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I recently started doing Stronglifts. My bar weighs 40 lbs instead of 45, so here were my starting weights:

  • Squat: 90 lbs (5RM was 205 earlier in the year)
  • Bench: 90 lbs (5RM was 190 earlier in the year)
  • Deadlift: 90 lbs
  • Row: 60 lbs
  • Overhead Press: 40 lbs

Everything has been easy except deadlifts. I had very small hints of pain even on the first 90-lb day. I got up to 130 lbs yesterday and my lower back started hurting a few hours later and continued through the day. I am only about 90% sure it is not "normal" muscle soreness... but 130 lbs should be easy, right?

I have reviewed a lot of material including the Stronglifts articles and the links in this answer. I'm sure my lower back is not rounding.

Note

I already have an idea of what is wrong. I am going to test this next time I deadlift.

  • My abs are not engaged. I suspect they should be contracted, like when squatting. But why does none of the deadlift material mention this?
  • I might be over-arching my lower back. In fact, this seems to be tied to the abs: if you stand up and tilt your pelvis forward (so that your butt sticks out slightly), flexing your abs will bring your spine back to a more natural position.
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    A couple of small points that help me: try to squeeze your belly button to your back, and do not drop your hips too low. Your hips should be much higher than the bottom of a squat. – Eric Dec 31 '14 at 17:24
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    Oh, and try to push through your heels, via your glutes. Without weight, you should be able to feel your butt rock tight as you push your heels into the ground on the way up. You'll hear people talking about the deadlift being more of a "push" than a "pull", and largely they're talking about pushing the heels, which only happens if your glutes are locked in. – Eric Dec 31 '14 at 19:02
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I think you touched on your problem in your notes. A common problem with beginners is that they tend to lose torque when starting the pull. I've seen this many times: a beginner will set up behind the bar, get into a great position, load up, then start the pull. Immediately their butt will shoot up, their spine will over-arch in one direction or another and the weight is basically lifted with very little hip involvement at all. Low back is obviously compromised because the movement has become more of a good-morning/SLDL than a deadlift.

The deadlift is a hip exercise. It's true that the erectors (spinal and abdominal) are utilized to an enormous degree, but the trophy goes to the glutes. Kelly Starrett does a great job of explaining the mechanics in this video.

Personally, when then mechanics of the movement clicked for me, I was able to add 50lbs onto my deadlift immediately, stomping my personal record. Already having a pretty good deadlift, you can imagine my surprise. The exercise suddenly seemed much easier and more natural. My progress after that point really accelerated because I realized what muscles I was supposed to be utilizing.

So, a couple of cues and pointers to remember:

  • Keep torque in the hips by externally rotating the knees.
  • Think of "screwing the feet outward" or "screwing the feet into the ground" (to use Starrett's cue). Don't actually rotate your feet -- in fact, keep the feet pointed as straight as possible -- but pretend you are trying to split the ground apart with your feet. This will aid immensely in keeping the hips loaded up throughout the movement.
  • When you approach the bar and get loaded up to start the pull, don't compromise your position. Keep the tension in your hips, push your hips forward rather than extend from the low back.
  • Work on the abs. Keep the abs tight. As Starrett mentions in his video, the abs will not only protect the spine, but also help create a better lever for the movement.

Stronglifts is a great program. You'll be deadlifting twice your bodyweight in no time! Good luck!

  • Good video. Looks like 4:25 explains my problem exactly... will try it out next deadlift. – default.kramer Dec 31 '14 at 18:02
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The cues from Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe (see pages 103-110) are,

  • bar over midfoot
  • shins to the bar
  • grab bar, chest up
  • Lift.

The most common errors are rounding the lower back and overextending the lumbar arch. Aim instead for a flat back, which the final "chest up" queue helps with.

Here's a video where he shows these cues to students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWRTHOMq-n8

  • A list of three word pointers and a link to a youtube doesn't really qualify as a "high quality answer". – Eric Jan 2 '15 at 2:35
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It is impossible to answer this question without a form check. You are probably doing the deadlift wrong by either overextending or rounding the lumbar spine. It's also possible that you're just weak in the lower back and are misinterpreting extreme soreness as problematic pain.

  • I don't know that it's impossible... surely there can be a checklist of common mistakes that cause lower back pain. For example, many deadlift sources including this site don't mention overextending the lumbar spine, and I think this question is a fine place to mention it. – default.kramer Jan 5 '15 at 3:43
  • @default.kramer There are plenty of checklists, but how do you know which checklist item to address? When I was in your situation a few years ago, I thought I was making Error X, so I applied Fix A, when in fact I was making Error Y, for which Fix A was counterproductive. If you're overextending the lumbar spine then fix it--but we can't know if that's the problem based on your report. We need to see. – Dave Liepmann Jan 5 '15 at 7:35

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