I love lower body day. I love lifting heavy things. I love putting chalk on my hands, firing up some Immortal Technique and getting angry. Deadlifts are primal. I love doing them, it’s a rush.
Not only do deadlifts make you feel like an animal, but when it comes to developing whole-body strength and (potentially) power, there are not many exercises that even come close to challenging it.
It works just about every muscle group on the back side of the body, and also develops probably the most important athletic movement – hip extension.
Unfortunately however, the deadlift is a double-edged sword. Done correctly, it will make you a beast. Get it wrong, and your back will pay the price.
The other day I went to the gym to do some sumo deadlifts and saw a friend of mine who’d just started his own session, so I jumped in with him. Like most other guys, when I’m training with a friend, my instinct is to compete and push it to the limit, if only to protect my own ego. Yeah, I know. I’m immature.
On this occasion, my ego pushed me too far and I lifted a weight I wasn’t ready for, just to keep up with my friend. I hadn’t done deadlifts for a few weeks so the clever thing would have been to start conservatively and ease back into it, but I didn’t.
I performed a heavy set of 8 reps, but my form was awful. My lower back was rounding and although I kind of knew, I didn’t care. I’m usually a stickler for perfect tekkers, but I allowed myself to get wrapped up in the occasion and ended up performing a set of ghetto deadlifts, the worst type of deadlift.
Go to any 24-hour gym right now and I guarantee you’ll see this. Ghetto deadlifts are slow, grinding death lifts done with a horribly curved back by a pack of teenagers.. usually for reps. Urgh. I’m cringing just at the thought of it.
Now my deadlifts were nowhere near as bad as that, but I still had some significant back rounding. Immediately after the set my lower back felt painful. It wasn’t DOMS, because DOMS takes at least 24 hours to develop. It was just wack form.
My lower back bothered me for about a week after that, but thankfully the pain went away. However, if you perform ghetto deadlifts over the long-term your lumbar spine will take a beating. You’ll might end up with a herniated disc, sciatic pain, and a whole host of other lovely problems which are very difficult to solve.
Trust me on this one, don’t risk it.
I know so many people who deadlift, have back pain the next day, and can’t work out for a week after.. in all likelihood, those weren’t deadlifts they did, they were ghetto deadlifts. Take the time to learn some proper form before you try lifting heavy.
1) Drop the weight
Unless you have years of experience and picture-perfect tekkers, do not lift maximally on the deadlift. Let’s say you can lift 140 kg with slightly suspect form (slow, grinding, minor back rounding), drop the weight slightly, i.e. to 135 kg. Lift that until you’re strong enough to add more weight without compromising form.
Don’t even go near failure on the deadlift. Perform every rep when you’re 100% fresh and if you’re still learning the movement, keep the reps low, around 5. Every rep has got to look perfect, just like the first one of the set. If you can’t do that, don’t deadlift at all.
This is how you should be setting up for each rep of a deadlift. The back is pretty much straight and as I initiate the lift I’ll pull the shoulders back even more.
I have no problem with a little cheating/swaying here and there for certain movements (such as barbell rows, front raises, bicep curls etc), but when it comes to squats and deadlifts that’s not an option. There’s nothing wrong with cheating.. as long as it ain’t on a deadlift.
2) Lift from a raised platform
If you don’t have the strength and mobility to deadlift from the ground, raise the bar onto some kind of platform and lift from it there. You’ll still get many of the benefits of the deadlift while keeping the lift safer for you.
I’d also add that when setting up for the deadlift, you should keep your head in neutral – not looking in the mirror to admire dem gainz, but in line with your spine. If you keep the head up (in extension) you could develop spinal nerve problems. No bueno.
Hope this helps.