Deadlifts work your posterior chain which consists of your hamstrings, quads, glutes, erector spinae, lats, and trapezius. Other synergist and accessory muscles also contribute when performing the correct deadlift technique.
With different deadlift variations changing the degree to which muscle groups are recruited, do deadlifts work your lower back? Which variations work which muscles? I’ve discussed this below.
Do Deadlifts Work Your Lower Back? Deadlifts engage the whole posterior chain which includes your lower back. The degree of activation depends on the movement portion and deadlift variation being performed. Lower back pain when deadlifting can be caused by poor technique or loading too much weight on the bar.
What Is a Deadlift?
Before I talk about deadlifts and lower back health, we need to look at the biomechanics of the deadlift movement and which muscles are used. Deadlifts are classed as a compound movement meaning you need to use a large number of muscle groups to perform the exercise correctly. They involve picking a weighted barbell up off the floor and pulling it up your body until your legs and extended and the barbell is in line with your torso.
Whilst they sound fairly simple, deadlifts require your body to go through several movement patterns, with your muscles working together to keep your body aligned correctly. Let's take a look at the deadlift movement in more detail and what muscles are involved:
During the deadlift movement, the following joint actions occur:
- Hip Extension (Driving through the hips)
- Knee Extension (Straightening the knees)
- Shoulder Retraction (Bringing the shoulders backward)
The hip and knee extension are the primary movements used during the deadlift, with shoulder retraction classed as secondary. Both these movements engage the leg and back musculature to different degrees depending on the deadlift variation being performed.
The muscles worked during the deadlift include the:
- Erector Spinae
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Abdominals and Obliques
Performing a deadlift correctly requires each of the muscle groups above to work together. Each muscle group will be activated at varying degrees at different stages of the lift, with deadlift variations changing this as the movement pattern differs.
At the bottom portion of the deadlift, you pull the barbell off the floor. Whilst it requires most of your upper and lower body to work together, the quads are primarily responsible for driving the barbell off the floor.
As you pull the bar upwards, your hamstrings and glutes start to work together to extend your hips slightly as you bring the barbell toward your knee.
As the barbell comes over your knees, your glutes, quads, and hamstrings work together, so you’re able to extend your knees and drive through your hips to pull the bar up your body.
Your abdominal and oblique muscles work to keep your core braced throughout the movement, creating intraabdominal pressure and allowing you to maintain a neutral spine when lifting. Your lats help to keep the barbell close to your body and alongside the erectors, prevent upper back rounding which can cause injury.
With this, do deadlifts work your lower back muscles? What do your lower back muscles do?
Are Deadlifts Good for Lower Back Health?
When performed correctly, deadlifts are great exercises for improving lower back health and preventing possible injury. Here's why:
Deadlifts Strengthen Your Spine
Deadlifts Develop Our Posterior Chain
Correct Deadlifting Can Provide Back Rehabilitation
How do Different Types of Deadlifts Affect Your Lower Back?
What Causes Back Pain When Deadlifting?
Lower Back Arching - This is one of the most common mistakes made when deadlifting. It's also known as rounding the lower back and puts excessive strain on your lumbar spine region, leading to pain.
Correct Deadlifting Can Provide Back Rehabilitation
If you’re not a huge fan of deadlifts or fancy a different exercise, the following exercises are suitable deadlift alternatives:
About the Program
Our Deadlift 2.0 program is a 12-week strength plan designed to boost your Deadlift PR.
The program follows a schedule of THREE 60-90 minutes training sessions per week. The training is scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but you can adjust the days to fit your weekly routine, as long as you follow the pattern of one training day followed by one cooldown day, with two days of rest after every third session.
The training is structured into 3 main blocks, with each block lasting for 4 weeks:
Who Is the Program For?
The plan is fit for both male and female athletes and is especially good for Powerlifters and Olympic lifters, but also for fans of deadlifting and strength training. All training requires access to basic equipment.
- Split into 3 block of 4 weeks (12 weeks total)
- 40 unique exercises, with video tutorials
- Pre and post-workout stretch and special warmups
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What Part of the Back Do Deadlifts Work?
Deadlifts work your whole posterior chain which consists of your upper and lower back. Back muscles recruited during the deadlift movement include your trapezius, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, and lower back muscles.
Each muscle works together to support your spine and trunk musculature and activate at varying degrees during the movement.
Which Deadlift Variation Is the Best for Your Lower Back?
Straight leg deadlifts are performed with a minimal knee hinge, meaning most of the load is transferred to your lower back region. This makes them ideal for those with stronger hamstrings and glutes but a weaker lower back.
Where Should You ‘Feel’ Deadlifts During the Lift?
Deadlifts are classed as a compound movement, meaning they work the full body. The main muscles worked are part of the posterior chain which includes your glutes, hamstrings, lats, and lower back.
The muscles felt during the deadlift vary depending on the variation performed and your training level. If you’re a beginner, you’ll likely feel it more in the lower back region to start.
Do Hex Bar Deadlifts Work Your Lower Back?
Hex bar deadlifts engage the same muscles as conventional deadlifts. However, due to the higher starting position, they place more stress on your quads and less on your lower back area.
Deadlifts work your whole posterior chain, which includes your lower back muscles. The degree of lower back muscle activation depends on the deadlift variation performed, with snatch grip and stiff leg deadlifts being more back-dominant movements.
Back pain when deadlifting is caused by incorrect technique which may result from too much weight being loaded on the bar or lack of knowledge.
Do you feel your lower back when deadlifting? Have you ever experienced lower back pain? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.
- Kinematic Differences Between the Front and Back Squat and Conventional and Sumo Deadlift // Journals: https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2019/12000/Kinematic_Differences_Between_the_Front_and_Back.2.aspx
- Conventional vs. Sumo vs. Hex Bar Deadlift: What's the Difference? // BarbellRehab: https://barbellrehab.com/deadlift-variations
- 10 Deadlift Alternatives to Consider // Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/deadlift-alternative
- Genes and Athletic Performance: An Update // NCBI: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27287076/
- Muscle fatigue: general understanding and treatment // NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5668469/
- Posterior Chain: Which Deadlift Variation Is the Best? // Strengthlog: https://www.strengthlog.com/posterior-chain-which-deadlift-variation-is-the-best/
Sergii is a professional weightlifter and National team member in the past. Competed in 94 kg w/c, won multiple medals on national competitions.
Nowadays Sergii is responsible for designing training programs, writing blog articles, doing live commentary of international weightlifting competitions, running different sport & fitness educational seminars, including Olympic weightlifting together with Oleksiy Torokhtiy all around the globe.