The deadlift is regarded by many as the king of all exercises. This is a pretty high honor in the fitness community, and its distinction is not unearned. The deadlift is a hamstring, gluteus maximus and lower-back blaster that recruits the rest of your body to remain stable throughout the movement.
Regular implementation of the deadlift into your weightlifting routine will surely lead to gains of size and strength, as long as volume is regularly being increased. However, the heavy load which with the deadlift is performed can open you up to injury.
One of the most common ailments of people performing deadlift and experiencing an injury is lower-back pain. Low-back pain is caused by having stress on your lower vertebral column throughout repeated movements. Here are some common causes of lower-back pain, treatments and preventative measures you can take while deadlifting to avoid injury in the future.
Causes of Lower Back Pain From Deadlifts: How to Identify and Fix Problems
Admittedly, this section should be called, “things you’re doing wrong”, because deadlifting with good form will only bring muscle soreness, not back pain. But I figured I’d be nice and not quite as blunt in my section naming. Anyhow, lower back pain (if associated with deadlifting) is due to one or more of these factors:
#1 – Deadlifting With A Rounded Back
This is far and wide the most common mistake people make when deadlifting. When you view the exercise from an uninformed perspective, rounding the back seems like a natural thing to occur. However, rounding the back when deadlifting (or picking anything up from the ground) can cause slipped discs, bulged discs and several other problems with your upper and lower vertebrae. This can cause intermittent, constant and permanent back pain that will stay with you.
The fix: Keep that back straight! Focus on engaging your core for stability, flatten your back and pull that weight up. Feels better, doesn’t it?
#2 – Hyper-Extending Your Back
Contrary to the belief of many inexperienced gym-goers, a deadlift rep is complete once your legs are locked out and you are standing up straight. When locking out on deadlift, you should not be leaning back. Not only is this taking unnecessary energy that you could be using for your next rep, it puts you at pretty serious risk for a back injury.
The fix: When you are locking out at the top of your rep, focus on standing up straight, not throwing your upper body back. Bend down, pick up the bar and stand up straight.
#3 – Deadlifting Without Your Legs
Though deadlift is a compound exercise, the prime movers are the legs, not the lower back. Stiff legged deadlifts are also a great exercise, but they are not the same as a conventional deadlift and should not be treated equally in terms of resistance. If you pack on a ton of weight and deadlift with strictly your lower back as the prime mover, you’re opening yourself up to a world of hurt in the form of vertebral problems and muscle strains.
The fix: Make sure that, in the starting position, you have your hips low. If you’re deadlifting with your lower back, that means your hips are too high. Get that butt down, and focus on pulling the bar up with your hamstrings in the first part of the movement. A great tip is not to pull the bar up, but to push the ground away from you.
#4 – Improper Bar Positioning
Bar positioning is key in the deadlift because it determines where the stress is placed. If you place the bar too far in front of you, that’s going to stress your lower back quite a bit more than a deadlift performed correctly.
The fix: When lining up for a deadlift, position the bar over the middle of your feet with your shoulder blades over the bar. This is the correct bar position and will ensure that you’re in place to pull with your legs primarily, and your back secondarily. The bar will move up your shins, so make sure you’re wearing pants or long socks to prevent scrapes.
#5 – Lowering The Bar Incorrectly
Lowering the bar after you lock out your deadlift is an important part of the lift, and bad form can cause just as many problems as with getting the bar up. If the bar isn’t lowered straight down, the bar could end up away from you. Also, if you lower the bar by moving your knees first, the bar could come down on your knees and put them at risk for injury as well.
The fix: When lowering the bar, move your hips back first. When you move your hips back, it creates a little space and gets your knees out of the way. Now that you have clearance, keep that back flat and set the bar down.
#6 – Rounded-Back Stretches After Injury or Discomfort
What is the most common lower back stretch? The toe-touch. Whether standing or seated, the toe touch has been the standard lower back stretch we’ve all grown accustomed to. However, if you are experiencing back pain, it could be due to a bulging disc or other vertebral problem in your back. Instead of providing relief, that stretch could exacerbate the problem and cause further injury.
The fix: Find some lower back stretches (yoga can be a great resource for this) that don’t include rounding your back. There are several stretches out there that can help with back pain that don’t put you at risk for further injury.
With proper form, the deadlift is one of the best exercises to have in your routine. Keep the back straight, start with the bar over your mid-foot, pull with your legs until you’re standing up straight and move your hips back to lower the bar. Remember to include plenty of stretches that are NOT rounded-back stretches to stay loose and help with muscle soreness.
Also, the deadlift isn’t an exercise that should be performed every day. Make sure to give yourself enough time to rest in between sessions. That’s it! Now get to pulling.