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Low Back Injuries, Rehabilitation, and Deadlifting

Written on December 18, 2008 at 10:03 am, by Eric Cressey

Q: After an injury and rehabilitation of a low back overuse/deadlifting injury, I’m finally able to deadlift and squat again. Only problem is that I am having a lot of trouble performing the deadlift correctly.

The problem is during my heavy sets, my lumbar spine starts to round early on in the pull. I’m not sure why this happening, but I’m almost positive it’s NOT due to a lack of mobility anywhere. I’m wondering if it may be an issue of having TOO much lumbar spine mobility and/or not enough core stability.

Or, maybe it’s an issue of my hamstrings being too weak and my lower back wanting to take over the pull too much. What do you think?

A: First off, I don’t think it’s as simple as “Muscle A is weak and Muscle B is tight, etc.” It has a lot more to do with you not having all the “ducks in a row” with respect to this particular movement pattern. There are a lot of people who have great stability and mobility who look awkward attempting a movement for the first time simply because it’s unfamiliar to them.

Just having good stability and mobility (which are context-specific, anyway) doesn’t imply that you can just immediately master a movement. Otherwise, we’d all be superior athletes from strength training and flexibility work without every having to practice the sports in which we want to excel!

More than anything, I suspect that your struggles are a matter of you trying to groove technique with weights that are too heavy (as noted by your “heavy sets” comment). Would you try to teach an elbows-tucked bench press technique with 275 if you knew a guy could bench press 300 with his elbows flared? No! He’d go right back to his “natural” movement pattern (the path of least resistance).

Technique work needs to be performed with submaximal weights, with the progression being:

1. multiple sets with few reps, controlled speed, light/moderate weights

2. multiple sets with few reps, FAST concentric, light/moderate weights

then…

3a. fewer sets with more reps, light/moderate weights

or

3b. few or multiple sets with few reps and heavier weights

I’m guessing that you’re just going right to 3b – and that’s where the problems set in.  Your body basically goes into panic mode.  As an example, I’ll throw myself under the bus.  Here is a video of my best competition deadlift: 650 pounds at a body weight of 174.

Now, I know it might come as a surprise to some of you, but I don’t lift 650 pounds all the time.  In fact, I’d say that I deadlift over 600 approximately 5-6 times per year between training and competitions.  This is why competition lifts are never really good measures of excellent technique; they are all essentially panic-mode (others have called it chaos training).  You can bet that I’d never let an athlete of mine attempt any weight where his form came close to this; the risk:reward ratio is completely out of whack.

Also, as a tag-along to this, some people need to have a Step 0 where they actually do a different movement in order to progress to a main movement.  In the context of the deadlift discussion, this might mean doing pull-throughs, trap bar deadlifts, or rack pulls to get the hang of the proper hip sequencing before moving down to the floor to pull with a conventional stance.  Others might be better off leaving out deadlifts for the long haul, if a previous injury is significant enough to warrant it.


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All the Best,

EC


  • taha

    hello Eric,

    what do you mean by light/moderate weight?

    i understand that heavy weight here would range from between 90%RM(or 85%) to 100%RM

    and also can you give a range of reps?

    thanks

  • Ellen Stein

    E-
    This newsletter could not have come at a more apropos time. I have been getting ready for a Raw meet in January (I am 4 weeks out)and attempted a “heavy” pull of 325 (my raw max as you know is 350). It just laid there and mocked me-glued to the floor. I had been feeling particularly strong of late and I could not understand why I couldn’t move the weight. I am going to take your advice and back off this lift, at least with the heavy weight, and work more on speed work and getting my groove back. I also had the same rounding of the back effect that your reader spoke of-something that never happened to me before.

  • If a person has a low back problem, and cannot/should not deadlift or single leg deadlift, what other exercises are there especially for the hamstrings that provide enought benefit to balance any quad moves? thanks

  • Eric,

    Great info.

    Bring the point home that you need to have the proper movement pattern to get to the bag weight.

    If you go the the big weight before that good movement pattern, ouch.

    Great post.

    Thanks so much.

    Rick Kaselj
    .

  • Stone

    Saw this recently on a CrossFit Facebook group. Does this count as a deadlift? Hopefully you guys can view it.

    http://lite.facebook.com/p/CrossFit-Advantage/70523387231/video/2-5-times-bodyweight-deadlift/178610285845/


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