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Preventing Back Pain While Deadlifting, Pt. 2: The Lift

atlanta back pain deadlift dr. jacob performance Aug 02, 2018


Ok, so now that you’ve stepped up to the bar and have set yourself in a good position by following the “3 B’s” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see Part 1 of this series), it’s time to safely pick some weight off the floor.

There are a number of different nuances you can get into when teaching someone how to deadlift, but for this sake of this post we are going to break the lift into two main parts: First Pull and Second Pull.

1. First Pull: This is where you lift the bar from the ground to your knees. During this part of the lift you should be keeping your spine in a neutral position by having your hips and shoulders rise at the same time until the bar reaches your knees. If you let your hips rise faster than your shoulders then you’ll end up rounding your lumbar spine, and if you let your shoulders rise faster than your hips then you’ll end up over-extending your lumbar spine. Both of those approaches increase the shear forces at your vertebra, which our spines are not designed to handle.

2. Second Pull: Once you get the weight past your knees you are entering the second pull of the deadlift. At this point in the movement your main focus needs to be “bringing your hips to the bar”, meaning your shoulders continue to move upwards as your hips move forward towards the barbell.

So the big takeaway here is that, when you initially starting lifting the weight off the floor, you need to keep your hips and shoulders moving in the same direction, at the same rate, until you get to knee height, and at that point you start to shoot your hips forward as your shoulders continue to rise. Sounds simple enough; right? Well, there are techniques you need to also remember in order to not just perform the lift correctly, but to also keep your back out of harm’s ways. ​

  • Keep your lats engaged: We discussed the importance of the lats in Part 1 and the reasoning applies here too. As you lift the weight from the ground you want to keep your lats engaged by trying to “break the bar.” Doing this will allow you to keep the bar close to your shins and thighs, which is crucial to keeping your back safe. The closer that bar stays to your body, the less shear force that go through your low back.
  • Neck Position: Don’t flex or over-extend your neck while deadlifting. You want to keep your neck in a neutral, or ever-so-slightly extended, position.
  • Push with your legs, don’t pull with your back: This one sounds simple enough; right? In theory, yes. But in practice we see this performed wrong on the time. You want to imagine that you’re pushing the ground away from you vs pulling the weight off the ground. A good way to ensure that this is the case is by creating a “wedge” position. Dr. Travis Jewett does a great job of explaining what that is in the video below.


  • Breathing: The need to breathe appropriately as it relates to keeping your back safe cannot be overstated. An entire new article could be written on how to breathe appropriately during a deadlift, but for the sake of time we’ll keep it simple. The purpose of good breathing mechanics is to increase your intra-abdominal pressure. Think of it as pressurizing a closed can. To do this, you want to brace your core, as if you’re about to get punched in the stomach. Then take a forceful inhale into your diaphragm (your braced core). As you stand up, you can perform a “power breath” by forcefully exhaling, or you can hold your breath (if medically cleared to do so) and exhale once you reach the top position. The video below is a good demonstration what good breathing mechanics look like. 


So there you have it. By utilizing appropriate muscle activation, spinal position, breathing mechanics, and biomechanics, you’ll be able to successfully deadlift with less pain and more weight. At Athletes’ Potential we work daily with barbell and strength athletes, so if you’re struggling with pain while you deadlift and live in the Atlanta area, give us a call or fill out the contact request form below!

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Thanks for reading,

Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS

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