Can?t Deadlift Without Rounding Your Back? Useful Solutions!

April 4th 2019

When performed correctly, the deadlift effectively taxes all the muscles in your entire body. This is no accident either. When lifters call the deadlift the “king of all exercises,” they were not joking.

I am confident you have seen this - someone doing their working sets for deadlifts and their form is poopoo. Everything was wrong about it, but the most alarming thing you say was the rounded back. You heard about snap city, you read about snap city, but life did not prepare you to witness snap city first hand.

What happens if you cannot deadlift without rounding your back? Should you still deadlift? What is going on? Will your back be permanently damaged?

I can’t deadlift without rounding my back. Why?

Limited flexibility, too much bar weight, and overall muscular weakness are some reasons why you cannot deadlift with proper form. The first steps to consider are if you are ego-lifting, in that case, you need to decrease the weight, or if you are lacking flexibility, which prevents you to get into a proper starting position.

These are the most common explanations for why someone cannot deadlift without rounding their back. There are several individual differences too that could make deadlifting challenging, such as having long legs, which make your leverages different from someone with shorter legs. In another example, having longer arms will make deadlifting easier since the bar will need to travel less range of motion in order to complete the lift.

Weight is too heavy

Did you know ego-lifting is one of the leaders of sending lifters to snap city?

When you lift with your ego, you are trying to move more weight than you can without any consciousness about form. This could be done for a number of reasons such as impressing your friends, impressing girls, impressing the biggest guy in the gym, etc.

No one really cares about what weight you do in the gym; it is all in your head. Once you realize that going to the gym is for yourself, you can begin to internalize how to lift weights properly.

Lifting weights that are too heavy can make you deadlift with a rounded back. Because the weight is too heavy, it is pulling you out of your standard form, which is terrible if you are strength training. One of the underlying principles of strength training is that we lift with sub-maximal weights in order to train our body to maintain form under strenuous loads. Through good repetitions, we are training our bodies to maintain proper form even when we attempt a max effort deadlift. This strategy pays incredible dividends for the future since you are protecting your body from any hazardous lifting mistakes.

When do lifters start to ego lift?

Personality will always play a major role in ego lifting. In addition, lifters may start to ego lift within a couple of months into training, when they are hitting a good stride of successful workouts.

Lifters with more aggressive and determined personalities will have a tendency to try to lift more weight than they can. This is not good nor bad, but this is their nature. An invitation I would recommend for these lifters is to slow down and breathe. Take some time to reflect on their training and to develop a calculated plan in order to best achieve their results. Their high amounts of energy will be useful and can be channeled into many different strategies in order to get to their goals faster.

Lifters with more relaxed and laidback personalities will have a tendency to not be as eager to ego lift. In fact, these lifters may give up on lifts easier when faced with some sort of struggle. Again, this is not good nor bad, but just an observation of their nature and its relationship in the lifting environment. My invitation to these lifters would be to be bold and strive for bigger goals. Let the fire burn inside you and get you all pumped up for the next workout.

Work On Your Flexibility

Another issue lifters may have is flexibility. Ideally, everyone should be able to get into a perfect deadlift starting position. However, some lifters cannot even do that properly at first. One very common sign with limited flexibility is if the lifter takes their deadlift stance and cannot reach down to the bar with vertical shins. This is an immediate tell-tale sign of hamstring immobility. This, along with two other tight muscle areas can limit your progression of the deadlift.

So, let us dive deep into how we can address these concerns:

Hamstrings are way too tight

So, you have tight hamstrings, eh? Can’t bend down to touch your toes? Do not worry! Here are some remedies that can help improve your hamstring flexibility and deadlift form,

Static and Dynamic Stretches

One of the all-time American classics for static hamstring stretches is to touch your toes. So, try to do that without utilizing your back. Bend and touch your toes. Go as low as you can and hold that position for 10-15 seconds. Return back to a neutral standing position and rest for 30 seconds. Do this for about 3-5 sets to gradually improve your hamstring flexibility.

In recent athletic training, dynamic stretches are becoming increasingly popular to help lifters with poor mobility. One dynamic hamstring stretch is to get into a lunge position. After that, place both your hands on the ground, one on each side. With your forward foot, rock backward so that you are on your heels while both of your hands are on the floor. You should feel an immediate stretch with this movement. Hold for about 3-5 seconds and return back to your lunged position. Do this for about 3-5 sets and then switch legs.

Need a dynamic warmup that mimics the deadlift? We got you covered too. With a weighted medicine ball, do one legged stiff leg deadlifts. Hold the small medicine ball with two hands and begin to move through the deadlift range of motion, while your planted leg is straight with a vertical shin. Do this for about 10-12 reps for 2-5 sets and then switch legs. Working on your balance and flexibility is done with this exercise.

Should I still deadlift with tight hamstrings?

You can still deadlift with tight hamstrings but you should also focus on improving your mobility so that tight hamstrings are no longer an issue.

If you are using a narrow stance and you find that you cannot get into a proper deadlift starting position, there are some shortcuts you can take to start deadlifting. Of course, be aware that this tip was not meant to be used as a substitute for fixing your hamstring mobility.

So, one tactic you can implement is that you can slightly widen your deadlift stance. This will allow your body to rely slightly more on your hip mobility. You will notice that this modified stance will make it easier to get into a better deadlift starting position. However, keep in mind that many elite lifters do use a narrow stance effectively and this strategy should be no band-aid for your problem.

Tight Hip Flexors

This is a common issue that lifters often read about on the internet. And the first solution is to stretch them? Before we do anything, we need to first identify if you do have “tight” hip flexors.

In physical therapy, this is called the Thomas Test, where you will lie down on the edge of a table with one leg hanging. Next, take your arms and pull your target leg to your chest. If your resting leg is still on the table and you can bend your target leg 70-90 degrees, you do not have tight hip flexors!

But you feel pain and you know it is in your hip flexors. What should you do? First, stop stretching it. Next, your hip flexors may be weak from all the years of stretching. So, you would need to do some marches while standing on an appropriate amount of small resistance bands with your feet. So, while holding onto something for stability, march and hold your knee up until your leg is parallel with the ground. Hold it for 2-3 seconds and relax. Do the other leg to finish one full rep. Do this for 8-12 reps for 2-3 sets.

So, instead of thinking about stretching your “tight” hip flexors, do more strengthening exercise for your hip flexors so that can help benefit you to get into a proper deadlift starting position without rounding your back.

Glute tightness (less common)

Very few lifters may have tight glutes that can result in piriformis syndrome. When the muscle gets tense from deadlifts, it can irritate your sciatic nerve, which will cause you to compensate when getting into a deadlift position. As always, consult with a medical professional when dealing with any outstanding issues.

On the flip side, general strength training, isolation exercises and stretching are recommended when dealing with inactive or weak glutes. Bridges, clamshells, and squats are three very common exercises you can do at home if you have purchased the small bands I linked above.

Work On Your Overall Leg Strength

This is another common concern for lifters who cannot deadlift without rounding their backs. First, you need to analyze why you are rounding your back. If you are not ego lifting and your flexibility is fine, you need to work on your overall strength in your back, hamstrings, glutes, and quads. Think about it.

When you are lifting weights, you are training your body to get into a good position where it can protect itself. When the weight gets high enough, your body will tend to move towards its most natural position to finish the lift. If you deadlift and you find yourself frequently rounding your back, you just have a weak back. And this may not be the only muscle group that is weak; you may also need to strengthen your legs, your quads, your hamstrings, and your glutes.

You may notice that world-class deadlift specialists have a more rounded back than compared to a world-class powerlifting champion, with an impressive squat and deadlift record. There is no coincidence that developing your lower leg strength is key to also increasing your deadlift, either directly or indirectly. By strengthening all the muscles in your legs and back, you are also prepping your body to succeed in a heavy deadlift as well.

Practice paused deadlifts

Beginner lifters do not have the experience in the gym to retain a proper deadlift form. As a result, doing some hard accessories to force growth is a very successful solution. Paused deadlifts are the way to go.

Right after you break the weight off the ground, pause for 1 second. This will force your body to stay in a proper, tense form. Then, finish the lift as you normally would. This accessory is excellent for a deadlifter who wants to increase their max, who may have issues with rounding their backs. Common set/rep schemes for this exercise are 3 sets of 5-8 reps.

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