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Home » General » The Deadlift: friend of foe for back pain?

The Deadlift: friend of foe for back pain?

The Deadlift by Niki McGuinness (Chiropractor)

If you had asked me 12 months ago about the deadlift, I would have told all my patients to stay clear away. I had seen too many injuries associated with it, including 2 disc prolapses requiring surgery.

In recent months, I took an interest in Strength and Conditioning. I had always trained within my capabilities in ways my body adapted easily such as functional training or yoga. I have recently learned that we often do this, we like to pick what we find easy! So I had a realisation that because my body was so flexible, I needed to make it stronger. Enter: Strength and Conditioning.

Twelve weeks ago, I started lifting weights. Heavy weights. I found an amazing rehab based Strength Conditioning coach and when I first saw him I couldn’t even squat or kneel without pain (old hip labral tear). My hip pain was so bad I couldn’t walk up the stairs properly or even squat to put clothing in the washing machine, it was impacting my daily life considerably. Today, I lifted 20kg bar bell in a deep squat with ease. It was liberating.  One of the other greatest changes I have seen is my posture. My rounded, forward shoulders from pushing prams and working for 7 years as a Chiropractor in a flexed position, have moved backwards and I feel tall again.

So I thought I would talk about the deadlift, and how, if done with a good technique, it can really make some huge changes in your body in positive way. 

What is a deadlift/rack pull?

The history of the deadlift extends from the mid 1770’s. The name comes from the exact term, lifting a ‘dead’ weight from the floor. Obviously over the years, the technique and style has evolved. In recent years, the deadlift has made a come back as research into isolated muscle strengthening has become less promising and ‘whole body’ strengthening is more en vogue.

The promising aspect of the deadlift or rack pull (lifting from a rack from a below knee height) is that you have a total body workout of the posterior chain. This means, when using the right technique, the deadlift will work muscles from the top of your head (trapezius) to the heels. They can assist in gluteal strengthening and lower trap activation, which ultimately can improve posture.

What are the scientific benefits of deadlifting/rack pull?

When done correctly, it seems the deadlift can be highly beneficial in training the long back muscles call the paraspinals. These are known to assist in strengthening the back and reduce lower back pain. A study cited in muscle for life blog, conducted at the University of Velencia, found in electromagnetic studies of the back muscles when lifting,  the deadlift achieved 70% higher muscle activity in the paraspinals than basic rehab exercises such as the supine bridge (glut bridge) or other localised paraspinal strengthening ( Coloado JS et al. Arch Phys Med 2001 ‘ The Progression of paraspinal muscle recruitment intensity in localised strength training’). This is a huge finding and one we could even consider in our every day life such as when lifting furniture or heavy boxes. 

When things go wrong?

From my experience in treating patients where their lift has gone wrong, have been related to three factors:

  • Poor Technique due to fatigue or lack of concentration
  • Lifting too heavy, too quickly
  • No ‘spotter’ to watch your technique or poorly educated spotter who can’t spot mistakes

I’m not about to get into the depths of proper deadlift form. I’ll leave this to the experts but i will say that if you plan to deadlift, make sure you do it safely and wisely. It can bring amazing benefits, but when done wrong, can cause you a lifetime of grief.  I kind of think of the deadlift like the ocean, it’s beautiful in its nature but it has the potential to cause some serious damage!

Remember though, if you hurt yourself at the gym, we are here to help and get you back to the gym as soon as possible. We are trained in rehabilitation so we can advise of the types of exercises to assist you getting your back strong so you can deadlift again.

We are located in Trigg, close to Scarborough, Karrinyup and Duncraig. We have ample parking outside our clinic and located just off Marmion Avenue opposite North Beach Football Club.