Back at it again, abolishing bullshit! This post is close to my heart. Being 6”6 otherwise known as ludicrously tall. It is almost impossible for me to deadlift, let alone bend over while maintaining a straight back.
Clearly, I am not suggesting that a high level of lumbar flexion is beneficial to everyone, but for some people, a small amount of back rounding can be a hugely beneficial addition to their deadlift. It has long been a common perception that using any form of rounding in the deadlift will result in your immediate crippling injury. From experience, I can tell you that is certainly not true. Obviously, that is anecdotal evidence, but, they’re aren’t really any studies out there to prove the lack of danger in deadlifting with a rounded back.
The only real proof that can be provided is the success of athletes like Konstantin Konstantinovs who pulled world record numbers with a rounded lower back. That is not to say that everyone should be deadlifting with a rounded back, but, with experience practice and continued repetition of the movement. An athlete will develop his or her specific form for the movement. Just like how some athletes are stronger in a high bar squat position, or narrow grip bench, some athletes especially taller people can benefit from embracing their natural form.
There is a caveat associated with that, I am not suggesting everyone just go out and load up the bar with as much weight as they can pull regardless of their form, instead I believe that you have to begin, using the conventional method of deadlifting. Practice good form, effective bracing and build up strength over time, a rounded back position should not necessarily be present on every repetition but it can become a recognizable characteristic of your heavy work.
I think, however, it is essential to recognize that using a rounded back position is only good as far as it benefits the athlete if you are constantly ripping the weight off the ground, but you can’t lock out the lift, it is probably no longer an advantage. I think an athlete or coach has to recognize the physical limitations of the lifter and find a way to overcome them. For me, a lot of my deadlift issues have arisen from my height, having long legs makes the initial portion of the lift easy, but the lockout is hard despite my long arms. So I have spent a lot of time building up my lower and upper back strength, to build up my lockout strength.
In my opinion, I don’t see that much benefit to doing weak point training as a portion of the main lift i.e rack pulls, but I think that for those with rounded back or lockout issues a potential solution could be rack pulls or pause below the knees deadlifts. These allow the athlete to focus on bracing and keeping tight during the lift. The main issue I see with a lot of beginner athletes is that they find it difficult to keep tight throughout the lift, both of these exercises can help with that. Another useful option is to employ a belt in your training, this can help an athlete improve their bracing and their deadlift as a whole.
Sumo is a different animal, though, it is a technique that definitely requires a more upright position and a flatter back. In this case I think a small amount of upper back rounding can be helpful, but, for the most part, lower back rounding does not help sumo lifters to complete the lift.
On the whole, one must acknowledge the benefit of personalizing the form of any movement. It is not beneficial in the long term to thoughtlessly pursue perfect form if it is not befitting to your build. That is why I preach the importance of educating oneself on the sport, as well as having someone impartial look over your form or video it for review. Check out collegestrength.org for affordable coaching to help with your progress. And remember strength has no limit!