All exercises have the ability to hurt your back, however the deadlift is often the primary culprit when it comes to gym exercises – besides when people decide performing squats, pushups, bicep curls and backflips all at the same time on a Bosu ball is a good idea (tip – its not, keep your exercises simple and purposeful and you will get the results!)
Firstly I would like to point out; at no time during any exercise should you feel pain. Your muscles working and being under load is a different feeling to sharp and unwanted pain. If you are feeling pain whilst performing a movement – stop!
Back pain when deadlifting is usually an indication that you are doing something wrong when you’re lifting/your technique is incorrect or you’re lifting heavier than you should be for your bodies strength.
The deadlift should really be felt along your entire posterior chain, glutes, and hamstrings. Your muscles should be locked and loaded to perform a full body movement in control.
Below are a few things people often do incorrectly when deadlifting, avoid these like the plague and you should begin to feel the movement in all the right places.
Your shoulders aren’t in your back pockets
In your starting position, you should be focusing on your shoulder blades being down and locked. Focus on trying to put your shoulders in your back pockets (clearly just a cue) and maintaining a long and straight spine.
You lead with your head
There is zero reason for you to be staring into your own eyes in the mirror in front of you whilst performing a deadlift. Keep your eyes straight during the entire lift, you should only be looking forward when you are executing the top of the lift. By leading with your eyes/head you will be flexing your neck which is a big no-no.
You start with the bar too far away
Aim to have those nasty bruises up your shins the next day. You literally want to bring the bar to your shins at the start of the lift and maintain that for as long as possible throughout. If you start with the bar too far away from your body you are giving yourself a poor line of pull and putting too much pressure on your upper body to keep control of the bar, often leading it to bend.
You’re not pushing
Yes, the deadlift may seem like a pulling movement, however, it is much more beneficial for you to think of pushing the ground away from you through your feet rather than pulling the weight up to you. Thinking of the movement as a “PULL” can put your back in a very fragile position that is much more likely to round.
You’re overextending at the top
This one will almost always lead to that lower back pain. There is no reason for you to hump the bar at the top of the movement and extend your hips, it is simply putting your lower back in a compromising position. Finish the lift by switching on your quads and glutes, not by driving through your lower back and pelvis.
Shaking off bad habits such as those above are great ways to begin improving your deadlift and minimising your chances of hurting your back. However, prevention is always key – ensuring you are being coached by a reputable trainer and that a physiotherapist has assessed your movement patterns in order to guide you in your training is vital in getting results not injuries.