There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that people experiencing any symptoms of back pain shouldn’t deadlift. Arguments for and against are numerous which begs the question: do you even need to deadlift?
There’s some face validity to the argument against deadlifting. If you experience any back pain, particularly in the lumbar region, pulling from the floor would seemingly present an adverse stress to the lumbar spine. Thusly, low-back pain is a contraindication to performing deadlifts.
DOES THAT MEAN I SHOULDN’T DEADLIFT?
Let’s deconstruct this argument for a second. Why do we have low-back pain? Oftentimes, people experience this discomfort sue to excess compressive forces on the intervertebral discs. This compressive force is usually due to poor spinal posture, which in turn is caused by spinal and pelvic stabilizers. Any pain felt in the thoracic spine can usually be attributed to weak lats, traps, and rotator cuff muscles. When do people usually feel this pain while deadlifting? While lifting outside of good technique.
USE THE DEADLIFT TO REDUCE PAIN WHILE DEADLIFTING
Contrary to many lifter’s beliefs, the deadlift is nothing like the squat. You are not simply squatting from the floor. For the lifter to produce an efficient pull, the bar has to move straight up and straight down. In order to accomplish this, the lifters hips must rise faster than the shoulders initially in order to get the bar past the knees. The majority of the knee extension will have to occur early in the lift. If you try to “squat” the bar from the floor, the bar pattern is altered, mechanical advantage is lost, and excessive forces begin acting on the lumbar spine as a result.
Lighten the load and focus on your Hip Hinge. Lightening the load a little will allow you to focus on proper technique. However, make sure the load isn’t so easy to move that the bar can be lifted with compensatory movement patterns. Getting to a solid hip hinge position allows the bar enough clearance to pass by the knees without changing it’s path. If it feels a little like an RDL, you’re right. Remember that this exercise is predominantly targeting the posterior chain. Activate your hamstrings by shifting your weight to the heels prior to pulling. Stabilize the spine by locking your lats and shoulder blades. Maintain a neutral spine and pelvis by bringing your head with your body as a unit and bracing your “core” respectively.
HOW WILL THIS HELP MY BACK PAIN?
Success in the deadlift involves targeting the very same muscles that are indirectly causing the discomfort. By strengthening these weak muscles, compensatory spinal posture will eventually be altered, paving the way for a pain free lifestyle.
The issue is how to get started. A lot of people think that they need to taylor themselves to fit the exercise. Why not alter it to fit your unique structure? If your hip mobility, or lack thereof, prevents you from getting into a stable enough position to pull from the floor, pull from some lifting blocks or do RDLs instead. The goal right now is to improve spinal and pelvic stabilization. Sumo Deadlifts recruit more from the glutes and hamstrings while simultaneously placing less emphasis on the lumbar. Trap Bar Deadlifts are a great training tool, particularly for taller lifters. However, the hex-shape of the bar makes it easier to “squat” from the floor. Maintain form and work toward a solid hip hinge.
Make sure your auxiliary lifts are focused on the goal of improving posterior chain strength as well as stabilization.Strong glutes and hamstrings help alleviate lumbar pain. Make sure your program includes plenty of movements rich in hip extension.
Thoracic pain and pore posture can be fixed by deadlifting properly. Locking your scapulae in a stable position, engaging the lats, and maintaining a neutral head during the pull trains the body to stabilize itself. By strengthening these muscles, your posture will begin to improve.
Author: Aaron Runner, MS, CSCS
Aaron Runner is the Owner of Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA and a former NCAA Strength & Conditioning Coach.