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Starting Strength in the Real World

A New Cue for Setting the Lower Back

by Mark Rippetoe | July 02, 2019

setting the low back

Nick Delgadillo is responsible for inventing what may be the most effective cue for correcting an unlocked lower back ever devised. In a video released on this website on March 7, 2019, he describes a method for cueing the lumbar extension for the deadlift start position that works better than anything I've ever used. In fact, I use it myself now when I pull.

The cue is, “Shove your belly down between your thighs.” A cue is a reminder of a piece of instruction – in this case, the instruction to set your low back in extension as you lift the chest in Step 4 of the deadlift teaching sequence. Some people have quite a bit of trouble processing this instruction. In fact, some people have never performed a concentric lumbar overextension, the contraction of the lumbar erectors necessary for setting the lower back into extension from flexion at the start of a deadlift and holding it there in isometric lock during the pull. The verbal command to “shove your belly down between your thighs” creates a simple plan for a movement that must result in lumbar extension.

Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training devotes a couple of pages to this problem, because it's a source of training inefficiency and potential injury. I have always approached the problem of cueing the movement from the posterior, I guess because that's where the problem is and it seems logical that that's where the correction ought to take place. But Nick's cue works better, and I think I understand why.

Any posterior-based correction depends on your being able to feel the lower back squeezing into extension. The “superman” drill, the tactile-assisted anterior pelvic tilt, or suggestions to drop your belly down while you are standing up can sometimes get the job done. But they all depend on your perception of a change in posterior position, and are absent any other proprioceptive input.

Nick's cue is different: it is given in the hips-flexed knees-unlocked hands-on-the-bar start position of the deadlift, in which the belly is in contact with the inner thighs. If you “drop the belly down between your thighs,” you can tell from the contact between your belly and your thighs that the position is changing from the anterior. And if it changes from the anterior, the posterior position changes with it, even if the trainee doesn't know how to make this contraction in response to the posterior cue.

If the belly drops, the lumbar has extended. Once the motion has occurred in response to the belly/thighs cue, the posterior lumbar contraction can be perceived as the belly changes its palpable position relative to the thighs. It's a very effective cue, and I've seen it work in situations where nothing else was correcting the problem. I only wish I'd thought of it myself.

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