There has been a huge surge in popularity of barbell training recently, in particular deadlifts and all its variations, partly due to the ever growing interest in sports such as powerlifting, weightlifting and CrossFit.
Deadlifts and the other barbell lifts, have been around for a very long time and whether they are in vogue or not, done correctly, they can have massive benefits on almost anyone’s health, fitness and performance.
The big problem is, the number of gym goers and sadly even personal trainers massacring the deadlift and its variations, hell no, the problem is they are massacring theirs and their client’s low backs.
For simplicity I will refer to all variations of the deadlift, simply as the deadlift.
For reference, this includes:
Good mornings (not technically a deadlift, but it is a hip hinge, so the same rules apply)
Block pulls and deficit deadlifts
Stiff leg deadlifts
Let’s set one thing straight, the deadlift is a very technical and systemically demanding exercise, it may appear to be just bending over and picking up the bar, however the degree of mobility, flexibility, stability and coordination coupled with the potential for injury, makes correct technique with a deadlift absolutely paramount.
Listen I have been deadlifting for well over 20 years and I have had the misfortune of injuring my back and guess what, it was solely due to a breakdown in technique.
While there are several ways a deadlift can be totally screwed up, I’m going to focus on one major point, the one which has the potential to be the most disastrous. Rounding of the low back.
So why is it so important to not ‘round the low back’, when deadlifting?
Well it’s primarily to do with loading the lumber spine. The deadlift is a hip hinge movement, the gluteus and hamstrings are prime movers when hip hinging, however, as the load is in front of the body and you are hinging forward from the hips, notice how I said hinging and not bending, more on that later, all that load goes through the lumbar spine. As the deadlift is most often used to build strength, those loads can be very high. Loading the lumbar spine with heavy loads, isn’t usually a problem, IF the vertebrae are in correct alignment. Think neutral spine or flat back or whatever cue tells you to maintain a slight extension through the lumbar spine and not allow any flexion throughout the lift.
If you allow your lower back to round (flexion) while deadlifting a heavy weight, your lumbar discs are subjected to massive compressive shear forces and your risk of disc injury sky rockets. Not only that, but you are also subjecting the muscles, tendons and ligaments (soft tissues) of the low back, to massive loads in a stretched position, which if you weren’t already aware, is the easiest way to sprain, strain or outright tear those soft tissues.
That’s two massive kicks in the balls right there, for your lower back. If you continue to lift like this, it’s not a case of if you get injured, it’s a case of when and how badly.
If this is you, then you absolutely must stop lifting heavy until your technique has been fixed. If you’re a trainer, then it’s your professional duty to understand how to deadlift with correct technique and how to coach your clients to lift correctly.
Don’t jump the gun with deadlifts, learn the proper form and technique, then you can test your strength. DO NOT DO IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
So the next time you hit the gym for some deadlifting, make sure you learn how to set your low back tight, maintain a neutral spine, brace your core (this means the abs and low back muscles keep the spine ridged and don’t flex or extend, they just stay tense and tight) and lift with the hips, legs and whole body, hinging at the hips and not just trying to lift with a rounded back so contorted, it gives you a one way ticket to snap city.