There are very few exercises that actually scare me when I see some people performing them. Well… the deadlift is one of one! I’m sure you’ve seen this in your local gym – people hunched over a bar loaded up with weight, exhibiting terrible form and looking like they’re going to break their back in half. All of which has added to the fitness legend that deadlifts are bad for your back?
So are they?
The short answer is no, of course not. But that’s not to say there isn’t some risk – as there is with all exercise. And to make it a bit more complicated, there are two main varieties of this movement – the straight-legged (SLDL) and Romanian (RDL) varieties. In a SLDL, you grab a bar and essentially reach down to the floor with straight legs allowing your low back to round out. It’s kind of like reaching to touch your toes with the main difference being that while holding the weight your hamstrings, glutes and lower back have to literally pull you back up to the start.
In the RDL, we see a very different movement. The knees are slightly bent and the lower back DOES NOT round out, in fact it’s extended or what we refer to as a ‘flat back’ throughout the entire range of motion. In this exercise the trainee generally can’t reach the floor because of body positioning and will tend to feel more work in the hamstrings and glutes. However in both styles there is a tremendous amount of upper body strength that’s required. While deadlifts are usually thought of as a legs and low back exercise, I’m here to tell you they work the entire body – shoulders, traps, biceps, and your entire back. Especially as the weight increases, you’ll feel how strong deadlifts can make you.
Like the squat, the issues surrounding the deadlift are generally form related. Too often we see young trainees looking to prove how much they can lift and ending up hurting themselves. I’m of the mindset (having had neck disk surgery) that when training the low back, slow and deliberate reps are the best way to go. And I also think that we can get too strong for our own good. This is true for me too – back in my early 20’s I used to straight leg deadlift nearly 400 pounds! Looking back now I can tell you I’m lucky that I never suffered a serious injury to my low back. I think when adding weight or selecting exercises we need to ask ourselves ‘what’s this doing for my fitness’, or is it just an ego trip.
I still use deadlifts in my routine although I’m not a fan of the SLDL (round back). I just don’t like how it feels, look’s and how poor a position it is for your body, leverage wise. I do however love the RDL and even use a cable stack with a rope between my legs and it’s awesome! I’ll have to show you all in an upcoming video!
I’m all for deadlifts, just watch you form. Take your time, move slowly and feel the movement rather than trying to hoist huge weights. Be sure to squeeze your glutes and retract or pull your shoulders back at the top of every rep to emphasize good posture.
Are deadlifts bad for your back? This is total FICTION! Use good form and you’ll reap the benefits of this awesome exercise!
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