This summer in the span of one month I had made a nice jump in deadlift from 335 to 350. However after hitting 350 my progress stalled. I tried all sorts of different routines and nothing seemed to make a difference. I tried low reps, high reps, rack pulls at different heights. None of it seemed to matter. I decided to seek the help of a fellow powerlifter, someone who had a wickedly powerful deadlift and who had been around the industry much longer than myself. I had given him the nickname “Dr. Deadlift.”
To protect the innocent I will refer to them as Mark. I say this because this injury that was about to take place was entirely my own doing. I do these lifts with the known risk that something could happen, that I could get severely injured. That is the chance you take when you try and push yourself.
Now, I had taken sessions with this person before. With Mark’s guidance I had gone from 335 to 350. I felt confident that they could get me past this plateau. I felt like it was mostly a mental block but that there was something physical that I was not seeing. Maybe I was sitting too high, maybe my shoulders were rounded. I was sure Mark would spot it, correct it and we could move on.
We began to warm-up as normal. Shoes off. I made my way to the platform. To lift in socks is something I had recently picked up. That slight quarter inch your shoe height adds can make more of a difference than you think. Unlike bodybuilding where you are looking for the greatest range motion, with powerlifting you are looking for the shortest bar path, the shortest range of motion. Taking the shoes off reduced the distance of the bar and I was looking for every possible advantage.
I make my way to the platform. No anxiety here as I know the warmups will not show much until I make my way into the 300 lb range and get closer to my maximum. At this time the most I had pulled was 370.
First, the bar for 10 reps.
Then 135 for 8.
225 for 5
275 for 1
315 for a single.
Mark explained, “Everything looks good. The only thing I would recommend is you’re sitting back a lot, almost like a squat. We want to use our low back and hip drive more. Obviously we do not want to arch the back and put yourself into a weak position, but pulling more upright and squeezing your glutes at the top to drive the hips should bring more power.”
I made the adjustment and also pulled with the bar slightly in front of me. The weight went up fairly quickly.
“That feels really awkward. Felt like it moved super slow.”
“Not at all! Good bar speed. Lets move it up some and try 350” Mark recommended.
We move onto 350. I chalk up, grasp the bar and pull. It gets to my knees and does not move an inch higher.
Mark looks at me with disbelief. “There should be no reason that should not have gone up. From the floor to your knee was super fast. Lets try again.”
Again I pull and again it goes to my knee and stops abruptly.
“Shoulders, low back and head are all in good position. Sorry, Dan this is just baffling. Lets do some pause deadlifts later tonight, some Romanian deadlifts and really try and work on that top portion of the lift. Alright. Ready to try one more time?”
Again I got over the bar. I did not feel at all confident but I decided to try again. I really wanted to get this so I gave a good jerk to gain some momentum before I pulled. I felt the dramatic stop at the top again but held tight, straining to finish the lift, lock it out. And then I heard what I can only describe as the sound of bubble-wrap and it was coming from my lower back. I dropped the bar and walked away. My first thought was “Did I just hear that? Did anyone else hear that?”
I could stand up and I could walk with no problem but I had the feeling that something was out of place. I thought it was just a slight muscle pull, I had felt something in that lower right side a couple weeks back when I was doing rack pulls.
“I did something to my lower back with that last attempt. I don’t think I have another one in me,” I said with the sound of defeat and frustration in my voice.
I then tried pause deadlifts with 135. The pain in my lower back was intense. I reached around and touched the spot that was hurting and I felt a noticeable lump in my lumbar spine.
“Nope. I can’t do those either.”
Mark looked at my back and pressed his thumb into the fleshy protrusion. “Yup. You definitely pulled something. Take a week or two off and rest. Get it checked out if it continues to bother you or gets worse. Get healthy and we’ll try again.”
Part II will be out shortly. In part II I go into more detail regarding the injury and rehab