Some muscle soreness after weight lifting is standard. However, there shouldn't be lower back pain after a proper deadlift. This type of pain does not indicate a productive session.
Performing deadlifts is a powerful way to strengthen many of your major muscle groups. Still, it can be risky if done incorrectly. This article will explain exactly how to avoid lower back pain when deadlifting.
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Deadlifts are compound exercises that work multiple muscles. You start with a weighted barbell on the ground (the "dead weight" that gives this move its name), and you lift it without using momentum.
There are multiple muscle groups that deadlifts work, including the:
With a deadlift, you'll keep a flat back while using your hips to push back while driving your legs down to the floor to pick up the barbell.
A key benefit to deadlifts is that they allow you to strengthen multiple major muscle groups at once. However, you must perform the deadlift correctly to experience the benefits and avoid an injury.
Several benefits of deadlifting include:
Deadlifts help encourage weight loss by building lean muscle mass.
Deadlifts are compound movements, meaning you can focus on strengthening multiple muscle groups simultaneously.
Deadlifting can increase testosterone and growth hormone production¹, which results in enhanced muscle growth and better recovery.
Here’s what to pay attention to when performing deadlifts:
Set your trunk positioning before you address the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades and make sure that your arms and torso are stiff before lifting. Keep the bar as close to you as possible to prevent too much stress through the back.
(Sometimes, athletes are concerned about rounding their lower back when deadlifting. So, instead, they arch their low back to compensate. Unfortunately, this can make deadlifting even harder, and can, in some cases, contribute to lower back pain.
Working on your hip range is vital to help you to deadlift freely. Practicing your hip hinge is a key exercise that will enable you to generate power through the hips rather than the lower back.
You not only want to master the hip hinge for deadlifting but for plenty of other weightlifting moves (such as barbell rows and kettlebell swings). You should feel tension through the glutes and hamstrings during a hip hinge.
If you cannot hinge your hips, there are several problems that may be restricting you, including:
Stiff hip joint
Tight hip flexors
Weak core muscles
Your posterior kinetic chain refers to the major muscle groups used during a deadlift, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and calves. It can be hard to engage these muscles, especially if you’re new to deadlifts. Toning this group of muscles is also essential for:
Picking up objects off the floor
Weakness or poor activation of the posterior kinetic chain can cause the lower back to carry too much weight. Eventually, this can increase the chance of injuries, such as disc herniations.
A common sign that the posterior kinetic chain requires work is the rounding of the back and not being able to lock out the movement at the very top.
Once you've mastered the foundation for movement (you’re performing hip hinges and strengthening your posterior kinetic chain), it's time to find your proper technique. Here are seven crucial steps:
Grab the bar: With your feet shoulder-width apart, stand as close to the bar as possible. Then, either use a pronated (both palms facing towards you) or mixed grip (palms facing either way) to grip onto the bar.
Bend your knees: Start lowering yourself until your shins come in contact with the bar.
Hold a neutral back position: Lock your back into a straight position (not too hunched or rounded).
Brace your abdomen: Take a deep breath in and tighten up through your torso.
Tighten your shoulders and lats: Next, bring back your shoulder blades and lock your arms into position.
Pull: While you keep the bar close to your legs, pull the weight up through your hips until you’re standing tall. Feel the glutes tense and squeeze as you lockout.
Lower the weight: Lower the weight to the ground using your knees and hips while you maintain a neutral spine.
Besides being known to lifters as an injury-prone exercise, there's limited research studying common injuries from deadlifts. However, a 2018 study² listing typical injuries associated with deadlifts notes muscle ruptures, fractures, meniscus tears, and various lower back injuries.
While deadlifting with proper technique can be safe for the general population, lifting too heavy and too early can increase the risk of developing injuries.
Before you start deadlifting, make sure that your technique is perfect. Then, practice with lighter weights repeatedly until your body has the necessary muscle memory to perform it effortlessly. It’s also best to consult a strength coach or research how to program deadlifts.
A few signs that may indicate that you are at an increased risk of injury from deadlifts include:
Having had previous back surgeries or recently recovering from one
Previous lower back pain injuries from deadlifting
You’re recovering from another type of injury
While deadlifts are hugely beneficial for developing strong legs and back, they can be stressful on your lower back. If you are unsure whether it is suitable for you, please consult a physical therapist, strength coach, or doctor.
Recovering from a deadlift-related lower back injury will depend on the severity of your injury. To help you recover, seek professional help from a physical therapist or doctor. Mild injuries may be manageable at home.
One way to gauge your injury severity is how intense your pain is and how long it has lasted. If pain is affecting you daily, you should seek the input of a medical professional, like a doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist. You could start by speaking with your primary healthcare provider and they may refer you to the appropriate specialist.
If your pain is tolerable, you can try some of the remedies below:
Take a break
It may be tempting to go back to the gym, but it's best to wait until your back is pain-free. You'll want to rest for at least two days to allow for the inflammation and pain to settle. Pushing through the pain can worsen and prolong your injury. Scaling back your training may be inconvenient and annoying, but it's better than re-injuring yourself. Resist the temptation to push through weight lifting-related pain.
You'll want to ice your lower back for 15 to 20 minutes every few hours. Be sure you place a towel or cloth in between your skin to prevent ice damage. Some people use ice for the first several days and then switch to heat afterward. Heat will help increase blood flow and relax any muscle spasms. Also consider icing your back for 15 to 20 minutes, taking a 30-minute break, and then using a heat pack for 15 to 20 minutes.
See a physical therapist or chiropractor
Experiencing sharp pain in your lower back immediately is a sign that you need to see a doctor. They may recommend imaging, treatments, or medications to assist you with a quicker recovery. Other signs that you may need to see a doctor, include:
If it's your first time performing deadlifts, some lower back soreness isn’t unusual. It takes time for your body to adjust to new exercises. However, if you're experiencing shooting and severe back pain, it's crucial that you immediately reach out to a qualified healthcare professional.