Hip extension during squats and deadlifts: How much is too much?

We know that when it comes to producing the strength and power necessary for successful athletic performance, the glutes are absolutely essential.

They produce the rapid extension at the hip that is essential for a HUGE array of athletic movements (and tasks of daily living, while we are discussing their importance), while also providing a large amount of stability to the spine and pelvis.

It is for this reason that large compound movements (such as squats and deadlifts) offer a fantastic way to improve athletic performance – they train the core musculature necessary for performance (think Glutes, Quads, and Hams), while closely replicating key athletic movements such as jumping, sprinting, and bounding.

And I do think that most of us are aware of this – which is why these specific movements feature predominantly in the vast majority of our training programs.

Moreover, we tend to have a solid understanding that the glutes (and subsequently, hip extension strength) does play a key role during these movements – and as a result we prioritise their involvement.

This, for the most part, is a good thing.

Until it isn’t…

A lot of people really focus on driving both squats and deadlifts with the glutes, leading to not only a strong lockout (which is a good thing), but often excessive extension of the spine, (which is not so good….).

Now while I do admit that it may be hard to distinguish between a good lockout and an ‘excessive’ lockout, there is a difference.  And moreover, while I may cop some flak for picking at something many would deem insignificant – I do think it holds significant importance (of which I will explain in detail in this post!).


Excessive Lockout

Excessive lockout (during both squats and deadlifts) essentially describes excessive movement of the pelvis during the final portion of the lift.

Most commonly, this appears as excessive hyperextension of the lumber spine, in which the hips come forward beyond the knees – the following video (thankyou Mr Gentilcore) demonstrates this quite well during a deadlift.

Now while this is a slightly excessive example, it does demonstrate what we mean by ‘excessive lockout’ (in which we see hyper extension of the lumber spine). In this scenario we actually see the lumbar spine hyperextend under load, which greatly increases the sheer forces placed on the spine. Additionally, this actually reduces the load distributed through the glutes and increases the load placed on the spinal erectors.

The combination of these two factors can have a number of negative effects, including opening us up to potential low back injury and associated dysfunction, while also reducing the potential performance improvements of the lift.

Both of which are not all that good.


So what should we do instead?

Essentially, our best alternative is too ‘finish tall’.

What I mean by this is we should still finish off the movement with the glutes without substituting in lumbar hyperextension, ceasing movement once the hips reach full extension.

I like to think that the following video (of yours truly) demonstrates this fairly well.

In this example I finish tall, but don’t move beyond a neutral hip position. This same position can be further maintained by focusing on bracing the trunk HARD throughout the movements duration. This will ensure that we don’t start the movement with excessive lumbar extension, which is likely to be further exacerbated at lockout.

It is also important to remember that the glutes are working throughout the entire range of movement – and not just during lockout – and it is for reason that focusing on lockout specifically is for most part unnecessary (particularly if it does result in excessive extension of the spine).

Now id ow realise that both of these examples are deadlift specific, so it is important to note that the exact same principals apply during heavy squatting movements. We want to finish tall rather than drive the hips forward at the completion of the movement – this will ensure that we avoid any unnecessary movement of the lumbar spine at lockout (which has the same repercussions as discussed above).


Key Points

So, if I were to draw out some key points of this article into something practical, they would look a bit like this.

  • Don’t mistake lumbar hyperextension for a strong lockout
  • Brace hard before commencing the lift – and maintain a strong trunk position throughout the movements duration
  • Drive your feet into the ground and finish tall

And safe.


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