Deadlift Lower Back Pain - How To Start The Deadlift With Your Legs and Hips, NOT Your Lower Back
by Caleb Lee on February 6, 2009

If you deadlift and have lower back pain or if you’d like to know how to STOP using your lower back to start the first part of the pull on the deadlift from the ground, then this article is going to be worth pure GOLD to you!

You see, this past week I finally found a hardcore powerlifting gym here near my home town. It’s great — a real dungeon of a place — small as a kitchen but they managed to fit in two power racks, a monolift and a louie simmons reverse hyper among a ton of other equipment — yeah, these guys know what’s important!

So I had the guy who heads it up take a look at my form last night while I did a few pulls, and what he shared with me blew my mind and in my opinion my lower back is going to LOVE me for it for the rest of my life.


“Nah–It’s Just a Little Sore!”
That’s what I thought about a year ago when I was working up to 3 sets of 315lb doing deadlifts. I’ll admit it, me and my friend kind of jumped a lot of poundage to get to that weight quickly and my form wasn’t that great.

The problem was deeper than my form though, because I was suffering from a muscle imbalance which was pulling my spine and pelvis out of their natural curved position and this was causing my lower back to do the brunt of any and all lifting movements.

(You’re probably suffering from this same inbalance too if you’re like 90% of the population, so I’ll do a future post REAL soon on it)

To make a long story short — after those sets of deadlifts the soreness in my back didn’t go away — it just got more excruciating — I couldn’t even take a crap without it hurting just sitting on the bowl (I know, I know — too much information, but I want you to know how bad it was).

I got some inversion boots, and found The Healthy Back Institute, bought their program, used it (also gave it to my dad who’s back would go out every couple months like clockwork — it fixed him too!) and then I took a month or two off from lifting and ANY exercises.

Gotta understand, this was a HELL of a thing for me. I’ve been doing some type of workout virtually every day since I was 12 man (Except sundays of course). But I forced myself to be not active for a whole month.

Re-Learning The Basics
Here’s an important point: most people will let their ego get in the way and they aren’t willing to re-learn anything or consider their might be a BETTER way to do what they’re currently doing.

Those people are the dinosaurs who get wiped out when the world changes. Take a lesson from Tiger Woods: after winning a truckload of championships he broke down everything he was doing and totally reinvented and re-learned his golf swing. Why? He thought it could be improved (AFTER he was already arguably the greatest golfer in the world).

So I bought a bunch of books, re-learned my form and kept strengthening the weak muscles in my body and stretching out the tight muscles in my body.

So I’m about at the same amount of weight now in my deadlifts as I was last year (I took it SLOOOOWWWLLLLYYY going up in weight this year to make extra sure I was building a strong foundation)… but when I pull I still get some discomfort in my lower back. No pain, just a lot of tightness. A couple sets of pullups afterwards with some weight hanging off my waist and I usually feel like a million bucks.

That was until last night…

The SECRET To Starting The Deadlift With Your Hips and Legs — NOT Your Lower Back.
Turns out, it’s all in learning how to “fire” your legs, hips and glutes in your posterior chain BEFORE you start moving the weight. If you don’t do this, your body will be forced to initiate the deadlift with your lower back instead.

If you’ve been starting with your lower back doing deadlifts, your first reaction when you do this will be “HOLY CRAP! That weight went up so easy and it felt so good!” (that’s what me and my so eloquently spoken friend Paul said last night).

I’ve teased you enough…

How To Do It
So let’s start at the beginning of the deadlift:

Look Up — towards the ceiling, and not at the mirror. This will keep your back flat and in the proper position, instead of rounding…
Sit Back – Imagine sitting back into a chair way behind you with your butt…
Lengthen Your Spine — Also, imagine your spine is stretching and elongating to help keep your back straight even more…
Brace Your Abs – Pretend you’re about to get punched in the stomach and tighten your abs to protect them and then inhale air into this spot and hold it…
Maximum Tension — From the floor up, tighten everything else: grip the floor with your toes, tighten your legs, glutes, squeeze the bar, arms, make sure everything is tight…
Grunt – Further increase your intrabdominal pressure with a small grunt…
Right about here you’re going to start descending, sitting back like you’re sitting into a chair to get your hands on the bar.

Keep looking slightly up, letting your hands find the bar by themselves and this next part is important…

Only sit back enough (go low enough) to get down enough to get your hands on the bar, your hips should still be high in the air, and you should feel a lot of tension in your hamstrings because they’re getting loaded at this point.

Here’s The Secret:
So you got a good grip on the bar and you’re going to pull it off the floor. Make sure you’re squeezing the floor and your feet are planted, weight is primarily over your heels.

This is the secret: right before you pull, you want to slightly “Bow” your knees (your legs) out towards your elbows — flexing the outside of your legs and thighs and activating your hips.

You do NOT want to roll onto the outer edge of each foot, but you’re basically doing the same movement. Instead of just leaving your legs straight you are going to flex them and “push” them both outwards towards your arms — THIS is what activates your hips and legs.

Now keeping this tightness, is when you start to pull the weight up off the floor… as they say at powerlifting meets:

Stay Tight!
And keep that tension in your legs and if you’re doing it right you’re going to discover the first part of your pull goes a little slower because your legs and hips are initiating it up off the floor (NOT your lower back) but once you get it past your knees it’ll speed up until you lock it into place forcefully with your hips and glutes.

Try this for a couple of sets of technique practice with a lighter weight. Pick a weight heavy enough that you are forced to use good form because you can actually feel the weight — but don’t be an idiot and try to re-learn your technique with your max or even 80-90% of it. Just work this into your routine and start figuring out how to pull like this — you’re going to love it like I do.

So that’s it — if you’re getting lower back pain when you deadlift then you definitely need to put these steps into practice to start your deadlift with your legs and hips and NOT your lower back!