6 Pro Tips For Reducing Lower Back Pain During Deadlifts

By djpope

January 9, 2019

deadlift, exercises, low back, lumbar, lumbar spine, pain, physical therapy

In the last post we went over modifications for the bench press when the shoulder hurts. Click HERE if you missed it. Today we talk deadlifting. Before we get started, here are some basic principles to keep in mind about deadlifting and lower back pain:

Generally speaking, 3 things that increase stress to the lower back when deadlifting are:

  1. Going too far outside of “Neutral Spine” – The muscles around the spine fire best and the stresses on the spine are minimized when the spine is kept in a neutral position while squatting.
    1. Deeper deadlifts (rack pull vs. deadlift from floor) are more stressful because they require more lower back rounding then more shallow deadlifts
    2. Mobility issues at the hamstrings can create more lower back rounding
    3. Stance effects this as well, for some neutral spine will be much easier to maintain with a sumo stance.
  2. Greater loads – The more weight on the bar generally equates to more stress on the spine
    1. Faster lifting speeds also increase stress on the spine
  3. More forward torso inclination – Inclining the torso forward and sending the hips back further during a deadlift increases stress to the spine.  Think of the difference between a romanian deadlift and a trap bar deadlift.

Now that we have a basic understanding of deadlifting and lower back stress…

6 Pro Tips For Reducing Lower Back Pain During Deadlifts

  1. Learn how to maintain a neutral spine and brace appropriately during deadlifts  
    1. Decrease depth of deadlifts to reduce lower back rounding at the bottom of the squat
      1. Exercise examples: Rack pulls, partial range dumbbell deadlifts, elevated handle trap bar deadlift
  2. Mobilize the hamstrings – If hamstring mobility is an issue then mobilize hamstrings prior to lifting
  3. Decrease the load lifted or speed of lifting – Taking weight off the bar will help to decrease stress on the spine as well as slowing down the speed of lifting.
    1. Try tempo lifts with an emphasis on a slower lower
    2. Add 2-3 repetitions to your working sets to encourage less weight on the bar but to still get a training effect
    3. Utilize a deadlift variation that forces you to use less load like a dumbbell romanian deadlift
  4. Use a deadlift variation that makes you more upright – A more upright deadlift variation decreases stress on the spine.
    1. Sumo and trap bar deadlifts over conventional deadlifts
  5. Try hip thrusts – Hip thrusts work the lower back, hip and hamstring muscles similarly to a deadlift but have less compressive force through the spine and are generally well tolerated for painful lower backs.
  6. Substitute leg strength work – If all else fails and all movements are painful then try utilizing single leg exercises.  These still allow some leg strength training while decreasing stress on the spine
    1. Single leg deadlifts, kick stand romanian deadlifts and good mornings

Modifying the Deadlift for Lower Back Pain

When you are unable to eliminate pain by slowing down reps, attempting a higher rep range or modifying technique, use the ladder below to find a pain free deadlifting variation. Modifications towards the left side of the image are more stressful on the spine and modifications towards the right side of the image are less stressful on the spine.

So there you have it, a simple plan for training the deadlift when the lower back hurts. These modification ladders are a large part of my new online training group “Champion Stronger”. Enrollment is open for this week only and closes this sunday the 13th.

Here’s what you can expect if you sign-up to be a part of our exclusive training group, Champion STRONGER:

  • A Challenging Monthly Training Program – We’re going to train hard. Every month you’ll get a new program that builds on the previous one, broken up into 3 month phases. The training will be largely focused around barbell strength training with a heavy dose of accessory work to keep you healthy and moving well. There will be options to modify the volume and exercises to fit your needs so you know you’re getting the best training for you, and we’ll take feedback from the group and design challenging, effective training blocks, so you never have to worry about coming up with your own workouts again.
  • BONUS Accessory Training Days – We get it, not everyone has the same amount of time for training. We designed the program to be a standard 4-day split, but to account for individual goals and needs we’ve written ‘bonus’ conditioning and accessory hypertrophy days so you can maximize your training towards your goals.
  • Expert Coaching –  Dan Pope, DPT, CSCS and Kiefer Lammi, CSCS are experienced coaches with backgrounds in powerlifting, olympic weightlifting, Strongman, and Crossfit. Both are part of the expert team of Physical Therapists and Strength Coaches at Champion PT and Performance where we help hundreds of real people from various backgrounds to get great results. Not only will you know you’re in great hands with the detailed thought they’ve put into your programming and associated info, but you’ll have complete access to their technical coaching through the Facebook community. Post training videos or questions any time and they’ll get back to you with detailed answers so you’ll always have piece of mind.
  • Built In Accountability and Community – There’s nothing better than training with a group of like-minded people who share similar goals and can push you to train harder and get the most out of your workouts. While an online group might not be quite the same, our exclusive online community will be there to push you, support you, and keep things fun in your training!
  • Detailed Information on Modification for Pain or Injury – We know that no single training program can be 100% perfect for everyone, and many of you may come into this with your own unique training and injury history. We took the time to prepare detailed information documents on how to navigate and manage pain and training modification for your major lifts. This alone is worth the cost of signing up!
  • Insight Into Our Coaching And Programming Process – Believe it or not, many of the people we work with are other coaches, therapists and athletic trainers looking to learn more and get great coaching themselves. Not only will you have a done-for-you training program, but you’ll have a chance to learn detailed parts of our training and programming process that could help you be a better professional yourself!

Click HERE to join now!

That’s a ton of value in one training group and honestly, that was our goal. We’ve seen enough online training programs and groups to know what we’ve liked, and what we haven’t. We don’t want STRONGER to be just another training program. Our goal is to give you as much value as possible so that you’ve got everything you need to make it the last training group you ever join.

Come join us!

Dan Pope and Kiefer Lammi