Home Blog How to Progress back to Deadlifting after a Back Injury

How to Progress back to Deadlifting after a Back Injury

Written on August 24, 2009 at 4:58 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: I’m finally recovered from my deadlifting injury, which was a strain of my right lumbar erector spinae.  I would like to start trying to deadlift again, but what’s the best way to start? With rack pulls? Isolated lower back machines? Hyperextensions? Or, straight into deadlifts?

A: The answer would be “E: None of the above.”  Of course, it depends on the person, as always!

First, you need to make sure that your body is ready to get back to deadlifting in any capacity. That’s something I can’t tell you without knowing more about your situation, but you should address it with a qualified professional before you get back to the activity that originally injured you.

Second, in terms of maintaining a training effect while you’re on the shelf, I generally stick purely with single-leg variations with recent back issues.  They allow us to gradually reintroduce compressive loading in a situation where the center of gravity is maintained within the base of support.  In other words, we minimize shear stress, and we make sure that the spine is in neutral, where it’s in the best position to handle compression.  I usually start with body weight variations, then progress to variations loaded with dumbbells, and then move to a barbell reverse lunge with a front squat grip.  Depending on the person, we may also use glute-ham variations and sled pushing/pulling.

Down the road, I prefer pull-throughs and trap bar deadlifts as early progressions, with sumo deadlifts and rack pulls following before any progression to conventional deadlifts from the floor.  This, of course, assumes that you have a body that’s even capable of doing a deadlift correctly.  A lot of people have functional (poor ankle or hip mobility) or structural (long femurs or short arms) that make conventional deadlifting unsafe.  They may be better with other variations (as noted above) or no deadlifting at all.

When the time is right, we generally start people off with speed deadlifts – emphasizing perfect technique – at 50-60% of estimated one-rep max.

Of course, everyone is different – so you should get checked out and listen to your body.

Recommended Reading:

Lower Back Savers: Part 1
Lower Back Savers: Part 2
Lower Back Savers: Part 3

  • Everyone is different. It’s best to feel it out and get back when you feel ready and technique is at a perfect 100%.

  • Jack

    Eric,

    Why sumos before conventional from the floor? Is this because you don’t get down quite as low and it is easier to maintain a neutral spine with sumos earlier on?

  • Aitch

    Eric…
    “Long femurs = unsafe to deadlift.” Is it really that black and white?

  • LeslieW

    Great stuff! I’ve done pretty much everything you’ve written about…

    The only bits I might add on are:

    – Check your footwear (barefoot / VFFs / Nike Frees anyone?)

    – Get screened/assessed by a certified FMS / CK-FMS or Z-health trainer — or at least someone who has some understanding of screening movement patterns & asymmetries

    – Read Esther Gokhale’s book and change how you sit / walk / run, not just how you lift

    Finally, let’s not forget the pain neuromatrix and the way in which LBP can be at least partially psychosomatic / emotion-tied. The bodymind isn’t going to figure out new ways to make you hurt if the pathways are set already…

    ~L

  • Rich

    Great tips about progressions!

  • Benjamin Kusin

    That progression is pretty much what I did while coming back from my bulging disc injury. I’m happy to report that while I bombed a 370lb PR deadlift attempt last month, I did manage to lift 345 for a single last week, which is only 15 pounds short of my best. It won’t be long before 370 falls.

    Most importantly, rehab/retraining takes PATIENCE. It took a year for me to get back to that 345 lift. It’s probably going to take another 2-3 months to get 370. I’m actually going to get my indicator lifts high enough to tell me I can probably lift more than 370 and I’ll just take 370. I want a little safety cushion.
    You’ll know when I get it.

    To answer Jack – sumos have more vertical back and thus less shear force.

  • Tristan

    Good little article, I learned this the hard way.

  • jeff

    hey guys i know this is a bit off topic here… but i recently suffered an inguinal hernia and wonder if any of you guys have any thoughts on recovery and if deads and squats will be in my future forecast post-op??? Any advice or guidance is appreciated.

    Thanks,Jeff

  • Jeff, each case is unique. Some are more severe than others. I wouldn’t rule them out indefinitely, though. Just make sure you take your time with your recovery now and do it right the first time.


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