Back Pain Prevention

Why You Should Deadlift if You've Got a Bad Back

The common advice for people with lower back issues, is that deadlifting is dangerous and you shouldn't do it. "You'll hurt your back!" they say. Well, your back is already hurt.

I say the opposite is true, and my objective today is to show you why.

I believe that if how you pick objects up off the floor puts you at risk of hurting your back, then you simply need to get better at picking objects up off the floor

I've had a few physical therapists and chiropractor friends who thought my idea of having someone deadlift with a "bad back" is crazy! (I've also had others who completely agree with me.)

I can understand their apprehension and yours. But hear me out...

I'm not suggesting you deadlift right away when you're all drugged up on pain meds and dreading the idea of even using the toilet by yourself.

You need to get through the acute pain phase first.

But if you don't want to repeat this agonizing injury again and again, then you have some work to do, so listen up!

Chances are, if your back has "gone out" more than once and it wasn't because of an acute trauma, like a fall, hit or car accident, then it's likely because of your movement habits. Meaning, how you use your body to do chores, exercise, work, pick things up, etc...

Some people notice that when they move in a certain way, it causes problem. So they decide to play it safe by just moving less.

But that begins to limit your life. And eventually, you do something simple, like pick up a pen from the floor without thinking about it. Your back has gotten so weak, that the lightweight pen throws your back out!

That's why I suggest a different approach. Instead of avoiding your weaknesses...learn better movement skills. Practice them regularly in a safe, controlled environment and make them your strengths!

Spinal Compression:Sheer.jpg

There are many reasons why your lower back may hurt...herniated disc, pinched nerve, muscle spasms, slipped disc, but they all basically boil down to 2 main things: shear forces and disc compression.


Shear Forces occur when two surfaces slide forward to back or side to side, in relation to each other. In your spine, this would be a vertebrae and disc(s) being pulled out of alignment with one another. This can cause the spinal column and/or nerve roots to be pinched while also stressing the ligaments, muscles and connective tissues of the vertebrae.

Disc Compression occurs when gravity and/or bending of the spine causes the discs to be smushed. Your discs are designed to compress and decompress in order to allow multi-directional movement while maintaining space for your nerves to conduct signals. Problems only occur when the frequency and magnitude of compression out paces your discs ability to decompress.

Shear forces and disc compression become a problem when you ask your lower back to do all the work picking things up, like the image on the left.

Yeeouch! Your lower back is doing all the work causing strain on your spine.

Yeeouch! Your lower back is doing all the work causing strain on your spine.

Lifting objects, even heavier ones is safe & easy when you learn to use your legs.

Lifting objects, even heavier ones is safe & easy when you learn to use your legs.

But for a pain free back you need a strong, stabile core to protect your spine and then strong, mobile hips and upper back to produce movement. Most of the movement should come from your hips and knees like the image on the right.

Throwing a ball or swinging a club? Again you'll need lots of movement from the hips, upper back and shoulders.

But too often these days we have tight hamstrings, stiff hips, poor upper back posture and cranky shoulders. All these factors limit movement in the joints where it should come from. Instead we move where we shouldn't, the lower back. This creates excessive shear forces and disc compression.

Fortunately there are several things you can do to allow movement back in the joints that are designed for it and protect the lower back.

Hip and Thoracic Mobility

First off, you'll need to regain the ability to move well in your hips and upper back so that your lower back no longer needs to compensate for them. This includes flexibility to regain your range of motion, strength to move through the new range and coordination to do it all smoothly.

Core Stability

The next piece is the strength to stabilize your spine in multiple directions and the coordination to do it while performing a variety of movements.

Breathing Techniques

The last piece of the puzzle for protecting your spine is a breathing technique that increases your intra-thoracic pressure. Think of an empty soda can...pretty easy to bend in half or crush it, right? But take that same can when it was sealed and pressurized with gas, and there's no way you'll be able to crush it with your hands. Your lungs can support your spine the same way, you just need to learn how.

These are all very important skills to be learned, practiced and integrated into how you move until they become your default operating software. Start light, or with no weight, and build up from there. Eventually you won't have to think about will be just how you move, naturally.

That's injury prevention right there...that's smart training. 

In addition to these deadlift versions, we even have some people practice without any weight if that's where they need to start.

Exercise vs. Training

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There is a difference between going to the gym for exercise vs training. Sure, it's good to raise your heart rate, get sweaty and earn that pint of Cherry Garcia you'll be sharing with your dog after dinner. But by adding mindfulness and a good coach to your gym time, you can get so much more for the same time and energy invested.


It's the difference between just doing it and doing it with a clear plan that will keep you from getting hurt and being able to live an active life.

You'll still burn calories, get a great butt, improve your posture and lean out. But you'll also protect your back from injury and re-open your world of possibility when it comes to fearlessly living an active life.

How do you approach your gym time?

Are your only goals to sweat and be less jiggly? Because with some advanced planning and the right coach, you can accomplish that and so much more with the same amount of time and effort.

Would you like to learn how to deadlift safely?

Are you tired of trying to be careful, only to hurt yourself by leaning over to pick up that quarter you needed for the parking meter?

Do you want to do something about keeping your back injury free?

Then contact us today for a complimentary movement assessment and learn how a smart exercise program can keep you safe in addition to looking good.