Deadlifting And Back Pain: Full Guide

Deadlifting is a powerhouse exercise in strength training, but many wonder if it contributes to or alleviates back pain.

The answer: when done correctly, deadlifting can significantly reduce chronic low back pain and improve overall function.

Keep reading for a more detailed explanation on how to safely incorporate deadlifting into your routine.

Understanding Deadlifting

Deadlifting is one of the fundamental exercises in strength training, renowned for its ability to build overall strength and power.

By lifting a weight from the ground to hip level, deadlifting engages a variety of muscle groups and plays a crucial role in enhancing athletic performance and daily functional movements.

Deadlifting involves lifting a loaded barbell or other weighted implement from the ground to hip height, then lowering it back down.

This seemingly simple motion is incredibly effective for developing strength across multiple muscle groups.

Deadlifts are essential not just for athletes but for anyone looking to improve their physical fitness.

They help build a solid foundation of strength that supports various other physical activities and everyday tasks.

Different Types of Deadlifts

Conventional Deadlift: This is the most common form of deadlifting.

The feet are positioned about hip-width apart, and the hands grip the bar outside the knees.

The lift starts from a crouched position with the hips back and the spine neutral.

The primary focus is on the back and hip extensor muscles.

Sumo Deadlift: In this variation, the feet are placed wider than shoulder-width apart, and the hands grip the bar inside the knees.

This stance reduces the range of motion and places greater emphasis on the legs and hips, making it a suitable option for individuals with back issues or those looking to target different muscle groups.

Hex Bar Deadlift: Also known as the trap bar deadlift, this variation uses a hexagonal bar that allows the lifter to stand inside it.

The grip is neutral, and the movement pattern is more akin to a squat than a traditional deadlift.

This variation is often considered easier on the lower back and is ideal for beginners or those with back pain.

Muscles Targeted During Deadlifting

Deadlifting is a compound movement, meaning it works multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Here are the primary muscles engaged during a deadlift:

Back Muscles: The erector spinae muscles along the spine are heavily involved in maintaining a neutral position and controlling the movement.

The latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and traps also play supportive roles in stabilizing the upper back.

Hip and Leg Muscles: The gluteus maximus and hamstrings are the primary movers during the hip extension phase of the lift.

The quadriceps are engaged as well, particularly during the initial pull from the ground.

Core Muscles: The abdominal muscles, including the rectus abdominis and obliques, are crucial for maintaining core stability throughout the lift.

A strong core helps protect the spine and ensures efficient transfer of power.

Grip and Forearm Muscles: Holding onto the bar requires significant grip strength, engaging the muscles of the forearms and hands.

Benefits of Deadlifting for Back Pain

Deadlifting, when performed correctly, can be a powerful tool in managing and alleviating back pain.

Here, we delve into how deadlifting can improve pain and function, enhance strength and endurance, and promote proper movement patterns.

Improvement in Pain and Function

Deadlifting has been shown to significantly reduce pain and improve function in individuals with chronic low back pain (CLBP).

A notable study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation highlighted that participants who engaged in a structured deadlifting program experienced remarkable improvements.

Over the course of the study, pain intensity decreased by 72%, disability was reduced by 76%, and quality of life improved by 27%.

These results indicate that deadlifting, when incorporated into a well-designed exercise regimen, can offer substantial relief and enhance daily living for those suffering from back pain.

Personal stories and case studies further reinforce these findings.

For instance, many individuals with CLBP report experiencing less pain and greater mobility after integrating deadlifts into their fitness routines.

These real-life examples underscore the potential of deadlifting to transform the management of back pain.

Strength and Endurance Gains

One of the key benefits of deadlifting is its ability to strengthen the muscles that support the spine.

The lumbar muscles, in particular, gain significant endurance and strength through deadlifting.

Stronger lumbar muscles provide better support to the spine, reducing the likelihood of pain and injury.

Additionally, deadlifting helps reduce muscle fat infiltration in the lower back, which is crucial for maintaining muscle health and function.

Endurance plays a critical role in managing chronic back pain.

By improving the endurance of the lumbar and hip extensor muscles, deadlifting helps ensure that these muscles can support prolonged activities without fatiguing quickly.

This increased endurance translates to better posture and reduced strain on the back during everyday tasks, further aiding in pain management.

Promoting Proper Movement Patterns

Proper movement patterns are essential for preventing back injuries and managing existing pain.

Deadlifting, when executed with correct form, reinforces these patterns and enhances core stability.

The lift requires maintaining a neutral spine, engaging the core, and using the hip hinge movement – all of which are vital for protecting the back.

By consistently practicing deadlifts, individuals can develop better body mechanics that translate to safer and more efficient movements in daily life.

This not only reduces the risk of injury but also improves overall functional capabilities.

Enhanced core stability, achieved through deadlifting, supports the spine and helps distribute loads more evenly across the body, further mitigating back pain.

Risks and Challenges of Deadlifting

While deadlifting offers numerous benefits, it also carries certain risks and challenges, particularly if not performed correctly.

Understanding these risks and how to mitigate them is crucial for safe and effective lifting.

Muscle Strain and Soreness

Muscle strain and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) are common challenges, especially for those new to deadlifting or those who increase their load too quickly.

Muscle strain occurs when muscles are overstretched or torn, typically presenting as sharp pain during or after lifting.

DOMS, on the other hand, manifests as muscle stiffness and soreness that appears 24 to 72 hours post-exercise.

To manage and prevent soreness, it's essential to start with a proper warm-up.

Dynamic stretches and light aerobic exercises can prepare your muscles for the demands of deadlifting.

Gradual progression in weight and intensity helps your muscles adapt without overloading them.

Additionally, incorporating rest days and allowing adequate recovery time between lifting sessions can reduce the risk of strain and soreness.

Improper Technique

Improper technique is one of the most significant risks associated with deadlifting.

Common form mistakes include rounding the back, not engaging the core, lifting with the legs instead of the hips, and using too much weight too soon.

These errors can place undue stress on the lumbar spine, leading to potential injuries.

To avoid these pitfalls, it is crucial to focus on proper form.

Maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift by keeping your back straight and shoulders back.

Engage your core muscles to provide stability and prevent rounding of the back.

The bar should stay close to your body, and your head should be slightly up to keep the spine aligned.

Starting with lighter weights allows you to master the technique before progressing to heavier loads.

Watching visual aids or videos from reputable sources can also help in understanding and practicing the correct form.

Individual Variability

Not everyone may benefit equally from deadlifting, and certain individuals may need to avoid or modify the exercise.

People with acute low back injuries, sciatica, or significant musculoskeletal issues might find traditional deadlifting exacerbates their condition.

For these individuals, consulting with a healthcare professional or a physical therapist is essential before incorporating deadlifts into their routine.

Conditions such as herniated discs, severe arthritis, or advanced osteoporosis require special consideration.

In such cases, modifications like using a hex bar or performing deadlifts from an elevated surface can reduce the strain on the lower back.

Tailoring the deadlifting approach to individual needs and limitations ensures safety and effectiveness.

Actionable Advice for Safe Deadlifting

Deadlifting can be immensely beneficial when performed safely and correctly.

Here, we provide comprehensive and actionable advice to ensure you can deadlift with confidence while minimizing the risk of injury.

Start Light and Progress Gradually

For beginners, starting with lighter weights is essential.

This approach allows you to master the deadlifting technique without placing undue stress on your muscles and joints.

Begin with a weight that you can lift comfortably for 8-12 repetitions with good form.

As you become more confident and proficient, gradually increase the weight in small increments.

This method, known as progressive overload, helps build strength and endurance over time without overloading your body too quickly.

Progressive overload is crucial because it ensures continuous improvement in strength and muscle adaptation.

It’s important to listen to your body and only increase the weight when you feel ready.

Rushing the process can lead to injuries and setbacks, so patience is key.

Use Proper Technique

Maintaining proper technique is the cornerstone of safe deadlifting.

Follow these steps to ensure you are lifting correctly:

  1. Setup: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell over the middle of your feet. Bend at the hips and knees to grip the bar with your hands just outside your knees.
  2. Position: Keep your back straight and shoulders back. Engage your core muscles to stabilize your spine.
  3. Lift: Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees simultaneously to lift the bar. Keep the bar close to your body as you rise.
  4. Finish: Stand up straight with your shoulders back, chest out, and hips fully extended.
  5. Lowering the Bar: Reverse the motion by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep the bar close to your body and maintain a straight back until the bar is back on the ground.

Engaging your core throughout the lift helps protect your spine and prevents rounding of the back.

Proper bar positioning and alignment of your head and spine are critical for reducing the risk of injury.

Consider Alternative Deadlift Variations

For those with back pain or specific limitations, alternative deadlift variations can be beneficial.

Hex bar deadlifts, for example, involve a neutral grip and a more upright torso position, which reduces the strain on the lower back.

Elevated deadlifts, where the bar starts on blocks or a rack, also decrease the range of motion and can be easier on the back.

Choosing the right variation depends on your individual needs and goals.

If you have lower back issues, starting with hex bar deadlifts or elevated deadlifts might be more suitable.

These variations can help you build strength without compromising your back health.

Warm-Up Properly

A proper warm-up is essential to prepare your muscles and joints for the demands of deadlifting.

Begin with light aerobic exercises, such as jogging or cycling, to increase blood flow and raise your body temperature.

Follow this with dynamic stretches targeting the hips, hamstrings, and lower back.

Exercises like leg swings, hip circles, and bodyweight squats can effectively prepare your body for lifting.

A thorough warm-up enhances flexibility and reduces the risk of muscle strain and injuries.

It primes your muscles for action and ensures you can perform the deadlift with a full range of motion.

Monitor Pain Levels

Listening to your body is crucial when deadlifting.

Use a pain scale to gauge your limits – if your pain exceeds a moderate level (more than 5/10), stops you from completing the exercise, or persists after the workout, it’s time to reassess.

It may be necessary to adjust your technique, reduce the weight, or take a break.

Seeking professional advice from a physical therapist or a certified trainer can also be beneficial, especially if you experience persistent pain.

They can provide personalized guidance and help address any underlying issues.

Integrating Deadlifting into a Fitness Routine

Incorporating deadlifting into your fitness routine can provide numerous benefits, but it's important to do so thoughtfully to ensure balance and avoid injury.

Here’s how you can integrate deadlifting into a well-rounded workout plan.

Creating a Balanced Workout Plan

A balanced workout plan is crucial for overall fitness and to support your deadlifting progress.

Your plan should include a mix of strength training, cardiovascular exercises, and flexibility work.

Deadlifting can be a cornerstone of your strength training, but it’s essential to complement it with exercises that target other muscle groups and promote overall body strength.

A typical weekly workout plan might include:

  • Strength Training: Aim for 3-4 days per week, incorporating deadlifts into one or two of these sessions. Ensure you’re also working on other major muscle groups such as the chest, shoulders, arms, and legs.
  • Cardiovascular Exercise: Include 2-3 sessions of cardio each week, such as running, cycling, or swimming. This helps improve your cardiovascular health and supports recovery.
  • Flexibility and Mobility: Incorporate flexibility exercises like yoga or dedicated stretching routines at least twice a week to maintain joint health and prevent injuries.

Complementary Exercises to Support Back Health

To support your back and enhance your deadlifting performance, include complementary exercises that strengthen the core, improve posture, and enhance flexibility.

Here are some effective exercises:

  • Core Strengthening: Planks, Russian twists, and leg raises can help build a strong core, which is essential for maintaining proper form during deadlifts.
  • Hip and Glute Strengthening: Exercises like hip thrusts, glute bridges, and lunges target the muscles crucial for a powerful deadlift.
  • Upper Back Strengthening: Rows, pull-ups, and face pulls can strengthen the upper back muscles, providing better support for your spine during lifts.
  • Hamstring Flexibility: Incorporating hamstring stretches and dynamic movements like leg swings can improve flexibility and reduce the risk of strain during deadlifting.

Frequency and Volume Recommendations for Deadlifting

The frequency and volume of your deadlifting should be tailored to your fitness level and goals.

For most individuals, performing deadlifts once or twice a week is sufficient to gain strength without overtraining. Here are some guidelines:

  • Beginners: Start with one deadlifting session per week. Focus on mastering the technique with lighter weights and gradually increase the load as you become more comfortable.
  • Intermediate Lifters: If you have some experience, you can incorporate deadlifts into your routine twice a week. Ensure you have at least two days of rest between sessions to allow for adequate recovery.
  • Advanced Lifters: More experienced individuals may include different deadlift variations across multiple sessions each week. However, it's crucial to vary the intensity and volume to avoid overuse injuries.

Each deadlifting session should include warm-up sets followed by 3-5 working sets.

The number of repetitions will depend on your goals: for strength, aim for 3-6 reps per set with heavier weights; for muscle endurance, 8-12 reps with moderate weights is ideal.


Deadlifting can significantly enhance your strength and alleviate back pain when performed with proper technique and caution.

Integrating deadlifts into a balanced fitness routine, complemented by supportive exercises, ensures you reap the benefits while minimizing risks.

By following the provided guidelines, you can safely and effectively incorporate deadlifting into your workouts.