Deadlifts build strength, mass, and increase functional fitness, and they can make you a better athlete. In addition, deadlifts improve posture by strengthening your upper back muscles. If you do them correctly the additional strength you build in your back and core helps reduce the risk of lower back pain.
Not only do you target the larger muscles in your back, but the smaller spinal stabilizers chip in too. Deadlifts are one of the best exercises you can do for general strength and fitness since they target so many muscle groups and work them all at once while burning more calories than isolation exercises.
Using good form is essential when you do deadlifts. Bad technique on a deadlift can lead to injury that can take you out of commission for weeks. As much as deadlifts can strengthen the back and glutes and lower the risk of back injury, the deadlift is one of the more common exercises that people injure themselves doing.
Why are injuries so common with deadlifts? One reason is many people have a hard time keeping a straight back when doing the exercise. Rather than keeping a neutral spine, they round their back. Unfortunately, your spine isn’t designed for mobility and when you round your back, it places shearing forces on portions of your spine and that can lead to injury.
For example, excessive shearing forces on the spine can lead to a herniated disc. Since you probably want to prevent a disc herniation, let’s look at some ways to avoid the problem of rounding your back when you do this exercise.
Keep the Bar Closer to Your Body
One reason you might have trouble keeping your back straight is you’re holding the barbell too far from your body. Unless you keep the bar close to your body it’s hard not to round your back when you do the movement. To correct this problem, focus on pulling the weight up towards you to ensure the bar stays close to your body. Keeping the barbell closer will also improve your deadlift as it makes the movement more efficient.
Tighten Your Core Before Launching into a Deadlift
Unless your core does some of the work when you deadlift, most of the burden of lifting the bar will shift to your back, so make sure your core is keeping its end of the deal. To engage, your core, take a deep breath and tighten your core muscles as if you’re wearing a weight training belt. If you’re doing it properly, you should feel the muscles in your core, and they should feel tight and rigid. Unless you tighten your core muscles before moving the bar off the ground, your back may round and your shoulders will fall forward.
Engaging your core in this manner is helpful when you do many strength-training exercises. Plus, tightening your core in the right way will allow you to lift more weight. You can practice core tightening by lying on a mat. Once on the mat, take a deep breath and fill your tummy with air while tightening your abdominal muscles. Don’t let your back and glutes rise from the floor when you do this exercise Keep working at it until tightening your core becomes second nature.
Don’t Let Your Hips Rise Too Much
The hips can make or break your deadlift form. One common problem is people let their hips rise when they reach for the barbell and start lifting it. Why is this a problem? Your back has to work harder when your hips move up and your torso is more horizontal with the floor. It’s never a good idea to overwork your back, especially if you have a history of back problems.
When your hips rise too much during a deadlift, it’s likely you have weak knee extensors. The way to correct that is to strengthen your quadriceps. One of the best exercises for strengthening the quads is squats. So, focus more of your attention on doing quad-focused exercises, particularly squats. Strengthening your quads will often reduce the tendency to thrust your hips into the air when you deadlift.
Do More Hip Mobility Drills
If your hips lack flexibility and mobility, your back will have to work harder and you’ll more likely round your back to get your back more involved in the exercise. A better approach is to work on improving your hip mobility by doing hip mobility drills. Lack of hip mobility makes it harder to do a squat with good form and with a straight back.
Have Someone Critique Your Form
Make sure you know the positioning of your back when you deadlift. If you’re rounding your back, you may not be aware of it until you’re injured. Ask someone who understands the exercise to look at your form. You can’t correct a problem that you don’t know you have.
Some people learned how to deadlift wrong. When they started out, they rounded their back and the habit stuck with them. If that’s the case, you’ll need to unlearn the exercise and approach the exercise with more attention to form. Just because you can do the exercise doesn’t mean you’re doing it correctly.
The first sign you’re doing something wrong may be an injured back. You can get by with slightly rounding your upper back during a deadlift, but rounding your lower back is harmful and could more lead to a lumbar disc herniation.
Lighten Up on the Weight
Until you can correct the problem of rounding your back, lighten up on the weight. Working with heavy weight just worsens the problem and increases the risk of injury.
Also, don’t begin a deadlifting session with a heavy barbell. Do warm-up sets with a light barbell before deadlifting with heavy weights to make sure your muscles are warm and are ready for the challenge ahead.
The Bottom Line
There’s more than one reason to avoid rounding your back. One is to avoid injury and the other is to ensure you maximize your performance and the results you get. Use these tips to keep your back from rounding and optimize your performance when you deadlift.
“The Deadlift and Its Application to Overall Performance.” https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/tsac-report/the-deadlift-and-its-application-to-overall-performance/.
“Exploring the Deadlift : Strength & Conditioning Journal.” https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2010/04000/Exploring_the_Deadlift.4.aspx.
“An electromyographic analysis of sumo and conventional ….” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11932579/.
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