I’ve been getting a lot of feedback lately about people developing back pain during and after deadlifting. So we’re going to go through why this movement, if done properly, is actually very beneficial to strengthening your back, along with your entire posterior chain and multiple other muscle groups. Whether you want to gain strength or drop excess body fat, learning how to deadlift correctly will help in achieving your goal. It is also one of the best functional movements to train and will also help in numerous aspects of daily living.
Firstly, anatomy 101: erector spinae muscles. What are they and what do they do? Erector spinae literally means erectors of the spine. They are a group of long, vertical muscles that span all the way down your back, either side of your spine. Their primary job is to produce spinal extension, or basically hold you upright.
Like any other muscle group we need to load them to see any improvements in strength, the same way you would load your squat. But why would anybody want strong erectors? What’s the point? They’re an extremely underrated muscle group. Having strong and developed erectors helps prevent and even treat lower back pain, disc herniation and helps support other facets of training. There was a study conducted on the best way to strengthen your erectors, comparing body weight exercises such as back extensions and bridges; to weighted exercises like deadlifts. Muscle activity was measured using electrodes to see which exercise produced more activity of the erectors. The result: deadlifts!
Obviously your back isn’t the only thing that deadlifts strengthen. The exercise incorporates multiple joints with numerous muscles working to produce a smooth and efficient movement; such as flexion and extension at both the hip and knee joints and if you want to be really picky, at the ankle joint as well. Abdominal recruitment is also required for trunk stabilization. All of these movements are performed in sequence during the deadlift, activating and strengthening the glutes; hamstrings; quadriceps; back; core; and even forearm muscles, helping improve grip strength. This ultimately makes the deadlift one of the best functional movements for a full body workout.
So we’ve established that deadlifts are basically the holy grail of compound movements. Secondly, we’re going to discuss the concept of back pain during and after performing deadlifts. So just imagine that it’s squat day; you’re feeling good, load the barbell and perform some awesome sets, go home feeling completely exhausted after your session, have a good night’s sleep and wake up the next day and can’t walk for the life of you. That’s what we like to call ‘delayed onset muscle soreness.’ You’ve stressed and produced micro-tears in the muscle that now have to heal, which ultimately is the reason you get stronger with training. The same concept applies to the deadlift. Your erector muscles are working and firing during the movement, if enough stimulus or load is applied this muscle will become sore the next day. This is often when people complain of back pain and begin to worry. Well yes, it is pain and yes it is in your back, but in no way shape or form is it a bad thing, so long it is confined to the musculature. Remember, strong erectors are very beneficial and like your legs after squat day, this pain will slowly subside with time.
But when is pain not a good thing?
Deadlifting can become dangerous when the muscles needed to produce this movement aren’t activated and your lower back begins to round during the exercise. Lower back rounding puts pressure on the intervertebral discs and ligaments and takes the stress away from your erectors and can be harmful.
To avoid back rounding, some people will produce excessive lower back extension or arching, during and/or at the top of the movement. This too, can have the same affect and put unwanted stress on your vertebral discs. A neutral spine is the best and safest position to be performing your deadlifts, as your erector muscles (along with multiple other muscle groups) are taking the load, which as discussed before, is a good thing.
Setting up and maintaining a neutral spine throughout the movement is not always an easy thing to accomplish. Certain muscles need to be activated and others relaxed to do this properly, which makes the deadlift a complicated movement to master initially, however the rewards come back 10-fold when you grasp the proper technique. This exercise should definitely be included in your training program whether it is performed using a kettlebell, trap-bar, or barbell.
If I’ve convinced you how beneficial this exercise is, stay tuned for my upcoming videos as I will go into detail about deadlift technique including the correct muscles to be switching on during the movement; in order to perform it safely and effectively, and the different types of deadlift variations and equipment that can be used; depending on training experience and overall goal.
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