navy man performing the deadlift

A Bit About The Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise to build a persons strength. The deadlift does not rely on stretch reflex. The weight is dead on the floor and you have to brute force it all the way up. Also, you can’t really shorten the range of motion compared to a squat for example. This makes it one of the hardest exercises to cheat on your either locked out or not. Deadlifting is a full body exercise with primary focus on the back muscles, since so many muscles are involved it is one of the hardest exercises on your body so recovering will take a bit longer.

That’s why you should not do more than 1 or 2 heavy sets of deadlifts once you are an advanced lifter. To be on the safe side you should stick to doing it once a week.

So how often should you deadlift ? that depends on a couple factors.

  • How advanced of a lifter are you
  • How quickly do you recover
  • How much weight are you moving
  • Are you lifting to failure

man performing 3 times body weight deadlift

When you are first starting out with lifting you can deadlift heavy more times a week, but as soon as the weight gets heavy you need to scale it back to once a week to help prevent injury. What is heavy is different for every person so listen to your body. Some programs such as Pavel Tsatsouline Power To The People will have you deadlift 5 times a week, but the intensity is carefully cycled and you are never supposed to go all out. If you really want to deadlift more than once a week make sure you cycle between heavy day and a light day. On the light day make sure to add volume (lift lighter weight more times) and practice your form.

If your finding your still not recovering fast enough when deadlifting once a week you can alter to deadlifting once every 2 weeks or try to get more sleep and eat higher amounts of protein to see if you are able to recover fast enough.

Don’t train to failure with the deadlift the recovery time required is through the roof, if you are training to failure you should really only deadlift every other week if your natural (not on steroids).

When deadlifting make sure you lower the bar until the plates touch the floor. This will give your lower back rest between reps. It also gives you a second to set your back neutral before you Deadlift your next rep. By doing this you are less likely to Deadlift with a rounded lower back, helping to protect your spinal discs and giving you a better Deadlift form.

When you are deadlifting and the plates touch the floor wait a second to make sure you are not bouncing the weight to help you lift. Remember it’s a dead lift their should be no momentum helping you get the bar off the floor.

If you find your shins bleed every time you Deadlift find a way to cover and help protect your shins. Slight shin scraping is normal. You should drag the bar over your legs to the top. This is more effective and safer for your back. That’s why you should Deadlift in long pants with your socks pulled up to protect your shins.

Make sure to wear the proper footwear when deadlifting or deadlift bare foot. You should not have any form of shock-absorbers with air or gel-filling think most running / basketball shoes. The best shoes for Deadlifts have soles that don’t compress under the weight. Hard soles that behave the same way on each rep so you control where the bar goes. Flat soles that put you close to the floor to decrease the distance you pull the bar to lockout. Look for soles with great traction so your feet don’t slip. Arnold schwarzenegger was known to deadlift barefoot for this very reason.

Many lifters actually prefer deadlifts to squats because they can get away with a lot more bad technique flaws and still lift a lot of weight. Even if the bar gets away from them or their back is rounding, a person can typically manage to finish the lift. Well the deadlift can be done with these types of errors you are setting yourself up for an inevitable future injury that will significantly stall your progress so focus on your form.

If your deadlifting less because you find every time you perform the exercise you lower back is hurting this is most likely because of issues within your form. We are going to review the most common deadlift errors so you can prevent yourself from doing them hopefully resolving your issue of lower back pain.

Reasons Deadlifts Hurt Your Lower Back

picture of woman with back pain

Lower back pain from Deadlifts means you’re using bad form. Deadlifting with your lower back rounded this compresses your spinal discs from the front. Excess lower back rounding during heavy Deadlifts can result in lower back injuries like herniated discs. The safest position to Deadlift is with your lower back neutral.

The deadlift is one of the few exercises where you should never do any back off sets. It’s not uncommon for a lifter to do the heavy lifting right and remain injury free, to only injure themselves on a lighter set since their back is fatigued from the earlier heavy lifts.

Hyper extending your back

Arching your spine back will compresses your spinal discs, on the back part of your spine. This means Deadlifting heavy with excess lower back arch also increases the risk of lower back injuries like herniated discs.

You should not lean back at the top of your Deadlifts or you’ll increase your chance of hurting your lower back. Most advanced powerlifters will lean back in competitions so the judges can see they’ve locked the weight. But leaning back at the top squeezes the back of your intervertebral discs which usually results in a lower back injury. Stand up with the weight until your hips and knees are locked. Keep your lower back neutral. Don’t lean back.

Feet and Bar Position

Make sure you are not deadlifting with the bar to far away from your body. The further the weight is from your body the more stain it will put on your lower back. Make sure to keep the bar as close as possible to your body.

foot positioning for the deadlift

Setup with the bar over your mid-foot, shoulder-blades over bar. This will help to raise your hips. Keep your shins back and creates space for the bar. Don’t Deadlift with your bare shins (person in image is wearing shorts and using tape to protect shins) or you’ll keep the bar at a distance to avoid shin contact or you might end up with bloody shins. You must drag the bar over your legs to save your lower back.

Deadlifting on a Smith machine

I have been asked several times how do I deadlift on a Smith machine. The short answer is DON'T. The Smith machine locks your range of motion and can put your back in a compromising position. Its best to deadlift with free weights allowing a proper range of motion. This will also help strengthen your stabilizing muscles making injuries less likely. So remember if you're going to deadlift your using free weights. This will also help ensure you get the best results in the shortest amount of time.

In Closing

So know you know how often to deadlift and the common errors to avoid hopefully you will take your deadlift to the next level. And remember practice your form over and over until it becomes a natural movement for you. Just keep doing the deadlift exercise and you will get a fit body in no time. And remember the number one rule for how often you should deadlift depends on your body and what you are comfortable with.

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