Does your lower back kill you every time you deadlift? Well, I’ve got news for you…
Deadlifts more than likely are not the cause of your back pain. Of course, unless you’re doing them with poor form.
In this post, I’m going to give you some tips on how to deadlift without hurting your lower back.
You’re also going to learn what’s really causing you to have lower back pain, and how to eliminate it! Are you ready?
Personal Experience with Lower Back Pain and Deadlifts
I’m writing this article from a personal perspective as I started having lower back pain in my early years of weight training. I think you may be able to relate to this.
Strangely enough, I don’t recall hurting my back lifting heavyweights. More than often it was with using light or moderate weight, or sometimes doing something completely unrelated to the gym.
Perhaps I had strained my lower back due to me being lazy on my form. Or not properly lifting something else. As you may have experienced, it only takes a split-second and subtle wrong move, and…ouch!
Throughout my 20s and most of my 30s, I had lower back pain off and on. And for that reason, I was too afraid to do deadlifts in my younger days of lifting.
But that was a big mistake, and I’ll you why…
Deadlifts Do Not Cause Back Pain
Deadlifts aren’t the problem. Deadlifts do not cause pain back unless you do them incorrectly or with poor form. And this is where I went wrong in the beginning…by avoiding them.
If your goal is to build dense muscle mass or get stronger (aka bodybuilding or powerlifting), you just realize that doing deadlifts is imperative to building your foundation.
It’s indisputable that this compound exercise will pack on slabs of muscle and build up your strength.
**Another way to help build overall strength is by making sure your testosterone is elevated (and not low!). You can read about my recommended test booster, the benefits, and where to get it here.
Deadlifting Tips to Avoid Back Pain
Now I’d like to give you some deadlifting tips that I’ve learned to avoid injury and back pain doing deads.
Some of this may be common knowledge, but there’s also going to be some tips you may not be aware of. So I encourage you to read through them all.
Starting Point of the Deadlift
This is the most important part of your deadlift, and it can mean a great lift vs killing your back.
- Standing, walk towards the barbell until the bar is over the middle of the top of your feet (not far away from your feet, and not too close to your legs) – stance may vary from person to person, but a narrow, slightly less than shoulder-width is a good starting point.
- Grab the barbell just outside of your legs.
- Without moving the bar (don’t roll the bar), bend over to where your chins meet the bar, touching it.
- Flatten your back by poking your chest out (this will naturally put your back and arms in the proper position). DO NOT round your back (I’ve made this mistake before!).
- Pull the bar up along your body (do not let the barbell sway out away from you). And do not hyperextend your back.
**These tips are paraphrased from one of Alan Thrall’s YouTube videos called How to Deadlift: Starting Strength 5 Step Deadlift. I recommend that you watch the entire video below:
100% Mental Focus
This is something that’s not talked about enough. But before you go pull that bar off the floor, you need to make sure you’re 100% mentally focused.
Deadlifting requires you to be ‘all-in.’ If your mind isn’t clear you’re going to be more prone to injury. Especially lower back pain.
I’m going to give you some tips on how to prepare yourself mentally. And I’ll also share what NOT to do before you deadlift!
Do THIS Before Deadlifts
- Clear your mind by doing a few minutes of deep breathing. Breath in your nose, hold your breath for about 10 seconds, then slowly release through your nose. This will clear out toxins and your mind.
- Read or listen to something positive or encouraging on the way to the gym. This could be watching deadlift videos (like the one above), or listening to your favorite motivational speaker.
- Set the mood with music that pumps you up. If you’re like me, heavy metal does the trick!
- Training first thing in the morning helps. At this point, your day is fresh and there are fewer things that can happen at that time to throw you off mentally.
DO NOT Do This Before Deadlifting
- Do NOT check social media before any of your workouts!
- Do NOT watch the news or anything negative before deadlifting
- Do NOT engage with anyone who is negative or causes drama before deadlifting.
Heavy Weights, Moderate Intensity
Here’s where some may disagree, at least with the moderate-intensity part. This is simply what I do; I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. Let me explain…
First of all, I’m a firm believer in lifting heavy weights, especially when it comes to compound exercises like deadlifts. That builds your foundation of strength and a frame to hold more muscle mass.
And in most cases, training with high intensity is important for gaining muscle mass. However, I take a different approach with deadlifts.
- I don’t deadlift to failure – If that last rep was a struggle, I stop there. Why? Because once my muscles have given out, they’re done. I choose not to risk other body parts taking over that shouldn’t be.
- I don’t grunt or yell or scream or any of that stuff when deadlifting (actually, I don’t do that at all, but that’s me). When you’re deadlifting, you should hold your breath during the lift. After each rep, you can take another deep breath and go again. Doing deadlifts with no air in your lungs is a sure way to kill your lower back.
- I typically don’t do more than 4 working sets. Deadlifts really tax your central nervous system so I listen closely to my body. Sometimes I may be done after just 2 heavy sets. Then I’ll move on to some isolation exercises for whatever muscle I’m training that day.
Again, you don’t have to agree with or follow my advice here. I’m only sharing what works for me.
Ways to Eliminate Lower Back Pain
You may be saying ‘Jason, I want to deadlift but my lower back is always hurting!’
I still want you to do deadlifts, but let’s first address some possible reasons why your back hurts. And even better, I’m going to give you some solutions that have worked wonders for me.
Reasons Why You Have Back Pain
- You’re overweight – carrying too much belly fat takes a toll on your lower back
- You’re sitting too much (this is a HUGE problem)
- You have a lot of stress – stress causes inflammation
- Poor form when lifting weights (or anything)
How to Eliminate Back Pain
- Drop some bodyweight by doing more cardio – just walking for 20-30 minute daily will produce decent results
- If your job requires you to sit, make sure you get up every hour and do some dynamic stretching or walk around a little
- Do Yoga, Tai Chi, or some form of exercise that stretches your muscles and brings wellness to your mind and body
**You should also check out Mike Westerdal’s Unlock Your Hip Flexors guide. Follow his advice daily and you’ll never have back pain!
Deadlift Workout Routines
This post wouldn’t be complete without me giving you what you expect from me! And that’s a workout plan. Actually, I’m going to give you a few deadlift routines below.
I’m going to show you how you can incorporate deadlifts on:
- Back day
- Leg day
- On their own day (and what’s best to train after deadlifts)
Back Workout with Deadlifts
Many will add deadlifts to back day. And you can add a ton of mass to your back with deads.
You can hit some lat pulldowns first to get your back muscles warmed up. Then jump into some heavy deadlifts.
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Lat Pulldowns||3 x 10|
|Deadlifts||4 x 5|
|Barbell Rows||4 x 6|
|Dumbbell Rows||4 x 8|
|Seated Rows||3 x 12|
Leg Workout with Deadlifts
Powerlifters are known to squat and deadlift on the same day because that’s how the competition is set up. This is, of course, a bodybuilding leg workout, but it’s incorporating squats and deadlifts in the beginning.
Once the heavy work is done, you move on to doing more reps to pump more blood into the muscle. If you want more bodybuilding leg workouts, check out my post Brutal Leg Workout: High Rep Leg Day
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Squats||4 x 8|
|Deadlifts||4 x 3-5|
|Leg Press||4 x 15|
|Leg Extensions||4 x 15|
|Leg Curls||4 x 10|
|Calve Raises||6 x 15|
Deadlift Day Workout (with Arms)
This is one of my personal favorite workouts (I sometimes do this on Fridays).
Your focus is deadlifts. And before you jump into deads, I suggest riding the recumbent bike for 5-10 minutes or doing something to get the blood flowing.
After deadlifts, you’re going to train arms. You’ll be surprised at the pump you get from training arms after deadlifts! I actually have a full post with an in-depth workout called 3 Reasons Why Training Arms Only is a Waste of Time.
|Exercise||Sets x Reps|
|Deadlifts||4 x 6, 5, 3, 3|
|Close Grip Bench||4 x 10|
|Barbell Curls||4 x 10|
|Rope Pressdowns||3 X 12|
|Dumbbell Curls||3 x 12|
Never Stop Deadlifting
I want to encourage you to never stop deadlifting. And if you do suffer from lower back pain, start doing the things we discussed above to get rid of that pain.
If you’re deadlifting the proper way, you will actually build your back muscles and makes them stronger. This means you’ll be less prone to not only back pain but other injuries as well.
I hope this article and reading about my experience helps you. Now go drink your pre-workout drink and hit the gym!
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