feels and is less fearful of his future. This is growth.
Our mind is a powerful thing. Our bodies are equally powerful. Each of them twist together into a complex story that many times involves loss, pain, fear, and sadness. As a working clinician, I see this day in and day out, which is why I am so motivated to help my patients’ minds and bodies learn new movement memories they need to better live the lives they deserve. With work, these old movement memories are reprogrammed into a new movement system that can give a fresh capacity to the function of the previously painful and weak movement patterns.
Thanks for reading,
Marcus Rein, PT, DPT, CF-L1
Ok, so now that you’ve stepped up to the bar and have set yourself in a good position by following the “3 B’s” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see Part 1 of this series), it’s time to safely pick some weight off the floor.
There are a number of different nuances you can get into when teaching someone how to deadlift, but for this sake of this post we are going to break the lift into two main parts: First Pull and Second Pull.
1. First Pull: This is where you lift the bar from the ground to your knees. During this part of the lift you should be keeping your spine in a neutral position by having your hips and shoulders rise at the same time until the bar reaches your knees. If you let your hips rise faster than your shoulders then you’ll end up rounding your lumbar spine, and if you let your shoulders rise faster than your hips then you’ll end up over-extending your lumbar spine. Both of those approaches increase the shear forces at your vertebra, which our spines are not designed to handle.
2. Second Pull: Once you get the weight past your knees you are entering the second pull of the deadlift. At this point in the movement your main focus needs to be “bringing your hips to the bar”, meaning your shoulders continue to move upwards as your hips move forward towards the barbell.
So the big takeaway here is that, when you initially starting lifting the weight off the floor, you need to keep your hips and shoulders moving in the same direction, at the same rate, until you get to knee height, and at that point you start to shoot your hips forward as your shoulders continue to rise. Sounds simple enough; right? Well, there are techniques you need to also remember in order to not just perform the lift correctly, but to also keep your back out of harm’s ways.
So there you have it. By utilizing appropriate muscle activation, spinal position, breathing mechanics, and biomechanics, you’ll be able to successfully deadlift with less pain and more weight. At Athletes’ Potential we work daily with barbell and strength athletes, so if you’re struggling with pain while you deadlift and live in the Atlanta area, give us a call or fill out the contact request form below!
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
On average 80% of Americans will experience low back pain at some point in their lives and more than a quarter of the population currently deals with low back pain on any given day.
Not only do most people have some form of back pain, but it many cases it is the result of poor movement patterns that have been abused for years causing the root of their problem to be both incredibly complex and multifactorial.
An exercise once thought to be dangerous (something that has been debunked by a multitude of recent studies), there is arguably no other lift that is more functional than the deadlift. The deadlift is a hinge type movement pattern, which is used every single time you bend over to pick something up off the floor, so you better be efficient with this movement. This article is Part I of a two-part series covering the common mistakes I see in the clinic and will teach you how to prevent low back pain while deadlifting.
This exercise can be moderately complex to perform correctly and the number one mistake that I see most in the clinic is a poor set up. There is a lot that goes on to get into this position but by bringing your shoelaces to the bar and remembering the “3 B’s” (Bow, Bend, Blades), most people will be able to get into a solid starting position.
So in review, to be in a good set-up position you need to “bring your shoelaces under the bar," bow until you feel tension in your posterior chain, bend your knees until you can grip the bar, and engage your shoulder blades. Doing this will get you into a good set-up position, which will protect your low back and allow you to lift bigger weight.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jacob, PT, DPT
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.