I sometimes experience discomfort and pain in the lower back.

I deadlift a heavy set once a week. This does not seem to be helping. And why should it? It makes my lower back able to stabilize against very heavy loads for a very short period of time. My daily life probably involves stabilizing against a light load for very long periods of time instead (could this be called postural strength?).

There is a bodyweight exercise called the founder that I believe will help. I will start doing this once a day.

But I would also like to know; why and how does this exercise work? Or does it not work? Is it roughly equivalent to a barbell only romanian deadlift?

My theory is that in order to avoid back pain one must have great muscular endurance in the lower back and flexibility and muscular endurance in the hamstrings. One way to achieve this would be do a lot (say 100 reps a week) of very light deadlifts or RDLs. The founder is roughly the same as a deadlift or RDL where one uses the arms as weight instead of a bar. A few set of heavy deadlifts a week does not cut it. What is needed is muscular endurance not strength. That does not exclude heavy deadlifts. They are useful. In the case I may have to lift eg. a washing machine.

  • 1
    One reason this question is hard to answer is that you're asking four different things: the relationship of deadlifting to postural strength, how the founder exercise works, whether it works for postural strength, whether it's a "minimum viable solution for the core" (whatever that means), and its relationship to deadlifts & RDLs. I think it needs some work to really be answerable. Mar 25 '20 at 14:34
  • I have narrowed it down a bit. Thank you for your answer and comment.
    – Andy
    Mar 25 '20 at 14:42
  • What is the volume and intensity of your heavy deadlift set?
    – C. Lange
    Mar 25 '20 at 14:47
  • 2
    A 0.9xBW 1RM deadlift does not provide the benefits of deadlifting. It simply doesn't. Stop all this dancing around and just focus on that for a full minute. Yes, the nature changes, DRAMATICALLY. The benefits to postural strength, added muscle protecting the lumbar spine, strength to bodyweight ratio, muscles challenged rather than just used casually, simply haven't kicked in yet! But all these words aren't helpful, especially for you. Stop thinking about it and go do it so you can feel it yourself. Mar 25 '20 at 15:54
  • 2
    I usually recommend able-bodied adult males aim for 2xBW. They usually start to understand at 1.5xBW. That's about 25 to 35 jumps in weight, going 2.5 or 5kg at a time. You can make those jumps at least once a week. That's six or eight months if you're consistent. I don't have an opinion on Cressey's recommendation. I do think that deadlifting more than once a week is necessary. One session could be RDLs. Don't forget to eat properly. Good luck. Mar 25 '20 at 16:14

I deadlift a heavy set once a week. This does not seem to be helping [my posture and back discomfort]. And why should it?

Because if your max deadlift is 60kg then maintaining proper posture against a light load is a large fraction of your strength and therefore can't last long, whereas if your max deadlift is 120kg then maintaining proper posture against the same light load is a negligible fraction of your strength and can therefore be maintained for a long time.

Deadlifting and squatting heavy also adds muscle to the back that changes your default posture drastically for the better.

Most people who are just beginning to deadlift often experience more lower back soreness than they've ever imagined. Instead of leaning into the experience, pushing through for a few months, and developing a strong back, they slow down, back off, and therefore never get the benefit of a strong deadlift. It takes a while for the postural benefits of heavy squatting and deadlifting to kick in, but they're definitely there.

It's of course possible to be quite strong and experience back pain, but the relationship of deadlifting to that problem is different for strong versus weak people. Weak people need to get strong and re-evaluate; strong people need to stay strong and develop practices like daily yoga/warm-ups/mobility circuits.

Without knowing how much someone is lifting and how seriously they're taking the practice, it's difficult to know why they aren't feeling the benefits. Your question history makes me wonder if you are over-analyzing the situation, looking for easy alternatives to a hard practice that would work if you just let it. But you've also been lifting for over a year, so hopefully you've reached some serious strength benchmarks and you just need a mobility practice.

  • I am planning on doing both a set of heavy deadlift a week and this exercise. I found this article: yogainternational.com/article/view/… It mentions that according to Dr. Stuart M. McGill "the strongest positive correlation is between the endurance of the back muscles and the health of our spine." You mention that "if your max deadlift is 60kg then maintaining proper posture against a light load is a large fraction of your strength and therefore can't last long". I think this is where you are wrong.
    – Andy
    Mar 25 '20 at 12:58
  • The principle "increasing strength makes submaximal lifts easier" is valid but only within a narrow range. Brzycky 1 RM equation is only valid up to 10 repetitions. 10 repetions equals a 25 % reduction in weight. So if you can do 9 pushups increasing your 1 RM narrow bench will make you able to do more pushups. If you can do 20 pushups however increasing your 1 RM narrow bench will not make you able to do more pushups. McGills conclusion indicates that maintaining proper posture only take a very small fraction of the strength needed in deadlift.
    – Andy
    Mar 25 '20 at 12:59
  • Please watch this video: youtube.com/watch?v=yDXiHzBzbnA and jump to 3 minutes. Here you will see how Matt Wenning performs 300 hamstring curls a week. He deadlifts 340 kgs so evidently a strong deadlift is not enough to have strong and flexible hamstrings and avoid back pain.
    – Andy
    Mar 25 '20 at 14:27
  • 1
    You do you. Experiment away with this exercise. Mar 25 '20 at 14:30

In case someone with actual nonspecific low back pain read this thread I need to inform you. Not being completely convinced by Dave's argument that increasing 1 RM deadlift will help you I have done a literature search.

First of I will mention that altough it is often claimed by physioterapists that tight hamstrings cause lower back pain, there seem to be no evidence for this. On the contrary a large study (n=600) (1) found that “Tight hamstring- or psoas muscles could not be shown to correlate to current back pain or to the incidence of back pain during the follow-up period.”

There are however several studies that shows that lower back pain is caused by poor endurance in lower back muscles. The Biering-Sorensen test consist of maintaining a horizontal position with arms folded across the chest in a glute-ham raise machine for the longest possible time up to 240 seconds.

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Several studies have found that subjects with nonspecific low back pain have significantly shorter holding time. In a study (2) with 928 subjects Biering-Sørensen found: "The main findings were that good isometric endurance of the back muscles may prevent first-time occurrence of LBT in men. Weak trunk muscles and reduced flexibility/elasticity of the back and hamstrings were found as residual signs". That is to say isometric endurance in lower back is important, strength in lower back or flexibility is not.

Demoulin et al.(3) shows that maintaining the Biering–Sorensen position for less than 176 seconds, predicts low back pain within the next year and greater than 198 seconds predicts absence of low back pain.

As Dave mentions increasing maximum strength also increases endurance, at least to some extent. The big question is if 3 minutes 18 secs on the Biering-Sorensen test is too long a time to be influenced by 1 RM deadlift. I guesstimate a 1 RM deadlift to take 2 secs. Therefore the equivalent of a passing score on the Biering–Sorenson test would be ca. 100 deadlifts. I doubt someone that only trains 5 reps or less can do a 100 deadlifts with say an empty bar regardless of their 1 RM deadlift.

I have also found some studies that shows that increasing strength in lower back by deadlifts reduces lower back pain: (4, 5). However these seems to be of lower quality. The first one has only 30 subjects, the second one 70.

In the absence of conclusive knowledge I think the safest is to hedge ones bets. That is one should increase 1 RM deadlift by doing sets of 5 at 85% of 1 RM but one should also increase static endurance in lower back by training specifically for this. How to best do this I am not sure about. I think holding the horizontal position in the glute-ham raise machine for increasingly long times may be the best choice. Doing the founder exercise may be a viable alternative in the absense of a glute-ham raise machine.

(1) Ann-Lisa Hellsing. Tightness of Hamstring- and Psoas Major Muscles. Upsala Journal of Medical Sciences. 1988.

(2) Biering-Sørensen Physical Measurements as Risk Indicators for Low-Back Trouble Over a One-Year Period.

(3) Demoulin C, Vanderthommen M, Duysens C, Crielaard CM. Spinal muscle evaluation using the sorensen test: a critical appraisal of the literature. Joint Bone Spine. 2006;73(1): 43-50.

(4) Welch et al. The effects of a free-weight-based resistance training intervention on pain, squat biomechanics and MRI-defined lumbar fat infiltration and functional cross-sectional area in those with chronic low back. Download

(5) Aasa et al .Individualized Low-Load Motor Control Exercises and Education Versus a High-Load Lifting Exercise and Education to Improve Activity, Pain Intensity, and Physical Performance in Patients With Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. 2015. Download

  • "I doubt someone that only trains 5 reps or less can do a 100 deadlifts with say an empty bar regardless of their 1 RM deadlift." This is laughably false. Mar 30 '20 at 19:32
  • @DaveLiepmann Why? muscular endurance is very different from max strength. See competitions between power lifters and crossfit people. power lifters have amazing strength, but have a lot of trouble with higher reps.
    – michael
    Mar 31 '20 at 19:00
  • @michael It's false because it's not true. 100 deadlifts with an empty bar is essentially not an effort for someone who has made themselves athletic and even minimally strong. (Unless we're talking elite powerlifters peaking for a competiton, who might get winded but do it anyway.) Would higher-rep sets prepare them better for the 100-empty-bar-deadlifts task? Of course, because it's an incredibly specific goal. But the fact remains that the claim I quoted is way off the mark. Mar 31 '20 at 19:19
  • For example, in weightlifting – perhaps the most 1RM-centric of sports, with the athletes I follow always joking about skipping cardio and hating "high-rep" sets like 5s and complexes over 3-4 movements – it's common to warm up with several minutes of what are essentially deadlift variations done continuously with an empty bar. example1, example2 Do you think their warm-up takes the wind out of these 1RM-focused athletes? Mar 31 '20 at 19:25
  • @Dave: The load in the Biering-Sørensen test may be a bit higher than an empty bar. Depending on the bodyweight that is. The argument does however not hang on this. From what you just wrote it sounds like that you agree that higher reps sets prepare you better for static endurance tests than low reps sets? If you accept the result from the Biering-Sørensen study that the static endurance in lower back is what matters it then follows that one should (also) train with higher rep ranges. If you do not accept the result of this study, please explain why.
    – Andy
    Mar 31 '20 at 19:32

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