Deadlifts are as risky as they are beneficial. They’re often blamed for back injuries, but that only happens when they’re done incorrectly—which unfortunately is often. If you can focus your technique, you can avoid deadlift back pain.
Follow these four tips to ensure you are performing flawless Deadlifts and increasing your strength rather than your days off due to injury.
1. Try to bend the bar
Many athletes fall into the habit of letting the barbell drift away, especially when it is coming back down. This puts undue stress on the lower back, and invites a disc herniation.
How do you keep the bar on your shins throughout the lift? It starts and ends with your lats—the muscles on the sides of your back. Engaging these muscles will keep your upper body taut and much less likely to release the bar.
To engage your lats, simply pretend you are attempting to bend the bar in half. This action will pull your shoulders down and back, and will allow you to feel your lats contract. Hold this grip throughout the lift.
2. Finish with the glutes
The Deadlift can be one of the best posterior-chain exercises if you contract your glutes to their fullest at the end of each repetition. This precaution will also prevent your lower back from swaying at the top, which can cause strain.
The two photos below show the difference between a Deadlift finished with a strong contribution from the glutes and one finished without much glute action:
Left: Incorrect deadlift hip extension; Right: Correct deadlift hip extension
3. Get the majority of your weight on your back heels
Before you pull the bar off the floor, feel your weight on your back heels. This will allow your glutes and hamstrings to contribute to their fullest. It will also ensure that you don’t simply pull the bar off the floor using your lower back.
When your weight is on your heels, the bar is set against the shins and you can pull back instead of just up. When your weight is shifted more toward your toes, you really have no choice but to use too much back, because the glutes and hamstrings won’t contribute much.
The two photos below show the difference between a toe-dominant and heel-dominant Deadlift:
Left: Toe-Dominant Deadlift: Right, Heel-Dominant Deadlift
4. You don’t have to Deadlift off the floor
Yes, conventional Deadlifts are done off the floor. But that doesn’t mean everyone is meant to start there. You may need to set the bar on risers and limit your range of motion.
The video above shows what deadlifting off risers looks like.
As you get more comfortable deadlifting, and your back is experiencing less pain, you can gradually work your way back to the floor.