4 Tips If You Are Scared Of Deadlifts

4 Tips If You Are Scared Of Deadlifts

Hey guys,

I’ve been intrigued by this fear for a while now and finally decided to pinpoint the most scary parts about Deadlifts and maybe make them less scary 🙂

I was the same for the past 4 years, I was worried about my back and since I am very careful person, I was very scared of an injury. I don’t know what would I do if I got permanently injured and couldn’t go to the gym anymore.

#1 UNDERSTAND THE MOVEMENT

Deadlift is quite often listed as a back exercise, but I believe it should be put under legs.

The legs, after all, do most of the work and you should never initiate the Deadlift with your back!

That’s probably why people are scared of it and so was I. I was thinking: “There’s no chance I am going to risk a back injury for an exercise that bodybuilders do.”

I had no idea on how many benefits I was missing out. Deadlift, if performed correctly, is an incredible way to build strength in legs, hamstrings, glutes and, towards the very end of the movement, in your back, too.

But the back act only as a stabiliser and helper. Back muscles should not engage until the bar passes your knees, which means that most of the work will be done by your lower body.

First movement in the Deadlift is flexing the legs and bringing your thighs parallel to the floor. They will not be completely parallel for everyone due people’s differences in ankle mobility and individual morphology – some individuals have longer limbs than others. People with long limbs will not be able to fold themselves so that their femurs (thigh bones) are parallel to the floor. It’s important to understand that people are all different and that’s why I don’t recommend looking at other people in the gym. Everyone’s Deadlift will look different and nobody should force you to adopt the same position as they do.

A 5ft person’s Deadlift will look totally different to someone’s who is 6.4. This is very important to understand and it doesn’t just apply to a Deadlift. Squat is very similar regarding this.

Another thing you have to remember in Deadlift is: “Do not EVER round your back!”

Easy way to ensure this is to fill the lungs with air prior to the lift. Expanded chest will physically prevent the back from rounding. I think correct breathing should be discussed a lot more at the gym because it’s such an easy way to prevent an injury.

I think Deadlift is predominantly a leg exercise but it involves nearly every muscle to a certain degree.

  1. Quads (thighs) engage to initiate the movement.
  2. Hamstrings have to work because they are opposite to Quads – opposite muscles help the prime movers to be balanced
  3. Glutes fire in when the bar hits the knees and essentially help us to straighten the legs
  4. Abdominal and Back muscles stabilise the whole torso and prevent it from collapsing forward, back muscles further assisting with lifting us upright

#2 WARM UP IS ESSENTIAL

As with any resistance training, this should go without saying. Failing to warm up and stretch can lead to pain in muscles (best case scenario) or even injury and torn muscles, tendons or ligaments (worst case scenario).

With Deadlift, though, I feel this issue should be stressed even more. It’s an incredibly demanding exercise, which gets your heart rate up in no time and the muscles cannot be shocked into performing this movement when cold and stiff.

Great idea is to warm your entire lower body, which can be done in several ways:

  • Walk or a gentle jog on a treadmill. I did say gentle and I do mean gentle – don’t knacker yourself out before your session even started. The intensity obviously depends on your current fitness level. For me, 1km is a perfect warm up, for someone else, it’s a workout. So listen to your body, only you can know what is a warm up for you and what is a workout. If you feel like to passing out when stepping off the treadmill, you might have done too much 🙂
  • Stair – climber. Awesome way to engage the leg muscles, especially Glutes and Quads. It might not be obvious, but deadlifts are great for building glutes. Gluteus Maximus is a very large muscle and needs proper activation prior to demanding exercise. Same applies to your quads (thighs). Again, don’t go overboard and spend half an hour on there, you are supposed to warm the muscles, not beat them up. 5 – 10 mins should be more than enough, but you have to judge that yourself. And please, don’t lean on the railings. Use them only as a support if needed. I see so many people at the gym, leaning on the cardio machine, trying to cheat the movement. Why? You are only cheating yourself.
  • Skipping. Great way to warm up and increase the heart rate, however a lot of people find it either boring, or hard because it requires some level of coordination. I, myself, don’t find it interesting, but I cannot say it’s not beneficial. Skipping is a very quick way to warm up the whole body and prepare it for what’s to come next.
  • Dynamic stretching is also a good way to prepare the body for intense exercise if you don’t fancy hitting the cardio. Focus on lower body stretches, great way to prepare for a Deadlift is to get the bar and weights ready, wedge your feet against the plates and lunge side to side, using the feet against the plates as an anchor. Doing a few body weight or light weight squats could also be a good way to prepare your lower body muscles for the action. However, I do find hitting the cardio machine for 5 mins far more effective than dynamic stretching, at least regarding lower body warm up.

#3 PRACTICE CORRECT FORM

And no, it’s not as difficult as it looks.

Amazing way to get used to the Deadlift posture and form is to use a trap bar.

This clever piece of equipment will not allow for any common mistakes. It compromises the Deadlift efficiency a little bit in a way that trap bar Deadlift engages glutes a little less. But I believe compromising efficiency is a lot better than compromising form and safety.

Even though trap bar Deadlift decreases glute engagement, it’s only a temporary issue because I am assuming that you will move onto a regular Deadlift after mastering the right posture. And if you want to stick to the trap bar, that’s OK, too. Your glutes work either way, just in case of a trap bar Deadlift, they work a little less.

The trap bar allows you a different grip, too, which is an incredibly important difference to a regular Deadlift. This side grip and centered position of the bar allows the body to decrease the lean in the torso, which limits the pressure on the lumbar region (lower back) and glutes by throwing some of the work onto the quads (thighs). The torso is, therefore, not being pulled forward by the weight of the bar as it would be during a regular Deadlift.

Trap bar, therefore, makes it a decent solution for people with weaker back.

All this form practice is very important in muscle – mind connection. While performing Deadlift safely with a trap bar, your brain will remember how the movement feels and which muscles it has to engage to perform the exercise correctly. It will remember this when you move onto a regular bar and apply the same strategy.

Going back to the Grip, there is an obvious difference between a trap bar deadlift and a regular one.

The regular deadlift grip is narrower. Your hands should be just outside your legs to create the best leverage. If your hands spread too wide, your body will have to sink a lot lower, putting more pressure on lower back. Also, never bend your arms, especially when using a reverse grip (one overhand and one underhand grip). Easy way to avoid this issue if in doubt is to perform overhand grip all the time.

#4 CONTACT WITH THE BAR IS KEY

If you decide that you are comfortable with a trap bar and want to move onto a regular bar, I suggest performing this simple technique which, again, creates important muscle memories in the brain.

Load the bar with as little as possible. Most gyms, these days, have the large plates in different weights, going as low as 2.5 kg. With a regular olympic bar and a 2.5 kg plate on each side, this should give you 25kg to lift, which is very doable and even if you are thinking that 25 kg is a lot, when you actually try it, you will find out it’s not.

Just make sure you use the large plates that are usually found near a squat rack, not the small ones because these will make you bend a lot lower, which could make it more difficult to engage the legs first.

When you are ready, practice lifting up this small weight with one rule in mind. The bar has to ALWAYS BE IN TOUCH WITH THE LEGS!

This is probably the most important rule in deadlifting. The bar cannot move away from the legs. If it does, you are putting incredible amount of pressure on your back, which can have terrible consequences when heavier weights are involved in the future.

That’s why it’s very important to practice with low weights and master this technique properly. If you feel like you cannot keep the contact with legs anymore, drop the bar and rest.

Deadlift is not an exercise requiring a lot of sets and reps. The less is often more with this movement.

6 reps is enough with a Deadlift and don’t be scared to rest for longer. The movement is incredibly demanding on the body and there is no shame in needing to recover. You will see people performing fast deadlifts, quite often compromising on their form, but they are probably very experienced and the amount they are lifting during this fast exercise is probably just a fraction of what they usually lift.

CONCLUSION?

  1. Never look at what other people are doing or how much they are lifting.
  2. Listen to your body, everyone started somewhere and even if you think that everyone is watching you, they really are not!
  3. Warm up properly and please do not underestimate this step.
  4. Make sure your legs are in constant contact with the bar, if you haven’t mastered this, don’t add any more weight.
  5. Take time to understand the movement and which muscles are engaged.


8 thoughts on “4 Tips If You Are Scared Of Deadlifts”

  • Oh Silvie,

    I cannot believe you avoided the deadlift for so long.

    It’s definitely one of my favourite exercises EVER.

    I am so, so, so glad that you have mentioned that you believe this is more of a leg exercise than a back one.

    I wholeheartedly agree.

    I’ve had many an argument over this, and you’re perfectly correct, focusing on using the back rather than the legs is just asking for an injury.

    I often perform deadlifts with my eyes shut, just to enhance the mind-muscle connection and really make sure that I’m using my legs.

    I focus on pushing my feet into the ground, almost as you would when playing around in sand. I then really focus on using my glutes and hamstrings (as well as the quads) to get that weight off the floor.

    The way I see it, my hands are literally just “hooks”, so they’re only there to hook around the bar, nothing else.

    I always feel slightly incensed when I see people pulling with their arms and their back, as well as rounding the back. I try not to interfere, but I don’t want people to get injured.

    In truth, most people (especially the guys) could do with dropping a plate or two from each side of their deadlift and learning perfect technique first, just as you’ve alluded to here.

    As you know Silvie, I am a little bit “nuts” when it comes to exercise, but I’ve managed to get up to deadlifting just over 3 times my bodyweight for a single rep.

    I agree that deadlifts should be performed in the lower rep range, because it is typically the heaviest barbell exercise you’ll perform, you are using literally every muscle in the body, and it is very taxing on the central nervous system.

    With that said, going back to my “exercise madness”, one workout I perform every now and then is to pack a bar with double my bodyweight and just perform 100 deadlifts.

    I typically do this in sets of 5-6 reps with just a short amount of rest in-between.

    I would never suggest that anyone else tries this type of a workout unless thay have a high level of strength and fitness.

    I told you I was mad, LOL.

    You’ve done a fantastic job here Silvie, now no more excuses and get to deadlifting.

    Partha

    • Hi Partha,

      I haven’t heard from you in a while so it’s definitely nice to “see” you 🙂

      I know, I cannot believe I waited so long, but, as they say, better late than never! 🙂

      It’s amazing how difficult it is to get rid of misconceptions and prejudices against things.

      Your 100 deadlift workout is totally mad, you are right 😀 sounds crazy but everyone needs to do what fits them, I’m definitely not anywhere near double or even triple my bodyweight on deadlift. I am hovering around just under my bodyweight, I have tried more, but it feels like my form suffers, so I quickly drop the extra plates and went to the basics.

      I believe that less weight and proper form is key. I have just adopted a new approach towards my squats. I have decided to go as low as possible and I had to drop a few plates there, too 😀

      It’s an amazing wake up call when you find out that just slightly changing the form of the exercise can impose an incredible challenge!

  • Thanks for your highly informative article about the correct techniques for performing deadlifts. Although I have never tried weightlifting, I still found your advice beneficial because I frequently lift heavy things, including musical equipment (like amplifiers and keyboards) and my German Shepherd puppy which is getting heavier by the day! In the past, I used to suffer from very uncomfortable back pains caused by my work as a carer. I often had to lift people from their wheelchair and back, and my back ended up strained for days. Only later I learned about the importance of using my leg muscles rather than my back and it was a game-changer. I learned this at a ‘Health and Safety’ course. But reading your article is even more illuminating – for example, it was interesting to learn about filling our lungs with air before performing the lift, or about keeping the back straight and never round it. Thanks again for a great read!

    • Hello Lucie,

      first, I’d like to thank you for the comment.

      I have to say I am very surprised that the place you work or worked did not give you this training right at the start, especially lifting people, which you have my admiration for! Such a demanding work, not many of us would be able to do it.

      I even had a “Health and Safety” course in my place of work, and I work as a casino dealer 😀 no heavy lifting required 😀

      I hope your back is better now and you didn’t suffer any permanent damage.

      I’m glad you liked the lung tip, I didn’t learn it until I read a book about Strength Anatomy. There is very little material out there that would describe the role and importance of breathing during heavy lifting, being it in the gym or in real life while moving a furniture or, in your case, a person. This made me think that perhaps I should write a whole article about it, so thank you for the idea.

      • Thank you for your lovely reply, Silvie, much appreciated! I’d love to read your future article about the importance of breathing during heavy lifting. I’m very interested in breathing in general, and I’ve been exploring various breathing techniques, mainly pranayama (controlled breathing) that has helped me to improve my mood or make me feel less tired. But I’d love to learn more, especially when it comes to using our muscles for moving heavy objects, so I look forward to your new post. All the best! Lucie

        • I am working on that article right now so go ahead and bookmark because it will be out soon! When I start writing I cannot stop 😀

          I’ll hopefully “see” you later in the comments.

  • Hello!
    As I was reading through this, my current goal was blaring in my head. I recently got back into the gym (July) after not going for about two years.
    I knew what I COULD do two years ago, so I rushed myself and upped my weights way too fast.
    This caused a shortened range of motion, which then caused a lot of unnecessary pain and downtime, even with a warmup and stretching.
    I’m glad you organized your thoughts in the way you did. It makes it easy to absorb and understand.
    The last week or so, I have dropped my weights to half and REALLY been focusing on form and range of motion.
    I have felt the burn more in the last week than I have in a few months (in the areas that are worked at the start of an exercise).

    Again, thanks for the info and have a wonderful week,

    Tyler

    • Hi Tyler,

      Thank you for a very kind comment.

      You are absolutely right, it’s incredibly easy to just come back to where you left off. I, myself, have made that mistake, and it didn’t even take years. I thought I could just start again with same weights after 30 days lockdown and no gym. Boy, did I hurt myself. My back was in fire and I couldn’t even sit down on a chair to eat my dinner. Getting in and out of the car was nearly impossible. And that was only a month of inactivity. I had to drop my squat and deadlift weight by 10kg. Only after 3 weeks, I now feel like I can go back to my 50kg, which is not even that much.

      It’s incredibly important to start slow, however you feel, if you had a break, your muscles need to get into it slowly. I have learned my lesson too and that’s basically what inspired me to write this article. I kept my squats on 40kg and doing “arse to grass” movement instead of just going parallel to the floor with my thighs. This did wonders! I recommend this to everyone. When you feel like increasing the weight on a squat, try to get lower instead! Same on deadlift. Instead of upping the weight, slow down the motion!

      Thank you again for sharing your experience and I wish you a lovely week, too!

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