Is the Deadlift Dangerous?

Today’s blog is the result of a comment from a Chiropractor on one of our recent posts warning that deadlifts are responsible for more back injuries than any other exercise. I am not surprised by this information so why do I incorporate deadlifts into my training. First, many exercises can cause injury if not done with correct technique. The deadlift is a much more technical lift than most realize and I constantly see it done with incorrect form

The deadlift is a common weightlifting exercise. Properly done, it works almost every muscle in the body. Done incorrectly, it puts strain on the back and Powercan cause serious injury. It must be executed with the proper form and technique, and without too much weight which can overload the muscles/joints.

Reasons for Back Injury from the deadlift
The exercise is often made unsafe by the lifter rounding their back and bending over too far at the hips just before lifting. Holding the bar away from your body instead of right against it is another way to injure your back. At the top of the movement, avoid hyperextending your lower back. Some people lean back too far at the top, but doing so only asks for trouble

So Why do the Deadlift – the Science
The deadlift works the erector spinae muscles along your spine, as well as several others in your upper and lower body. Your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, trapezius and even your abdominals are used when performing the deadlift. Let’s start with a study conducted by the University of Valencia to determine the most effective way to train the paraspinal muscles, which run down both sides of your spine and play a major role in the prevention of back injuries.
Researchers had 25 people with no low-back pain perform two types of exercise for their backs: body weight exercises like lumbar extensions, forward flexions, single-leg deadlifts, and bridges; and two weighted exercises, deadlifts and lunges, using 70% of their one-rep max weight. Muscle activity was measured using electromyography, a technique of evaluating and recording electrical activity produced by muscles (the more and harder a muscle contracts, the more electrical activity takes place inside it).
The result: deadlifts most activated the paraspinal muscles. And it wasn’t even close. The deadlift’s average electromyographic muscle activity was 88% and peaked at 113%, whereas the back extension produced an average activity of 55% and peak of 58%, and the lunge an average of 46% and peak of 61%. The rest of the exercises’ average activities rang in between 29-42% (the supine bridge on a BOSU ball was the least effective, in case you were wondering). Another study at the University of Waterloo showed with proper technique was entirely within normal range of motion and shifts the weight from vertebrae and ligitments to erector spinae muscles.
Thus, researchers concluded, the deadlift is an incredibly effective way to strengthen the paraspinal muscles.

What is proper technique?

Straight Back
You start a deadlift bending over a barbell or dumbbells on the floor at your feet and lift the weight to arm’s length down your body. The key to avoiding danger in a deadlift is to keep the back absolutely straight, keep your knees slightly bent and lift with the hips and legs rather than the back. Your legs should be together (not like the Sumo stand I am using in this powerlifting competition photo)

Light Weights
Always start with light weights and increase them gradually as you gain strength and experience with the lift. Using weights too heavy stresses the spine. Begin a deadlift with the bar in contact with your legs and keep it in contact with your body throughout the lift. Make sure your arms are fully extended.

Hold Hips and Shoulders
In the initial lift, keep your hips and shoulders still. Push down on your feet and use your hip muscles to raise the bar off the floor. When it reaches your knees, thrust your hips forward and keep the bar in contact with your body. Don’t lean back or roll your shoulders backward.

Lower the bar essentially the same way, rolling it down your body, bending at your hips and knees as it goes down. Keep your back straight and firm as you lower the weight.

What to do when you deadlift.
Always warm up
Always use a lifting belt when lifting heavier weight
Have someone watch your deadlift and critique your technique
Don’t deadlift unless you have a comprehensive lifting program that works your legs, core, and upper body. All of these muscle groups are used in a deadlift.
Start slow and work up to heavier weights

The bottom line is the deadlift is a terrific exercise that can be done safely with proper form and a comprehensive lifting program
M-Power blog by Mike Baker