How to use deadlifts for lower back health

Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Kitty Chao, sets the record straight on an underutilized rehabilitation practice.


*Please note, it is always important to consult an appropriate professional before engaging in any exercise, should you have a recent injury or illness.

In my opinion, the deadlift is the most underutilized exercise in rehabilitation.

Perhaps this movement is intimidating for you? Perhaps this movement replicates how you injured your lower back ? Perhaps you’re worried that you will injure your lower back? Or perhaps your rehabilitation professional told you to stay away from this sort of movement?

But did you know that the ‘deadlift’ itself is one of the most primal and frequently performed movements within our daily lives?

Think about every time you lift objects off the floor. This is a movement that everyone will have to perform for the rest of their lives, and it is crucial to teach them how to do it right and make them stronger at it than to have them do it and re-injure their back in the process.

Utilizing exercises such from McGil such as side bridge, 4-point kneeling, and curl ups are fantastic in re-training for spinal stability. But there is only so much progression for those exercises.

For people dealing with chronic lower back pain, we can’t stop at a certain set of exercise and loads or the performance of these exercises would no longer trigger an adaptive response – hence the usefulness of the rehabilitation/ exercise program stops, but the ultimate goal of the rehab is to deal with the condition or symptoms as such that it improves the mechanics and prevents problems in the future.

When the deadlift itself is performed correctly it is very effective for developing tremendous lower back and core strength, which is the goal of any lower back rehabilitation.


Top 3 tips for incorporating deadlifts into your exercise program


  1. Speak to a qualified Accredited Exercise Physiologist or your Physiotherapist about progressing your rehabilitation program to incorporating deadlifts into your program
  2. Start off with using a light Kettle bell (4kg – 8kgs) for deadlifts and make sure you ask a qualified Exercise Professional for technical advice before attempting the exercise
  3. If you have a fear of re-injuring your back start off deadlifting from above your knee have the Kettle bell sitting above your knee (ie on a bench) and replicate the hip hinge pattern of the deadlift from that height and slowly progress lower when you feel comfortable.


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