For a relatively long time now I have been doing Bill Star 5x5 type routine.

Weight ~85kg with max bench 130kg, squat 160kgx5 but deadlift is low, I sometimes got sharp pain in my lower back when going to anything heavier than 100kg or 120kg. Recently, I have slightly widened my stance and my hands go inside (like sumo) and the pain is no longer there and it seems easier for me to keep my back straight.

I get the impression that it should be at least as high as the squat from what I see most others doing.

My grip also loosens very easily and my forearms are relatively weak. At the moment I drop 140kg. I am trying to work out whether I can overcome this or if I have an injury which makes it hurt when I deadlift. What is a good method for increasing grip strength if that is the problem? Or could it just be that my lifts are not in a coventional proportion?

  • Are you deadlifting and squatting the same day? If so which do you do first? Also do you wear a belt?
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 1:08
  • What is your deadlift workout like (sets, reps, weight-used, progression, frequency)? Do you have a video?
    – user4644
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 1:59
  • @DMoore sometimes there are recovery squats (light) before deadlift but the results are the same with or without them, and I sometimes wear a belt sometimes not it has never had an effect on the pain.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 12:34
  • @Kate when I did it, it was once per week 5x5. I stopped because it hurt so I haven't done it in a while the routine looked something like 60kg, 80kg, 100kg, 120kg, 140kg for example. 100kg seems too easy, can get pain from 120kg, grip slips from 140kg sometimes. I think maybe I have an injury and at higher weight the form breaks down and it begins to hurt. I don't have a video at the moment
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 12:37
  • @shilov Do you mean you warm up with 60kg, then 80kg, and so on? If so, did you do 1 set of 140kg or 5? Were you jumping from 120kg to 140kg in one workout? I know I sound dense asking these questions but it helps to be super-specific. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 13:49

4 Answers 4


I have had back issues my whole life - mainly lower back. When I was lifting heavy, squats and deadlifts threw me fits. You getting close to about double your weight. This is where it gets a bit tricky for some. What surprises me is that you are not having the same back issues squatting.

I think you need to take a step back here and think long-term not how much you will do in the next month or two. If you keep getting hurt you are only prolonging truly getting better.

Some general tips -

  1. If you can't see the ceiling while deadlifting you could be dropping your shoulders.
  2. Do not start the bar out too much in front of you. Right on your shins to 1". No further.
  3. Start working your abs.
  4. Probably most important - do Good Mornings 2x a week. Very low weight at first.
  5. Lower your weight a lot. Start doing sets of 8 - moderately easy sets. Hold each rep at the top for 3 seconds. On the last rep hold until you lose grip.
  6. Focus on rolling your hips quickly during you deadlift. Deadlifting is a much more explosive lift than squat. Know that if you are doing the lift slowly it is harder to roll your hips. Especially if you are doing them slow with a low weight.
  7. I would generally suggest wearing a good belt only for your last set or two. You still want your back to get a workout.
  8. I would not suggest wrist wraps at all. Not being able to grip the bar is a bigger issue than you think and you need to get your body used to it.

What I think is happening is that your forearm strength/shoulder strength just isn't there yet. This instability is causing you to hunch a bit a you try to use your back instead of shoulders for stability. This is very common for younger deadlifters.

Spend a couple of months not getting hurt at all - lower back injuries can take forever to heal. After a couple months start adding a couple of heavier sets of 2 and see how things feel. (8-8-8-2-2)

I followed this same advice/routine about 8 years ago. Year later got squat up to 625lb and deadlift at 725lb. Not trying to slow you down at all but without a foundation you are going to keep injuring yourself.

  • I accepted this answer because it is the thing which I am going to try. What bodyweight were you with the 280kg squat?
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 21:32
  • A key component for deads is forearm strength. If you can't hold the bar you are more apt to lurch forward or to have hiccups. These little hitches can help throw out your back. I held the squat and dead max for 5-6 years (I just never tried higher weight) between 220-240 pounds. Once I fell to my "normal" sports weight of 205lb the squat fell to 550 and dead to 650. I have to say that after hitting 205lb I didn't think I had the mass to continue either lift that high and even though I did them they scared the crap out of me. I think it was more ligaments and speed doing it.
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 0:13
  • I also feel like there could be some serious tightness in my hamstrings as I cant even bend forward 30 degrees with a straight back. Is this normal?
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 9:31
  • It is common when you have lower back issues. It is also indicative of movement of your lower spine. I would recommend seeing a chiropractor who specializes in sports injuries. Either way you need to cut down on the deadlifts now and I would be very very worried squatting heavy. I would also start stretching, light good mornings, light straight leg deadlifts. You have some kind of injury you are recovering from. You need to heal before you end up with a slip or major strain. But I have been there on the not beinng able to touch my knees - BACK PROBLEM.
    – DMoore
    Commented Aug 5, 2013 at 14:30

Deadlift with less volume, a bit more frequently, and increment more slowly.

You're might be deadlifting with too much volume per workout (5x5). Deadlifts could be trained with less volume at the work weight. 1 set of 5 (after warm-up sets at lower weights). This will allow you to deadlift every 4 days, rather than once a week. However, as part of Bill Starr's 5x5, more volume once a week might not be the problem.

Your weight jumps are too large. If you can easily deadlift 100kg one workout, your next workout should be only incrementing to 103kg or 105kg at most. Definitely not 120kg. Only add weight if you succeeded at your 1 set of 5 with perfect form on the previous workout. You should have never been trying 140kg, since 120kg was causing pain.

If you take this more gradual approach, your body will be able to adapt to the changes, getting strong enough to hold form correctly at 120kg, and eventually getting strong enough to grip 140kg.

But, it might also be true that your proportions don't allow for as strong a deadlift. A form video is needed for us to check that.

  • I rechecked the routine and the increments are smaller and it is 4 sets of 5 reps. I will try slower increments. I have had this back pain for a while now and began to get it during squats also, but widening my stance cured it, it also seems that widening my stance and going slightly sumo with my legs just outside my arms helps me keep my back straight. Could it be a flexibility problem with keeping the back straight? Also I will try to get a video but I don't currently have a gym partner so it is a bit difficult to do.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 18:15

I don't know what the problem is, but I'd bet you either have a significant injury or a significant form problem. You need a form check video. I'd make one for your squat, too, to see if everything's copacetic there.

On a 5x5 routine your squat and deadlift should be at least reasonably close to each other.

  • I think I may have an injury. If you go to a doctor he or she will most likely tell you stop doing it if it hurts regardless of whether or not it is serious I think. I also think that my grip is very weak.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 12:32
  • @shilov Your grip weakness should be fixed by deadlifts. You need someone (or several someones) who knows how to deadlift take a close look at your form. Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 13:22
  • 1
    I should also mention that around 5 years ago someone was showing me how to deadlift incorrectly and I pulled my back slightly back then so maybe this injury has persisted
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 18:12
  • @shilov You should really mention that in the question. Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 16:48

In my opinion the deadlift is the most difficult to do of the big three lifts, 90% of people dead lifting in the gym use terrible form. To get deadlifts right you really have to keep your back straight and focus on the lift. For the grip problem I would say buy a pair of straps but don't bother using them until the set where you feel your grip slipping.

All this being said your deadlift is unrealistically low compared to your bench and squat. Therefore there must be an injury or a serious form problem. If it really was an injury I would think that the squat would aggravate the same spot since they work out many of the same muscles and both put pressure on your lower back. As I said in my comment I'm going to assume that your problem is actually that you are not going deep enough to make the squat or bench difficult. When you do a full ATG squat you definitely feel it in your back after, I can't imagine that this wouldn't aggravate the same back injury as the deadlift.

If you don't believe that your bench and squat form are the issue I suggest you see a doctor.

Front squats are more helpful in increasing you deadlift because of where the load is balanced you may want to incorporate them into your routine. If they also hurt I would suggest you see a doctor. If they don't it's possible that your weak grip causes you to compromise form. Chalk may also help with your grip. I Also saw you said that the sumo didn't hurt is much, generally sumo dead's are easier on peoples backs but most people lift less with them for the sake of your back it might be a good idea to stick with them. Also since your squats are low bar a squat higher than your deadlift wouldn't be to ridiculous but personally my bench is about 62% of my deadlift and I do not consider myself a good deadlifter

  • 1
    I don't do ATG squats, my guide is this video: youtube.com/watch?v=FVKEl4Wxoqc. They are still "proper" squats. As for the bench, it touches my chest then arms fully extend, it doesn't bounce etc. I don't think it is anything to do with the bench or squat form causing the proportions to be as they are. Also, it is never good to feel that your back has been worked in squats is it? It has hurt my back in the past but that is due to bad form - my intuition says that your back is strained if the bar is not over your vertical center of gravity.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 18:08
  • @shilov The back is absolutely worked in properly performed squats. At heavy weights the back, not the legs, is often the limiting factor. Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 16:01
  • @aaronman re: edits: the proportions are out but my thought is that the reason is because the deadlift has been neglected due to the pain. I think that 85kg bodyweight with 130kg 1RM bench and 160kgx5 squat (record was 170kgx5) is in proportion and it is the deadlift which is the outsider. I am 175cm tall (with short legs) so I have a mechanical advantage in squats and in the bench and it feels like a disadvantage or awkwardness with the deadlift.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 21:38
  • @DaveLiepmann I don't really agree with this I think that I do quite good squats because my belief is that the only way to increase the strength efficiently is by doing them with the correct form. I never feel much pain in my back really and when I do I know I have been lazy with form.
    – shilov
    Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 21:40
  • @shilov I think there's a misunderstanding. I think Rippetoe and I agree that any proper squat works the lower back. One should feel that the squat demands a lot of effort from the back, and it's not abnormal or a sign of poor form for front or back squats to make the back sore. Commented Aug 4, 2013 at 23:47

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