I met Philip Wilkerson III a few years ago when I first did a seminar at CrossFit Anandale. In the summer of 2011, his deadlift max was 375 while weighing a self proclaimed “210 pounds and in terrible shape”. Phil was working through a wrist injury a bit after and it slowed down his progress quite a bit. Long story short, after working with Jeremy Wolfe at CF Anandale and programming with Chris Riley, Phil has made some excellent progress, especially with deadlifting.
Phil weighed in at 179 for this meet and pulled the 578 above. You’ll notice he leaned back at the top of the rep — this is something he’s never done before because he was excited. Leaning back at the deadlift lockout typically unlocks the knees, and in USAPL they look at knee extension in order to white light a lift. Despite not being credited with the lift, the bar speed was awesome considering this was the heaviest weight he’s ever pulled. I was really impressed with this lift, especially because Phil has progressed so well with consistent strength training. Not to mention he has a lean, jacked 180 pounds instead of a “fat 210”. Nice work, Phil.
The Lean Back
Phil doesn’t have a habit of this, but I see it ALL of the time in CrossFit. Leaning back is a horrible, god forsaken thing to do. It looks like shit because it’s shitty. First, it hyper extends the spine and/or posteriorily rotates the pelvis under a load. I can’t think of a better way to have a disc injury than to do this. If you want your intervertebral discs squirting out the front of your body, then this is how you’d accomplish it. Second, since the movement usually pushes the hips forward slightly, the knees will unlock in order to keep a center of mass over the mid-foot, resulting in a lack of knee extension (which is the issue we see above). Third, it’s just wrong. You aren’t any more “locked out” for a deadlift by leaning back. By standing straight up with your hip straight, you are effectively fully extending the hip. Finally, you lose out on intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure by allowing laxity in your spine, and this isn’t good for the moment you’re lifting, and it’s not good for proper trunk development over time.
Instead, merely stand up with the weight and lift the chest slightly. Lifting the chest is actually a USAPL requirement as it will ensure thoracic extension; leaving the upper back rounded is not fully locking the lift out since it could result holding the bar several inches lower than had you actually extended the upper back.
If you’re confused about the position, then stand up, contract your lower abs, and completely contract your glutes with your chest up. Now put a bar in your hand and that’s all you need to do.
In Phil’s video, you see a bit of shakiness, or as I call it, the “tut-tut-tut” as he’s locking the lift out. His hamstrings are not accustomed to maintaining such tension while they extend the hips, so the result is a shaky lockout. This is both a strength and a neuromuscular efficiency issue, and we typically rectify it with rack pulls from right below the patella with vertical shins. I talk about them in the Texas Method books, but they are the first thing we do to address lockout issues in the deadlift. I also like RDL’s, but there is no substitute for forcing the hamstrings to maintain tension and contract to extend the hips.