4 Back-Friendly Tricks to Deadlifting

Tony Bonvechio
by Tony Bonvechio
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4 Back-Friendly Tricks to Deadlifting

The deadlift might be the most effective exercise in existence.

Want to get strong as an ox? Deadlift.

Want a backside that looks great in jeans? Deadlift.

Want to pick up your kids and your groceries without pain? Deadlift.

The act of picking something up from the ground using the coordinated actions of your torso, core and legs is simple, yet incredibly effective. The deadlift can be intimidating because it can be tough on your lower back if done incorrectly, but don’t let that stop you from doing this versatile exercise. Here are four steps to avoid hurting your back while deadlifting.

STEP 1: DO THE RIGHT WARMUP

As with any workout or exercise, a proper warmup can reduce the risk of injury by preparing the body for action. The deadlift in particular requires adequate mobility through the spine, hips and ankles, along with a stable core. This quick warmup covers your bases and gets your muscles and joints ready to deadlift.

STEP 2: LEARN TO BREATHE

Breathing seems simple enough. We do it thousands of times per day without thinking about it, so how hard can it be? Turns out, improper breathing technique can leave your lower back at risk while deadlifting.

The your abdominal and oblique muscles can help make sure your legs are doing the work while deadlifting instead of your lower back, but only if you’re breathing correctly. Start by exhaling forcefully as if blowing up a balloon. Your rib cage should lower down and pull your abs into a flexed position. You don’t want to draw your bellybutton in or arch your back. Rather, your abs should feel braced as if you were about to get punched in the stomach.

From here, you want to fill your stomach, sides and lower back with air. This creates intra-abdominal pressure, which studies have shown to reduce stress on the lumbar spine. Try this trick to master this breathing technique:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. There should be a small gap between your lower back and the floor.
  • Put one hand on your stomach and one on your chest.
  • Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and take a deep breath in through your nose.
  • Your stomach and chest should rise together, and your lower back should touch the floor. If not, breathe deeper!

This is the exact breathing technique you should use to protect your back while deadlifting. Inhale before lifting, exhale as you stand up and repeat with each rep.

STEP3: LEARN TO HIP HINGE

The deadlift is a hip-hinge pattern, a fundamental movement that teaches you to move through your hips instead of your spine. It’s a distant cousin to the squat. Even though it looks similar, it has less knee bend and more hip motion, which is perfect for working your glutes and hamstrings.

To learn the hip hinge, start from the ground up. Here’s a quick three-step progression to get your hips moving properly:

You should feel all these movements in your hamstrings and glutes. If you feel them in your lower back, use the breathing technique in Step 2 and keep practicing before moving to deadlifts.

STEP 4: PICK THE RIGHT DEADLIFT VARIATION

Not everyone needs to deadlift with a barbell or start with the weight on the floor. Picking the right deadlift variation for your experience level and body type can ensure that your back stays healthy. This deadlift progression works well for most people:

If you struggle with any of these variations, try elevating the weight on mats or a small step to make it easier to reach.


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About the Author

Tony Bonvechio
Tony Bonvechio

Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, and a personal trainer in Providence, RI. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.

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