Lower back pain from Deadlifts means you’re using bad form. Deadlifting with your lower back rounded compresses your spinal discs from the front. Excess lower back rounding during heavy Deadlifts can result in lower back injuries like herniated discs.
But Deadlifting with proper form builds a strong back. If you keep your lower back neutral and the bar close to you, you’ll strengthen the muscles around your spine. Proper Deadlifts build a “natural belt” that supports your spine and protects it against injury during daily activities.
This means Deadlifts don’t cause back pain. Deadlifts with bad form do. Lower back pain during or after Deadlifts means your form needs work. Here are the seven most common Deadlift mistakes that cause lower back pain, and what you can do about it to Deadlift pain-free.
1. Your Lower Back Rounds During Deadlifts
Lower back rounding during Deadlifts compresses your intervertebral discs. It squeezes the front part of your discs in your lower back. This can result in lower back injuries like herniated discs. To keep your lower back safe, Deadlift with your lower back neutral. Maintain the natural arch in your lower back from the start of your Deadlift on the floor, until the lockout at the top.
Advanced Deadlifters like Konstantin Konstantinov Deadlift with their lower back rounded. This bring their hips closer to the bar, makes the weight easier to pull and increases their Deadlift. But the risk of injury is higher, especially when Deadlifting heavy. Some people manage to Deadlift like this for years without back pain. You might not be that lucky. The safest position to Deadlift is with your lower back neutral.
Upper-back rounding is not as bad as lower back rounding. The upper part of your spine handles rounding better than your lower spine. Advanced powerlifters will Deadlift with their upper-back rounded to lower their shoulders, decrease the distance the bar moves and lift heavier weights. But less experienced Deadlifters often struggle to keep their lower back neutral when their upper-back rounds. So keep your chest up.
Deadlifting with your lower back neutral doesn’t mean keeping it straight. Your lower spine has a natural arch when you stand (“lordosis”). Setup for Deadlifts with this natural arch in your lower back. Maintain this arch while you pull the weight from floor to lockout. Don’t setup with your lower back rounded and try to get it neutral after the bar leaves the floor. Start and stay neutral. This is safer for your lower back.
To stop lower back rounding when you Deadlift, setup with your chest up on every rep. Remember to raise your chest between reps when the bar is back on the floor. If your lower back continues to rounds, arch it harder by pulling your hips to the ceiling. But don’t hyper-extend (see mistake #2). Keep your lower back neutral from start to finish. That’s how the muscles around your spine become stronger.
2. Your Lower Back Hyper-extends During Deadlifts
Deadlifting with excess lower back arch is as bad as pulling with your lower back rounded. Rounding your lower back compresses the front part of your spinal discs. Arching your spine in the opposite direction also compresses your spinal discs, but the back part. This means Deadlifting heavy with excess lower back arch also increases the risk of lower back injuries like herniated discs.
Your lower back has a natural arch when you stand (“lordosis”). Deadlifting while maintaining this natural arch is safest for your spine. Some people try to avoid rounding on Deadlifts by arching their lower back. Sometimes this helps. Often it results in excess arching (hyper-extension). If you Deadlift heavy with your lower back too arched, you’ll compress the back part of your intervertebral discs and injure your back.
Some people walk with excess arch in their lower back (hyper-lordosis). Sedentary lifestyles shorten the hip flexors, pull the pelvis forward and cause hyper-lordosis. High heels as well as hormonal differences cause women to have more anterior pelvis tilt and lordosis than men on average. If your lower back shows excess arch when standing and sitting, it will show excess arch during Deadlifts. This can result in back pain.
To avoid excess arching during Deadlifts, setup with your lower back neutral and squeeze your abs hard. Don’t look up or your lower back will hyper-extend. Keep your head inline with your torso, straight line from head to hips. If your lower back continues to arch too much, wear a belt. This will give your abs something to push against and cue you to squeeze your abs hard when you Deadlift.
Do NOT lean back at the top of your Deadlifts or you’ll hurt your lower back. Advanced powerlifters lean back in competitions so the judges can see they’ve locked the weight. But leaning back at the top squeezes the back of your intervertebral discs which can result in lower back injury. Stand up with the weight until your hips and knees are locked. Keep your lower back neutral. Don’t lean back.
3. You Don’t Use Your Legs When Your Deadlift
Deadlifts aren’t stiff-legged Deadlifts. If your hips are too high, your legs are almost straight. Your knees can’t straighten to lift the weight off the floor because they’re already straight. Less muscles working is less weight you’ll Deadlift. And your hips and lower back have to work harder since your knees can’t help. This increases lower back stress. It gets even worse if you round or over-arch your lower spine in this position.
Drop your hips and use your legs. The length of your limbs determines the proper hip position for your Deadlift setup. Don’t copy somebody else’s setup unless you have the same build or you’ll set your hips too low/high. Instead setup with the bar over your mid-foot and your shoulder-blades over the bar. Your hips will be where they should be, you’ll use your legs and stop getting back pain when you Deadlift.
If your hips raise too fast, your lower back will also have to do all the work. Lock your hips in position by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. Then push through the floor as if doing the Leg Press. Don’t try to pull the weight, push the floor away. Don’t let your hips raise faster than your chest, raise them both at the same time. Use your legs and you’ll save your lower back.
4. You Don’t Deadlift With The Bar Against Your Legs
The further the bar from your body when you Deadlift, the heavier the weight feels. Holding your laptop at arm’s length is harder than close to your body. The front raise is harder than the Overhead Press. And Deadlifting with the bar drifting away from your legs is harder on your lower back than if you keep it close. Drag the bar over your shins, knees and thighs to the top.
If you have bloody shins, the bar is too close or you’re Squatting your Deadlifts. Setup with the bar over your mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar. This raises your hips, keep your shins back and creates space for the bar. Don’t Deadlift in shorts or you’ll keep the bar at a distance to avoid shin contact. You must drag the bar over your legs to save your lower back. Wear long pants and pull your socks up to protect your shins.
5. You Lower The Bar Wrong
The wrong way to lower the bar is by moving your knees first. The bar will hit and roll over your knees. It will move away from your body instead of straight down. This is harder on your lower back. Worse, your back can round and you can lose balance. The bar will then land over your forefoot instead of mid-foot. Pull your next rep from here, the bar will go up in a J-curve instead of straight up. This too is harder on your lower back.
Lower the bar by moving your hips back first. Don’t hyper-extend your lower back, keep it neutral. No excess arching or you’ll hurt your lower back. Maintain a natural arch. The point is to move your hips back to keep your knees back so the bar has space to go down. Once it reaches your knees, bend your legs. Keep the bar close to you, over your mid-foot, at all times to save lower back stress.
6. You Think Belts Protect Against Bad Deadlift Form
Belts don’t protect against injuries from Deadlifting with bad form. Pulling with a rounded lower back compresses your spinal discs from the front. More weight is a bigger risk of injury. You can lift more weight with a belt. And the belt can create a false sense of security that your lower back is injury-proof. If you Deadlift with bad form and injure yourself, the injury can be worse than if you didn’t use a belt.
Deadlift with a belt to lift heavier. Not to fix back pain from Deadlifting with bad form. Deadlift the first weeks of StrongLifts 5×5 without belt and focus on keeping your lower back neutral. After a few weeks, add a belt to give your abs something to push against. Your abs will contract harder, boost abdominal pressure and increase your Deadlift. Pull with your lower back neutral and it will get stronger.
7. You Keep Stretching Your Lower Back
Stretching by bending over and touching your toes can feel good. But if you hurt your lower back Deadlifting with bad form and now have a disc bulge, you’ll increase the bulge with this stretch. The quickest way to get back into Deadlifting is to reduce the disc bulge. Stretching your back by touching your toes doesn’t achieve this. It compresses the injured disc in your lower back and irritates it.
If you want to stretch your lower back, I’ve put a quick guide together with the best lower back stretch I’ve found. It’s an exercise Chinese and Russian weight lifters use. It stretches your lower back without bending or arching it. It only takes a minute, and you can do it at home (I do it several times a day). Once you try this exercise, you’ll never do toe-touches again. You’ll also save money on chiropractors. To download my short guide with the best lower back stretch, share this article below…
Deadlifts Are Worth The Risk of Injury!
Any physical activity can cause injury. Yes, you can hurt your lower back with Deadlifts. But more people hurt their back outside the gym than doing Deadlifts. Sitting slouched at work for hours is bad for your lower back. So is picking up something at work by bending over with straight legs and a rounded lower back. Everybody knows somebody who never did Deadlifts but hurt his lower back anyway at work or home.
If you Deadlift with good form each week, you’re more likely to use good form outside the gym. Practicing lifting with a neutral lower back makes it second nature. It also makes it easier because Deadlifts strengthen your legs. So you’re more likely to lift things by bending through your legs with a neutral back. And since Deadlifts strengthens the muscles around your spine, it supports and protects it in daily life.
Proper Deadlift form makes the difference between hurting your lower back and strengthening it. The Deadlift is a natural movement, part of every day life. If you can’t Deadlift with proper form in a controlled environment like the gym, you can’t do it outside. The older you are, the more likely you’ll eventually hurt yourself during daily activities. Deadlifts can hurt your lower back. But so can not Deadlifting.
I recommend you practice Deadlifting with proper form in the gym every week. Check out my StrongLifts 5×5 program. It includes Deadlifts every week. And it starts with light weights so you can focus on form, build your confidence and get stronger without hurting your lower back.
- How to Deadlift with Proper form: The Definitive Guide
- 13 Deadlift Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Gym Newbie
- How to Increase Grip Strength For Deadlifts
- Deadlifts aren’t Squats: Low vs. High Hips
- How to Increase Your Deadlift
If you’re still struggling with lower back pain after using these tips, I recommend you check the book “Back Mechanic” by Dr Stuart McGill Phd. It will help you assess the cause of your back pain, and then show you how to fix it. Dr Stuart McGill is considered the authority when it comes to back pain and deals with athletes/lifters all the time. Check out his big three exercises (not Sq/BP/DL) in his book, I do them a lot. You can get the book here.