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I've done a lot research on proper form and near as I can tell the deadlift is a back lift. Doesn't this go completely against conventional wisdom?

And when I'm out in the world, how should I be lifting furniture and bags of mulch? Squatting or deadlifting?

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    I think it's more appropriate to say, lift with your legs, not your back – rrirower Mar 13 '15 at 15:31
  • Deadlift (not stiff-legged deadlift) isn't really a back exercise; it's a whole body workout. In fact, if done right, the only part of your back that'll be sore is the lower part. In daily activities, picking stuff up from the ground will likely use a deadlift stance (which makes more sense). – Kneel-Before-ZOD Mar 13 '15 at 16:13
  • @Kneel, are you saying it's normal for your lower back to be sore after DL? I've been taking that as a sign I'm doing it wrong. – Tyler Mar 13 '15 at 21:07
  • @Tyler Based on experience, talking to people who deadlift regularly, and watching videos, I expect your lower back to be sore if you're lifting heavy. If I'm wrong, I expect correction from anyone with more experience :). – Kneel-Before-ZOD Mar 13 '15 at 21:15
  • @Tyler Lower back soreness can occur with both correctly and incorrectly performed deadlifts, in my experience. – Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '15 at 12:40
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Try to think of deadlifts as lifting with your back, but in a controlled, symmetrical and familiar manner.

Generally, back injuries don't arise from simply lifting with your back. Problems arise when you lift something large, unwieldy, and unstable.

A bar's weight is symmetrical around your lifting position. If the symmetry is ruined, and you try to maintain the lift, certain muscles will have to over-compensate, and this can cause extreme strains.

"Real-life lifts" are more likely to be unbalanced, and asymmetrical. Things can break, and fall apart. Drawers can slide out, contents can shift and drop.

Imagine if you're doing a deadlift with a bar, and half-way through the lift, someone removes a plate on one side of the bar. That is problematic! And the analogy is more likely to happen outside the gym.

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I've done a lot research on proper form and near as I can tell the deadlift is a back lift. Doesn't this go completely against conventional wisdom?

No. Conventional wisdom exists for the common person.

The common person does not:

  • go to the gym to regularly weight train
  • train to brace their back and keep a strong spine
  • have the flexibility to touch their toes without rounding their back

Consequently, when the common person goes to lift from the floor without bending their knees, they will arch their back and put their body at a point of relative weakness and risks injury. Hence, the advice is sound for the average person.

And when I'm out in the world, how should I be lifting furniture and bags of mulch? Squatting or deadlifting?

Squat, always squat. When a deadlift goes bad, you can drop the bar and go about your day. When you are moving something, if its heavy enough to need to drop, its heavy enough to cause damage. A squat keeps the weight squarely within your center of gravity and gives you stability that a "deadlift-like approach" to lifting would give.

Similarly, a squat puts the weight close to your body where you can hold and stabilise it better, which is important when you are moving something non-rigid.

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    I disagree gently with the second section but the first is a fantastic description of why "lift with your legs" doesn't always apply. – Dave Liepmann Mar 14 '15 at 12:41
  • @DaveLiepmann Why disagree? I suppose "always squat" is very forceful. – user2861 Mar 15 '15 at 3:10
  • 1) I don't see any advantage in terms of dropping a real-life object between pseudo-squatting or pseudo-deadlifting, and 2) if one has a solid deadlift, I see no reason to avoid the movement with real objects of moderate weight. – Dave Liepmann Mar 16 '15 at 16:47
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"Lift with your legs, not with your back" is a slapshod workaround to the real problem, which is that people are weak. Their backs, in particular, are weak. What fixes weak, injury-prone backs? Deadlifting fixes them. Deadlifts allow people to slowly, safely progress to a strong, injury-resistant back.

One of the ways deadlifts can do this is by locking the spine into a safe and neutral position, then subjecting that structure to resistance. The body can be developed to lift and support a lot of weight in a properly braced position.

Out in the real world, I "deadlift" things and I "squat" things. (These generally look more like Atlas stone lifts or potato sack squats than their barbell equivalents.) What keeps me injury-free when lifting things in real life is 1) I lift heavy weights carefully in the gym as part of a progressive resistance program, and 2) when lifting odd objects in everyday life, to use another aphorism, I don't bite off more than I can chew.

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Deadlifts not only utilize your lower back, but your hamstrings and abs to stabilize yourself as well. Deadlifts (DL) are all about form. If you are arching your back in anyway, you are going to end up hurting your back in the long run. That's why when boxes say lift with your knees, it means don't arch your back and bend down low enough to have enough of an upright angle to use your leg power.

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Your question is wrong, your view is also wrong. But I am going to give my 2 cents regardless. First;

  • Deadlift is a pull, squat is a squat.
  • Squat starts from the top, deadlift starts from the bottom.
  • Knees do not lift anything, if you try and do that you are going to destroy them eventually.
  • Doing deadlifts for repetitions and/or using little rest periods can make your lower back sore, not because you are shortening your erector spinae, but rather because you are using them isometrically.
  • Back does not lift anything, it pulls. And that move is called a barbell row.
  • While deadlifting, your back works because it is trying to stay neutral and stiff not because you are lifting. Actually, that lift is done by hamstrings.
  • It seems like you think that lifting should be done via a deadlift or a squat, whereas it is done by both deadlifting, squatting, and pressing if necessary. Please watch a video of an atlas stone lift.
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    Short answer: deadlifts are mainly done (in terms of strength) with your hamstrings and glutes.

    It of course varies with the difference in style (from a "hardstyle" hamstring based DL to a more squat or quadriceps based).

    I thing the saying comes from the fact that you shouldn't dynamically use your lower (and usually upper) back.

    in terms of picking shit up I would say deadlift, just because it resembles picking stuff up the most

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