deadlifts TRAINING

Fitness Fact Or Fiction: Are Deadlifts Bad For Your Back?


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!

All information contained within this site, Angry Trainer, is for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problem – nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician.  No action should be taken solely on the contents of this website.  Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health or on any opinions expressed within this website. Please see your physician before changing your diet, starting an exercise program, or taking any supplements of any kind.

7 comments on “Fitness Fact Or Fiction: Are Deadlifts Bad For Your Back?

  1. I like the SLDL the best but think they both serve a good purpose for the lower body. It seems that maybe SLDL are more popular for us ladies to work the glute/hamstring tie-in area. Guys probably aren’t as concerned about that.

  2. A little confused over here. This article ( says that Romanian and Stiff (or Straight) leg DLs are bascially the same. You say the opposite.

    Second question: Why didn’t you mention conventional deadlifts? Isn’t it the most used variation of all?

    Third question: I wonder which rep range you recommend? The most common is working up to your max. with every set, and using 4-7 reps, no more. And when you reach your max, you only do one set.

    Fourth question: Do you think that you NEED TO deadlift if you want a wide back? Regardless what else you do (pull ups, rows, etc), I read that deadlifts are required for that goal.

  3. At my gym, we do SLDL on a platform with rack for the bar that’s about knee high to me. I lift the bar from this rack and lower it til my knuckles touch the tops of my feet, but I see a lot of people lower it only to about mid-shin and then bounce up from there to standing straight up, then down again. Not only are they not using the full ROM, they try to get out as many reps as quickly as possible. My trainer (the local big deal, with 25 yrs’ experience) has me doing these as he feels they are less stressful to the lower back than conventional RDLs (the rack for those is just high enough to hold it off the floor leaving room to slide the plates on) and he often calls me out as an example of good form and asks me to demonstrate them to new clients. They’re actually one of my favorite exercises, definitely a full-body move!

  4. Pingback: Angry Issues: Which Exercise Has Caused YOU The Most Injuries? « Angry Trainer Fitness

  5. Every time I see someone DL straight-legged, I cringe. But I remember back in Junior High, I weight lifted the whole year and I did DL’s straight-legged. I NEVER had a back problem. I also did DL’s the Romanian way and still never had back problems. I like them! I like weight lifting all around. But I STILL can’t do a pull-up. *Sad face*

  6. My son found out this year 2013 that he has a ruptured disc after having felt major pain in his lower back since December of 2012. He said he experienced the pain after doing deadlifts in his weight training class at school and has not been able to do weight training since. Just last week he had a spinal injection to help relieve some of the pain. Both his doctor and physical therapist told him that deadlifts are the worst thing you can do to your back.

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