If deadlifts kill your lower back, our expert has the fix—an easy way to work up to the powerful move.
Every time you bend over and pick up something from the floor, you’re doing a deadlift. But the move isn’t just functional—it produces total-body benefits, strengthening your core, glutes, and hamstrings in one shot. “Because we spend so much time sitting, it’s incredibly important to work the muscles of our posterior chain,” says Justin Jacobs, Tier 4 manager at Equinox 92nd Street. Yet for every person you see in a weight room cranking out deadlifts, there’s another complaining of lifting-induced back pain.
If you’re in that latter group, you’re probably doing it wrong—but it’s not your fault. “When your glutes and core are weak, and you lack mobility in your hips, the load of a deadlift gets put primarily on your lower back,” says Jacobs. The result: Your smaller low-back muscles become hyperactive and strained, and you feel pain.
To reinforce the proper technique, Jacobs designed this series. Start with the “deadlift test”—can you keep your back flat as you bend forward at your hips and grab the bar? If so, you’re all clear to do weighted deadlifts like moves 5 or 6. If you can’t reach the bar with a straight back, or you’re just returning to exercise after an injury, incorporate move 1 into your regular warm-up every day; then gradually progress to moves 2, 3, and 4. Whichever version you perform, aim to do 10 reps of 2 or 3 sets of deadlifts twice or three times a week.