Lower Back Rounding Deadlift: How to Fix!

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
December 16, 2022

It’s pretty much agreed upon in fitness media that rounding of the lower back during a deadlift repetition is very poor form, and can easily result in injury and reduced strength output despite seeming like a relatively small error.

In truth, rounding of the lower back is one of the most vital mistakes to rectify as soon as possible, as it is the most likely to lead to sudden and acute injury of the spine or any surrounding tissues.

The lower back rounding during the deadlift is usually due to two reasons; overloading the back to the point of muscular failure, or simply because the lifter is unaware that they are even rounding their back in the first place.

Why Does Lower Back Rounding Happen During the Deadlift?

The lower portion of the back will round while deadlifting due to a failure in form or execution adherence. Whether this is due to failing to flex the core, pulling the barbell from too far forward or simply breathing incorrectly - it can all be boiled down to changing how the lifter performs their deadlifts.

deadlift lower back rounding

In certain cases, lifters may even be unaware of the position their spine is in, requiring that they be taught the correct cues so as to master maintaining neutral spine curvature without the aid of a third party or a mirror.

Factors Causing Rounding Unrelated to Execution

Though the majority of cases where a lifter’s lower back will curve are due to poor form adherence, there is also a chance that this error in deadlift execution is caused by poor mobility - either in the hip joint or the back itself.

Unlike errors in form, this cannot be consciously corrected as the deadlift is being performed, and instead will require proper mobility work be performed outside of the workout.

Furthermore, if poor mobility is also not to blame, it is possible that the deadlift itself is the issue - either due to exhaustion of the muscles of the back or because of excessive weight being lifted.

What is Neutral Spine Curvature?

The term “spine curvature” refers to the line that is formed when viewing the spinal column from a sideways perspective. 

deadlift neutral spine

When the body is in a natural upright posture, the spine will form a somewhat minimized “S” shape, with the cervical and thoracic portions of the spine bending in a certain way so as to equally distribute pressure placed on the individual discs of the column.

The lower back portion of the spine is anatomically known as the lumbar spine, and is the area where the majority of deadlift back injuries occur due to rounding. 

In order to avoid this occurrence, the lifter should strive to maintain the natural force-distributing bend of the spine in this portion of the spinal column - hence the term “neutral spine curvature”, as the lumbar spine maintains a neutral angle without excessive flexion or extension.

Why Neutral Spine Curvature is Important

Maintaining neutral spine curvature during a deadlift repetition will not only prevent acute injuries of the lumbar spine, but also maximize the amount of force you can exert with your musculature.

This is because skeletal muscles must pull upon a solid object - in this case, the spine - so as to produce force. Maintaining a stable and neutral spine allows the muscles of the back and core to exert the greatest amount of force due to more advantageous positioning, maximizing the amount of weight that can be lifted.

Keep in mind that not all rounding along the back is considered incorrect, only that of the lumbar spine, as the thoracic or middle portion of the spine will naturally curve somewhat so as to distribute pressure and shear force  more evenly across the column.

Dangers of Rounding the Lower Back While Deadlifting

While we have established that rounding of the lower back is dangerous, we’ve yet to explain what sort of danger can be produced by making this particular mistake during the deadlift. In this section, we will touch briefly upon the most common injuries caused by the lower back rounding when under load.

1. Disc Injury

The spinal column is composed of multiple osseous structures in the shape of pucks or “discs''. 

Due to their position atop one another, force will often be distributed in accordance with gravity, meaning that greatly increasing the pressure placed on these discs can cause them to rupture, slip out of the column or otherwise become damaged in some way.

Furthermore, when these discs are arranged in a less than optimal curvature, shear force or parallel pressure along the top of these discs can increase, increasing the risk of the discs becoming compressed or slipping out of the column.

2. Muscular Injury

Though not necessarily part of the spinal column, numerous muscles and tendons connect or attach along the spinal column, acting as support or otherwise utilizing the spinal column as scaffolding with which to exert force from.

Bending the back in such a way that these muscles are placed in a disadvantageous position can result in tears, sprains or any other number of soft-tissue injuries as a result of force being placed upon them while in a poor position.

3. Concurrent Injury Occurrence

Because of the fact that the body moves as a whole during the deadlift exercise, errors in form can lead to injuries in areas that are not necessarily related to the lower back, such as the knees or hips being forced to compensate for the disadvantageous angle of the spine.

This can result in multiple injuries occurring at once - or what is otherwise known as developing concurrent injuries, creating a far more complex rehabilitation requirement and potentially putting you out of the gym for an extended period of time.

How to Stop Rounding the Lower Back

Practice Form With an Empty Bar

Even if you do not believe that there is any issue with your form, it is still a good idea to drill the necessary movement pattern and form cues into your muscle memory so as to better reinforce subconsciously adhering to correct form as you execute the deadlift.

In particular, pay attention to the path of the bar as you are pulling it, the curvature of your back and neck in its entirety and how far back or forward your pelvis is moving as you perform the initial pull - as it is these three factors that play the largest role in maintaining neutral spine curvature.

For the best results, ask a coach to assess your form as you practice, or otherwise record yourself and attempt to diagnose any imperfections at a later time.

Work on Mobility

As was touched upon earlier, rounding of the lower back during the deadlift is occasionally caused by poor joint or muscle mobility rather than any errors in deadlift execution.

In particular, poor hip or pelvis mobility can cause the lower back to curve so as to compensate for the reduced range of motion, often as a result of a sedentary lifestyle or a previous history of injuries.

On rest days and prior to performing the deadlift, following a proper mobility drill will greatly aid in opening up the hips, reducing risk of injury and potentially increasing your total strength output within the exercise - especially if the mobility drill involves dynamic movements.

Learn to Brace Correctly

Bracing during resistance exercise means correctly creating intra-abdominal pressure in a manner that aids in maintaining neutral spinal curvature and maximizing force output by the muscles of the core.

This involves ensuring that the core is flexed consistently throughout each repetition, and that the lifter is inhaling fully as they do so - or what is also known as performing the valsalva maneuver.

Breathing and flexing in this manner may not be entirely natural for some lifters, and as such it is best to practice doing so prior to performing the deadlift so as to master doing so in a single smooth motion with each repetition.

Try a Lifting Belt

Though more of a band-aid solution rather than an actual fix, making use of special weightlifting equipment that forces the core and back into the correct position can aid in overcoming a rounded lower back - especially if caused by excessive weight or fatigue, as is occasionally the case in higher level powerlifting.

Keep in mind that performing the deadlift with a lifting belt does come with several drawbacks, and will still require the lifter to properly brace against the belt so as to take full advantage of it.

Furthermore, overreliance on the lifting belt can actually cause rounding of the lower back in cases where the belt is not present, as it can lead to poor deadlift habits or otherwise weakened core and lower back musculature due to reduced training stimulus targeted therein.

Perform Deadlift Accessory Movements for a Rounded Lower Back

Sometimes, practice with an empty bar is not enough to ingrain the movement pattern in your muscle memory - or, the issue may in fact be due to muscular weakness that is not improved upon by simple practice repetitions.

As such, performing accessory exercise specifically meant to remedy or strengthen certain weaknesses in your deadlift execution is the best route to take.

These can be isometric accessory movements that reinforce proper bracing and spine curvature, or deadlift variations that allow you to practice certain mechanics of the conventional deadlift in a more controlled and efficient manner.

Deadlift Accessories for Rounding of the Lower Back

Pause Deadlifts

Pause deadlifts are a semi-isometric exercise that allow the lifter to practice performing a conventional deadlift in such a manner that they are forced to maintain a neutral back while under load, greatly improving not only their capacity to maintain a braced core but also to subconsciously maintain neutral spine curvature despite a challenging working load.

pause deadlift

While the point at which the lifter will pause their momentum will vary depending on the purpose of the exercise, remedying a rounded lower back means that they should generally seek to pause the deadlift just as the bar clears contact with the floor, where the majority of lifters struggle to maintain a neutral lower back.

Back Hyperextensions

In cases where muscular weakness is the cause of a rounded lower back, reinforcing the muscles of the obliques, glutes and erector spinae with targeted isolation work is an excellent way of ensuring that the muscles are better prepared for the strain of a deadlift set.

back hyperextension

This is achieved through the machine-assisted back hyperextension, wherein the lifter will directly target all of these muscle groups in a dynamic fashion.

Bird Dog Hold Exercise

For rounding of the lower back caused by poor bracing technique, the bird dog exercise is an excellent and low-impact movement that may be performed even during off-days where the muscles are meant to recover.

It can also be performed as a rehabilitative movement for individuals that have strained their lower back by rounding it during the deadlift, making the bird dog exercise a two-purpose movement.

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that the deadlift is meant to be a heavy and complex exercise, meaning that some level of error in execution is entirely normal for newer lifters. This is nothing to worry about, and the best thing to do is to immediately remedy the issue so as to continue the progression of your training.

Though lower back rounding during the deadlift is considered to be one of the most dangerous mistakes to make, catching it in time (before any serious injuries have occurred) means that your progression does not necessarily need to be interrupted, if it is corrected quickly enough. 

References

1. McGuigan, Michael R.M.; Wilson, Barry D.. Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 1996 - Volume 10 - Issue 4 - p 250-255

2. Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLoS One. 2020 Feb 27;15(2):e0229507. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0229507. PMID: 32107499; PMCID: PMC7046193.

3. Ramirez V J, Bazrgari B, Gao F, Samaan M. Low Back Biomechanics during Repetitive Deadlifts: A Narrative Review. IISE Trans Occup Ergon Hum Factors. 2022 Jan-Mar;10(1):34-46. Epub 2022 Jan 7. PMID: 34875981.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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