“Rack pull” deadlift

To commence this discussion, I would like to make the following statement. Unless you are a powerlifter, weightlifter or cross fit athlete, you probably have no need to pick a weight up off the floor. Most of us do not have the inherent hip mobility and motor control to do this well without dumping into some posterior pelvic tilt and associated lumbar spine flexion. If you don’t need to do this, then don’t.
But who says we can’t pick a weight up from our knees? This is what we call a “rack pull” (see image below).

“Rack pull” deadlift

The benefit of a “rack pull” is that you start from a relatively safe position (the knees) as far as the lumbar spine is concerned. Most of us will have enough hip flexibility to assume a nice neutral spine posture whilst performing this exercise.

This has benefits for a host of performance athletes as well as those returning from injury. It uses almost every muscle from the head to the toes. The drag effect of the bar in the hands requires scapular elevators (upper traps and levator scapulae), the scapular retractors (trapezius and rhomboids), the back extensors, the abdominal corset to create lumbar spine rigidity and then the hip extensors, knee extensors and plantarflexors. A great work out all around! Who can argue that this is not functional and necessary for both athletes and those returning from injury?

How to safely perform “rack pull” deadlifts

To keep this safe from a “return from injury” perspective and a functional training angle, body posture during a rack pull is crucial. Look at the photo below and you will see a few fundamental “functional” flaws in way this individual has set up for a deadlift.

Incorrect way to set up for a deadlift

Incorrect way to set up for a deadlift

The primary fault here is the extreme cervical neck extension. For the strength athlete, neck extension activates an arthrokinetic reflex and “extensor reflex” that makes them stronger in a deadlift. This is why powerlifters look up when they deadlift. The eyes and neck encourage an extension mechanism that will facilitate the lift. For the non-strength athlete, this can lead to cervical facet joint compression. Not needed and not wanted.
If the neck is kept in a neutral position, then not only are the neck joints protected, but the drag effect of the weight on the scapular that wants to create neck extension is counterbalanced by the deep neck flexors. This is a good thing.
Therefore, the best way to perform a “rack pull” is to line up the occiput, the T6 vertebrae and the sacrum with a straight bar or broomstick. This is the neutral spine posture that will ensure all the vertebral joints are protected from damaging compression and shear forces. The image below shows the “perfect” deadlift posture that is proprioceptively facilitated by a bar on the back.

We can see in the photo below that the cervical spine has its natural lordosis (protecting the neck joints), thoracic kyphosis and neutral lumbar spine lordosis (requiring multifidus and erector spinae activity). Above the waist stability is needed and below the waist mobility is needed.

The best way to perform a “rack pull”
Moral of the story is. Deadlifts are good, as long as your clients perform them safely!