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November 08, 2021
Shit happens. You’ve been lifting for years, and your weekly deadlift party has arrived. You head to the gym and start warming up, including getting in your necessary warm-up sets, just as you’re supposed to. You start with your working sets and...cruuunch. You get that undeniable feeling of your muscle tweaking. Or maybe you even feel fine until the following day. Regardless, getting lower back pain from deadlifts is inevitable for anyone who lifts for any length of time and happens to everyone at least once..
As a true lifter, you’re not going to just sit at home and complain (actually, this is the WORST THING you can do. Read below!), but you also don’t want to hurt it more. We’re going to show you precisely what you need to do if you ever wake up with lower back pain from deadlifts. You’ll learn:
If you’re tired of waking up to an angry back, read on.
Before we continue, you need to understand that deadlift is NOT dangerous; it just tends to be more “dangerous” than the other lifts. In fact, the word “dangerous” isn’t even a good word to use; it should be “you are more prone to hurt yourself doing deadlifts” IF you hurt yourself.
When looking at the entire spectrum of the sport of weightlifting (bodybuilding, powerlifting, strongman, etc.), it is considerably less dangerous than contact sports such as football. For example, epidemiological studies have found that while the injury rate in football is as high as 12.7 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures to NFL practices, weight lifting injuries occur at 1-5.5 (depending on the exact sport) every 1,000 hours. From here, the deadlift is the number one cause for injuries (other than in the sport of strongman), but you realize it’s relatively safe.
That being said, things happen, and you are likely going to still tweak your back sometime in your lifting career.
The best way to treat lower back pain from deadlifting is to not get hurt in the first place. While this is easier said than done, you need to remember to always train with 100% focus to form and movement. Here are the top ways that could throw you off and end your session early.
Rushing The Warm-up
As we accumulate years of training, we can become complacent with warming up or maybe you’ve always hated it. While warming up may seem boring sometimes, it’s an intricate part of lifting weights. Perhaps istead of the term “warm-up”, it should be called “preparing to lift heavy ass weights,” and then maybe we’d start doing it more.
When we warm up, we are actually warming up our internal body temperature, making the muscles more pliable for activity. Further, a proper warm-up should include mobility and activation to prime the muscles and joints to withstand the forces about to be placed upon it. Not only can this prevent injury during the workout, it can also improve your session by allowing your muscles to push more weight.
Losing Focus Or Respect For The Deadlift
Probably the most common reason we hurt our lower back is we get too cocky. We’ve been lifting for years and know what we’re doing so we get laxed. However, you should never lose respect for the deadlift.
If you talk to trainees, you will find a common trend in that lifters don’t really hurt themselves during their max lifts; it’s during their build-up sets or when they’re doing a program with lighter weight. Being it’s not “heavy”, they walk up to the barbell without focus and rip the bar off the ground along with their back.
The best way to fix this is to not lose respect. One of the best advice to follow concerning the deadlift is to treat every rep like its max effort. This means from the first warm-up set to your last pull, you should walk up to the bar and follow the same routine for every single rep. Instead of rushing through your warm-up sets, look at them as an opportunity to tweak your form and prepare for when things get heavy.
Surprise! You need good form when performing deadlifts. If you don’t know how find some way to learn. The deadlift can be complicated so here’s a great article to learn how to execute this movement. The most essential cues to remember are:
A lot is going on down there, so there is no one exact cause. In fact, quite a few things could be going on. However, first, we need to address that not all soreness is terrible. Anytime you train a muscle hard, you’re going to feel sore from DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Think about the time you pushed squats a bit too hard, and you couldn’t walk the next day. This same thing can happen with your back muscles, so this soreness is normal and is to be expected; it just worries people due to the scare.
That being said, there are definitely ways to hurt yourself deadlifting. The first cause of lower back pain could be from basic muscle tears and strains. This is exactly like other tears, but it affects your lower back more often due to the amount of force placed on it.
The other problem that might occur is a herniated disc. A disc is a soft piece of material that sits in between your vertebrae to add some cushion. When excessive amounts of pressure are placed on the spine, it can “herniate” and push outside the spine, as in the deadlift. However, this is where nerves are so the herniated disc actually presses up against these nerves, which causes pain.
Regardless of what’s causing the pain, the prescription is going to be relatively the same. However, keep in mind that the following information is for mild back pain. If you are incapacitated, experiencing debilitating pain, or have severe pain that lasts longer than a couple days, please see a specialist immediately.
There are actually quite a few easy steps you can take when treating a sore back from deadlifts. Here’s what you need to do for deadlift back pain recovery.
The absolute worst thing you can do after hurting your back is doing nothing. Often, when we break our back, our first inclination is to stay home and “rest it”. DON’T!!!
Staying at home and sitting down is only going to exacerbate the problem. As you sit there, the inflammation is going to grow and further stiffen the muscle. All this is going to cause more pain.
Second, you’re not doing anything to help expedite the muscle restrengthening needed to get back to full capacity.
For example, multiple studies have shown that merely walking can effectively treat low back pain as a complete exercise regime with resistance training. The range of improvements was found in overall pain reduction, quality of life, and confidence to return to normal activities.
Walking could be the best first exercise choice after an injury as it’s low impact and doesn’t require bending or mobility. Further, you can combine walking with other protocols to troubleshoot the issue from multiple angles.
A range of times have been found to be effective but generally falls somewhere between 30 to 60 minutes. This walking should be done at a moderate intensity or “brisk” walk.
In addition to walking, you should enact regular mobility and strengthening routines. The posterior chain movements you’ll learn below are definitely going to strengthen the back, glutes, and hamstrings. This is awesome, but there’s still a lot going on in the body that could cause issues. Tight hips, ankle immobility, improper scapula control, poor core strength….and the list goes on. Performing mobility & strengthening routine on a regular basis can prevent all this.
The most obvious routine is to follow is Dr. Stu McGill’s “Big Three”. And no, this is not the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Dr. McGill is considered by most to be the #1 back specialist in the world, especially in the fitness community. He has developed his top 3 exercises to improve back pain while improving the mobility of the joints and strengthening the muscles.
Most importantly, these are geared at strengthening the core. And to be clear, the “core” refers to much more than the abs, including the lower and mid-back as well as the pelvic muscles.
1. The McGill Curl Up
The McGill Curl Up is a modified curl up to train the abdominals without placing stress on the spine as traditional curl-ups can. Lay on your back with one leg extended and the other bent by setting it’s foot next to the knee of the extended leg. Next, place your hands underneath your lower back as this will provide spinal stability. The last thing you’re going to do is simply lift your head off the ground.
2. Bird Dogs
The bird dog (along with dead bugs) is perhaps the most popular exercise of these. It involves first getting into a quadruped position on hands and knees. You then lift an extended arm up until it is parallel with the back. At the same time, you do the same thing with the opposite leg and extend it, so it’s parallel as well. When in this position, you should resemble a bird dog pointing.
3. Side Plank
The side plank is going to train the obliques to provide stability as well as various stabilizing muscles. Get on the ground and lay on your side with your feet extended. Place your feet heel-to-toe with your top leg in front. You’ll then put your elbow into the ground and push your hips up. At the top, hold like a traditional pose.
In addition to these three exercises, here are some other very effective exercises to include in your mobility routine.
You should perform this circuit 3X’s a week, either as a standalone practice at home, OR you can add your warm-up.
For the position holds, you should hold 1-3 set of :30-:45. Then for the exercises, you should perform 2-3X10-20. Before you begin, try to complete at least 5 minutes of a general warm-up to increase your body temperature to make the muscles more pliable. IF you can, you can use a passive warm-up by taking a hot shower OR wearing some warm clothes and letting your body temperature rise.
When you hurt your back from deadlifts, you should do exactly what you think you shouldn’t do; more deadlifts. Well, perhaps not deadlifts specifically but you should definitely keep performing posterior chain movements. The posterior chain refers to the connection of three muscles and how they work together; the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings. One of their primary jobs is working in unison to extend the hips, such as in deadlifts.
While performing the same type of movements that hurt you as rehab seems counterintuitive, new research supports this practice. Posterior chain movements will not only improve outcomes of lower back pain, it seems to be the best option! This new meta-analysis released this year looked at traditional exercise therapy’s effect on lower back pain compared to programs primarily consisting of posterior chain movements. They found that the posterior chain programs had “significantly greater” results than traditional exercise in pain improvements, mobility level, and strength. While this study was looking at chronic back pain and had studies up to 16 weeks in length, it still illustrates that continuing exercise with posterior chain movements is a good way to go.
Now these movements are going to look different than jumping right back into deadlifts. Below is a list of awesome exercises for lower back pain.
Before you train these, you should wait 24-48 hours after the initial injury. A good way to know is that you shouldn’t have pulsing or radiating pain anymore. Start these using only bodyweight and progressively add weight as in with typical progressive overload. The only difference is that your jumps will be smaller and less frequent until the pain has subsided.
FOLLOW THE ABOVE STEPS IN ORDER:
When you hurt yourself, you’re going to follow the above techniques in the order given. Well, actually, you should always be doing these, but you know what we mean. As soon as you get hurt, you should continue walking. You can begin the mobility routine after 24-48 hours or until radiating pain has stopped. After you feel a bit stronger, you can then add in easier posterior chain movements. From there, use your progressive overload.
Once your deadlift lower back pain recovery is done and you begin to feel better again, you’re going to want to start lifting heavyweight again. However, maybe you’re a bit nervous about performing a traditional barbell deadlift again or perhaps you just want to try an alternative. Well, here’s what you do; the trap bar deadlift.
The trap bar deadlift is an awesome deal alternative for low back pain. Because you grab the handles to the side, the force is 100% vertical and aligned with the center of your body. Compare this with the deadlift which occurs in front of your body which always has the tendency to pull you forward to a degree.
Further, because the handles generally sit higher than the traditional deadlift, the torso is more vertical, taking strain off your lower back. We also recommend comparing the sumo deadlift vs. conventional as the sumo variation is much easier on your back.
We at SET FOR SET are all about busting our ass in the gym, and we want you to as well. But busting your ass doesn’t mean being an idiot, hurting yourself, and rolling around with lower back pain. We know things happen, but more often than not, we hurt ourselves due to human error. The only way to ensure you can keep getting stronger forever is to be smart. We want you to still be deadlifting when you’re 90!!! That can definitely happen as long as you use your brain in the gym. So next time you go to the gym, remember to be smart.
Do a proper warm-up while respecting the barbell, and you can kiss lower back pain away!
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