How to Progress back to Deadlifting after a Back Injury

About the Author: 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