Deadlift - A Natural Human Movement
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici /

This is an old post – for a more up to date article on back pain/chronic pain please check out this post here.

In Part I of this series, we identified the common lifestyle factors that can contribute to back pain, and how to mitigate the damage.

In Part II, we looked at how to help restore lost mobility to the hips and ankles in order to allow your body to move naturally and reduce stress placed on the lower back.

In Part III we are going to look at ways to strengthen the posterior chain, while re-learning and reinforcing correct movement pattern.

The deadlift is an exercise that has an unwarranted bad reputation. Many times when I have told clients that we are going to be doing deadlifts, I get questions such as “Aren’t they bad for your back?” or Won’t I get injured?”. I was even once told that deadlifts were banned in one clients previous gym for health and safety.

The fact is, that the deadlift is a fundamental human movement pattern. Watch a baby pick up a toy from the floor, and they will use perfect form every time – They do not have to be shown by a qualified instructor, or watch video tutorials on youtube! Unfortunately we soon pack them off to schools, and teach them to sit still and behave, and before you know it this fundamental skill is forgotten.

This is why I say people need to re-learn the deadlift – You could do it once, a long time ago perhaps, but somewhere along the line you’ve lost the ability.

The reason the exercise has earned this unwarranted bad reputation, is because people perform it badly, and/or with more weight than they can properly handle.

Simply being able to lift a lot of weight off the floor does not injury proof your back – There are professional power-lifters out there who can lift huge amounts of weight, despite using horrendous form, who still suffer from terrible back and joint pain.

In order for the deadlift to be an effective tool in tackling your back pain, it is important that you take the time to learn the correct form – Get the movement right first with a small weight to begin with, and then look to gradually increase the resistance over time.

The most common issues I find with clients encounter when trying to learn the deadlift are:

1) A lack of core control/proprioception

People often can’t tell whether they have a lumbar curve or not, or co-ordinate the movement to get into the correct position even if they do realise.

2) An inability to fire the glutes

This results in hyper-extension of the lumbar spine to complete the movement.

To help fix these common issues, these first two videos show a couple of quick drills to perform prior to attempting a deadlift (after having completed the warm-up mobility drills from Part II)

This video here shows correct deadlift technique, some common errors, and also a few variations that may be useful for beginners.

Remember, the aim is not lift as much weight as possible, but to relearn how to move correctly. Start off light, and possibly with a reduced range of motion, and look to gradually improve over time.

The combination of changing your lifestyle habits by avoiding sitting for prolonged periods and going barefoot/wearing minimalist shoes, increasing hip, ankle and thoracic mobility, and relearning how to move and strengthening the posterior chain can rid you of those annoying, and even debilitating back pains (and knee pains).

Be patient, however, as chances are your problem took a long time to manifest, and could take some time to get better also. Don’t skip any of the steps either – Doing 10 mins of deadlifts per week isn’t going to redress 60 hours of sitting down!

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