“Deadlifts Hurt My Back” (The 5 Reasons Why) ft. Dr. Stuart McGill

If you’ve ever hurt your back deadlifting or are afraid to do deadlifts in fear that you will end up hurting yourself, you’re not alone. There are 5 reasons why injuries are common on the deadlift. I’ll share with you what these reasons are, how to determine the right deadlift form for your body and how to perform this proper deadlift form safely to help you, not hurt you. Learn how to properly deadlift without fearing lower back pain here.

First, the problem with deadlifts is that it’s very easy to lose a neutral spine position – which contributes to injuries. So what can we do about this? Well, today I’ve brought in world renowned back pain expert Dr. Stu McGill, who has studied the science of back pain for over 30 years. The first reason you struggle with proper deadlift form may have to do with your hip structure. Those with deep hip sockets tend to have the most trouble getting into and pulling from the bottom position of a deadlift, especially when using a narrow foot stance. Those with deep hip sockets will thus need to modify their stance.

To find the optimal stance and type of deadlift for you and your hips, get onto all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders, knees under your hips, and ideally with your feet against a wall. Sink your hips back into heels as deep as you can without rounding your lower back. Then, try to find that sweet spot position that feels the best and allows you to get the deepest without rounding at your lower back. Once you’ve found that position, stand up and make note of how far apart your feet were and the angle your knees were turned out at. That will now be the safest deadlift stance for you to use.

Next up: using standard 45-pound weights on each side forces you to have the required range of motion or the right body structure to be able to safely deadlift from that height. Don’t have either? Rather than forcing your body to pull from the ground, find a way to elevate the bar to shorten the range of motion to a level where you can perform the deadlift without compromising on correct form. Then, after a month or so, try lowering it slightly and see how that feels. If that goes well, great, build from there and continue lowering. If that however causes back pain or breaks down your form, then go back to the higher plates.

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Third, you need to create what’s called the “lifter’s wedge” to create stiffness before you pull for proper deadlift form. When at bottom position, find a neutral spine and the bring bar as close to shins as you can. Then, think about bending the bar to engage lats/pecs. This will provide the counterbalance needed to “pull” your chest up and hips down, “wedging” yourself between the floor and the bar. You’ll have already performed 95% of the lift. From here, you simply apply 5% more effort by pushing your feet into the ground and bringing the hips through to complete the lift.

Fourth: perfecting your deadlift technique and strengthening your protective back and core muscles takes time and repetition. During this process, many let their ego get in the way and try to lift loads that exceed their ability to maintain a neutral spine and stiffness throughout the pull. So, earn your right to have more weight. Focus on keeping good form, rather than how much weight you’re lifting.

Now, what if you’ve applied everything we went through on deadlift form and are still experiencing lower back pain? Well, if it’s not a sharp shooting pain, your lower back muscles may just be adapting to the exercise. Pay attention to the level of soreness you get after your first few sessions. If it is just a matter of your back muscles adapting, then the soreness you experience after a session will decrease more and more overtime. If it doesn’t or if one day you feel a lot more low back soreness than usual, it’s an indication you’re breaking that neutral spine position during your lift and need to modify your form.

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I hope you guys were able to see just how much the details matter for every exercise you do. It not only keeps you healthy and injury free in the long run, but it gets you results faster. And if you’re looking for a program that applies this to transform your specific body safely and effectively with science, then take the analysis quiz to discover which science-based program would be best for you and where your body is currently at below:

Big thank you to Dr. Stuart McGill for his help on this video. This man’s knowledge is incredible!


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25 thoughts on ““Deadlifts Hurt My Back” (The 5 Reasons Why) ft. Dr. Stuart McGill

  1. Jeremy Ethier says:

    Happy New Year everyone!! Hope you found this video useful, and another big thanks to Dr. Stu McGill for his help. The man’s knowledge is incredible. Let me know what other exercises you’re struggling with and I’ll make some future videos on those! Happy Deadlifting!

  2. Dr. Swole says:

    I remember one of the first patients I saw as a med student was a kid who hurt his back deadlifting. It was sad to see a beginner messing himself up so early. Learn good technique!

  3. Oscar Melchor says:

    Thanks man. As someone who injured his back. I have been hesitant to deadlift. I mostly do body exercises. I going to implement this for my training.

    • mailman35419 says:

      O forget to mention

      Had my back pop doing 325LBs(about 147 Kilos)

      Was not using a deadlifting belt.

      I had actually been doing 325lbs for a few weeks(I only deadlift once a week). But they tough and tiresome so I’d do my resp VERY SLOW

      As in I’d do a rep, take like a full 15-20 seconds of breathing before I did my next

      I felt like I was going too slow. So I started to go faster.

      I 5 sets of 5 reps. I got to set 4, rep 2 when I had the pop. Because I didn’t check my form.

      So whenever you get up there in weight, get a belt. No belt is fine for light weight(and it’s good to learn proper form and ab bracing without a belt). But definitely use a belt.

      I’d say whenever someone hits 300lbs(136 Kilos) then get a belt.

      And strenghtn your core too. You don’t want to REQUIRE the belt to deadlift. In theory you should be able to deadlift without it. Without a belt your should still be able to deadlift within 50 lbs or 26 Kilos of whatever you deadlift with a belt.

      The belt is just for safety

    • Mike Hawk says:

      I used to have back pains from my anterior pelvic tilt, and that was why i put off deadlifting for a long time. Boy was that a mistake. Having a strong back has made my back aches much less sever and less frequent. You just have to check your ego at the door. Start out with high reps at a low weight(less than body weight), because you need to practice the technique, and when you do start adding weight dont stay in a heavy phase in your programming for more than 3 or 4 weeks. As long as your form is good you should be able to add 10 lbs a week durring your first few heavy phases. If you need instruction on the setup i would recommend looking at the Starting Strength deadlift videos here on youtube. After following their setup my 1RM has gone from 275 up to 345 in about six months @175 body weight.

  4. zahra sazesh says:

    This is the best deadlift tutorial I’ve ever watched…Jeremy,thank you so so much for all the energy and effort that u pht into your work and content

  5. Tanner Pena says:

    I find focusing on tightness, and engaging the hips as early as possible to be more important than focusing on having a flat back. Anyone putting up serious numbers never have a fully flat back. The danger comes in when you start the lift with a flat back and loose it midway through the lift or the bending is extreme. When I try and have a straight back I loose tightness which causes me to bend, shake, and loose balance but a little bend and I feel powerful and tight with no pain at all.

  6. Julia Monteiro says:

    SUCH perfect timing! I was wanting to see how to improve my deadlift form and this really helped me. Thank you! Perhaps you could do a video on hip/hip-flexor pain during squats too?

  7. vvhiite says:

    One of THE most important fitness videos I have ever seen, great job man. Definitely would refer anyone that struggles with DL to this video.
    Looking forward (hoping it will eventually come) to videos like that about other compound lifts.

  8. punkdigerati says:

    I hurt my back from deadlifts because I didn’t have a proper hip hinge and wasn’t utilizing my glutes and hips. I guess I had assumed the right muscles would just activate, but I actually have to learn the muscle recruitment patterns first.

  9. Penelope Pitstock says:

    Wow this is great, thank you so much! I’ve been scared to do deadlifts at home without a trainer because of this. Now I know how to find the right stance for my body. This is why I love your videos, just clear, useful information backed by science.

  10. TNE Pinoy says:

    I’m having problem doing this exercise and squats because I have dextro scoliosis. Could you make a video about that, Jeremy?

  11. 628steves says:

    Jeremy, what great instruction. I’ve always had trouble deadlifting. Never saw this info before, gonna try this out. I’m subscribing.

  12. Pupo Nazario says:

    I discovered for myself to start my deadlifts from a power rack in a standing position and descend as low as possible and lift the back weight up. I used to start from the floor and found it harder when I lifted weight in the 400 pound range and up. I have not pulled my lower back in years. Keep in mind that Core strength, warming up, and proper execution help as well. Great video explaining the 5 reasons!

  13. Draven Pascual says:

    Glad I watched this before my DL’s today. The queue to pull the arms down toward the bar to activate your back makes a huge difference.

  14. tali lkr says:

    Thank you Jeremy, this is so much needed in the fitness industry. Please continue this series with other body parts as well.

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