Editor’s Note: Dr. Lon Kilgore began his YOU be the Judge series with five articles examining the NSCA’s self-contradictory squat instruction. Today he turns his focus to the NSCA’s self-contradictory deadlift instructions.
Interrogative: What should professional fitness trainers teach their trainees about bar position relative to foot and ankle placement in the start position of the deadlift?
Evidence: The NSCA Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning, the NSCA Basics of Strength and Conditioning, and the NSCA official Website, all offer different instruction to trainers on foot position allowable when having their clients pull.
Instruction 1 – Feet at hip width to shoulder width apart
Instruction 2 – Feet at hip width apart
Instruction 3 – Toes pointed outwards
Instruction 4 – Toes pointed straight forward
Instruction 5 – Bar one inch from shins
Instruction 6 – Bar touching the shins
Instruction 7 – Bar over the balls of the feet
Instruction 8 – Knees in line with the ankles
Instruction 9 – The exercise is called the “deadlift”
Instruction 10 – The exercise is called the “barbell clean deadlift”
Analysis: For instruction 1, this statement suggests that a range of positions between the feet lying under the acetabulum to the feet lying under the acromioclavicular joints is acceptable. Instruction 2 contradicts instruction 1 and states that the feet must be under the hips and not under the shoulders. Instruction 3 implies that external rotation of the feet (pointing them out) is correct. Instruction 4 contradicts this and states that the feet must be pointed forward along the sagittal plane. Instruction 5 places the bar one inch (2.5 cm) in advance of the shin. Instruction 6 contradicts this and places the bar touching the shin. Both instructions have a profound impact on ankle angle (and subsequently knee and hip angle) as instruction 7 places the bar over the balls of the feet (metatarsal-phalangeal joints) – the ankle angle becomes more acute if instructions 6 and 7 are linked, more obtuse if instructions 5 and 7 are linked.
Instruction 8 is a non-viable instruction as a knee over ankle alignment would require a 90 degree ankle. It also contradicts instruction 7. Instructions 9 and 10 are not per se specific to foot and ankle position however the name of the exercise is important in teaching exercise positions and in this instance the nomenclatures between texts conflict. Although the “barbell clean deadlift” specifies the exercise as a “deadlift” and the modifier “clean” seems to indicate a double-overhand grip, it is possible that the authors intended a differing start position for this exercise other than that of a standard “deadlift” with no name modifiers, but this is not apparent or articulated. This is further confused with another passage referring to the deadlift motion as simply “lifting a bar from the floor”.
Summary: The self-proclaimed world authoritative materials promulgated by the NSCA are inconsistent in recommendation, incomplete in scientific support, lacking definition, inadequate in anatomical description, and impractical in application. A clear and uniform description is not discernible. The said publications and recommendations create an environment where education of professionals on foot and ankle placement during the deadlift is inconsistent and poorly described. Further, the name of the exercise is not consistent between publications thus increasing the amount of confusion.
The authorship, editorial, or graphical issues present may ultimately have negative effects on individual fitness results and the safety of the public, as correct technique cannot be reliably determined from the published statements, texts, and videos.
About the Author
Professor Lon Kilgore graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor of science in biology and earned a Ph.D. in anatomy and physiology from Kansas State University. He has competed in weightlifting to the national level since 1972 and coached his first athletes to national-championship event medals in 1974. He has worked in the trenches, as a coach or scientific consultant, with athletes from rank novices to professionals and the Olympic elite, and as a collegiate strength coach. He has been a certifying instructor for USA Weightlifting for more than a decade and a frequent lecturer at events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. His illustration, authorship, and co-authorship efforts include the best-selling books “Starting Strength” (first and second editions) and “Practical Programming for Strength Training” (first and second editions), recent releases “Anatomy Without a Scalpel” and “FIT,” magazine columns, textbook chapters, and numerous research journal publications. He is presently engaged in the most difficult task of his career: recreating the educational track to becoming a professional fitness practitioner. The second stage of this effort is the creation of a one-year university qualification in fitness practice at the University of the West of Scotland.