Deadlifts for Bad Backs

Hey guys:

just wanted some input on a situation I have here.

About a couple of years ago, I started using squats and deadlifts in my regimen. And frankly I loved them.

But not long afterward, I injured my lower back during a mechanical bull ride (I just used gi-mount principles). The sudden twists on the machine was what did it, I think.

I didn't herniate any discs, just an annular strain.

Anyhow, I've returned to squatting, working on very precise form, and I LOVE it. Not working to break any weight records, just looking to work hard, while keeping good form, and protecting my back. Slowly adding the weights, as I progress.

But I'm worried about the deadlift. I badly want to return to this exercise, but I'm worried it will compromise my lower back.

I've found a few articles online, but I'd like some input from folks here as how to do this exercise PROPERLY without reinjuring myself.


I have a bad back, and I do some limited deadlifts.

I do the following when I dead.

After warm-up, I do some light deads focus solely on form and working my back muscles.

After a few weeks of testing my form, response of my back, and strengthening my back...

I would still do the lights in the beginning for form.

I then do a leg workout to pre-exhaust the legs. (No squats)

Then, I go back to deads with pre-worked legs and a fresh back.

I have only gotten within 75% of my pre-problem weight, but I really am not trying to go to heavy anyway.

For fighting, I realized it is not my max strength/power that was my limiting factor... it is my ability to maintain that strength through the fight.

I have had 3 serious injuries, (hernia, ACL, and back) and I am not getting any younger.

Thanks for the post eabeam! I'll try out your advice. I'll keep you posted.

Many moons ago I was heavily into Capoeira and seriously injured my lower back. Since then, periodically I re-injure that area, esp. when I forget to warmup properly. I was a firefighter/paramedic for 15 years and many incidents involved picking up very heavy, unconscious patients, and I had more than a few work-related lower back problems. Like yourself, I also need the back power work and have opted to set aside all deadlift work and instead do power cleans with lighter weight for higher reps circuits so as to get both the power/explosiveness benefits and, the cardio benefits of high reps(20 reps) powercleans. Start your sets very light and increase weight slightly as you go. Let your own body dictate how heavy you go, and increase loads very gradually. Obviously, the 20 reps sets will limit the weight you can use.

Problem backs kind of beg for slow, controlled movement routines. I think as long as you don't go overboard and have propper form you should be fine.

I do deads as therapeutic sessions for my back and never do more than 100 lbs.

When I lay off for more than a couple of months I start back with 20 or 30lbs and SLOWLY work my way up to 100. It gets a little light, but it keeps my back healthier (emphasis on healthIER).

If you did deads properly (most don't) then you would realize legs are the most dominant muscle involved in deads. The back plays a very small part if done correctly.

"If you did deads properly (most don't) then you would realize legs are the most dominant muscle involved in deads. The back plays a very small part if done correctly."

This is true, but the back has to stabilize the core against the weight also. It still hits the back, even if the prime movers are your glutes/legs.

Apparently, glutes/legs/core are all subtly connected.

Read up on shearing force to understand how the back is affected, imo.

Use less weight

Yes the back is a stabilizer but it should not be part of the lift itself.

try sumo deadlifts


yea thats how i go about things now too.

" Yes the back is a stabilizer but it should not be part of the lift itself."


are you sure about this?

at the expense of looking like a retard (but possibly learning something), i will explain what i think about deadlifts...

at the start of the lift you keep your lower back arched and tight, and you're in the same kind of position as the bottom of a squat

you drive with the legs and it's pretty much a squat until you get the weight to just past knee height, then you straighten out and stick your chest out,

as i understand it, it is your lower back muscles that pull you straight

where did i learn about deadlifts? various websites and a guy at the gym that looked like he had been doing things right for a while (he had a bunch of stories about his weightlifting coaches too, he claimed to have been a powerlifter and i believe him)


one good credible article instead of bits from several places

"The main muscles that are directly involved while performing the Deadlift are: "


  1. Sacrus-spinosus muscle
  2. Spinosus muscle
  3. Transversi-spinosus muscle
  4. Interspinalis lumborum muscles"

" The Deadlift works the calves, glutes, hamstrings, and lower back."

big article (forum post) about deads, but it was a good read

Considering that I'm going to work light, is it advisable to work with dumbbells rather than barbells? I don't have access to a barbell right now.


do you have links/articles on correct sumo deadlift form, as well as straight leg deads? Also, any of your personal insights would be greatly appreciated.

Put whatever label you want on the lower back's role in the deadlift.

Give it whatever rank you want in list of what muscles are most dominant.

Deadlifts stress the lowback even with the best form.

What may vary is...

  1. How significant is the stress?

    Lower with good form and a strong core.
    Higher with bad form, bad back, or weak core.

  2. Does the stress help or hurt you?
    Help = Strengthens.
    Hurt = Injure

My personal experience is that what I did maximized my transition from rehab to real world usage of my back. I am trying to get back in Muay Thai Gym next month, and I believe that this in addition to losing weight and increasing cardio is my ticket back.

I like what Power Paw said, to expand on it.
Start straight up
Chest out, shoulders back, back should be arched automatically.
Lower yourself, when your shoulders move forward and your back loses the arch, stop and go back up again. This should be a small movement.
When you go back up, thrust your hips forward.
You can do it with knees straight or bent. If they are bent, you are stretching your hamstrings, be careful

Great post nowaydo! Thanks a bunch!

Awesome, nowaydo! When's the video coming out?