Tony Gentilcore

Because heavy things won't lift themselves

A Response to Anyone Who Feels Deadlifts Are Destroying Everyone’s Spine

keep calm and deadlift

A HUGE thank-you to Bret Contreras for his contribution to this post. You’re my boy blue!

A little backstory.  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away A few years ago – back in 2010 – I wrote a blog post in response to someone claiming that deadlifts were “one of the worst things you could do for your spine.”

The comment was made by a TA (Teacher’s Assistant, not to be mistaken for Total Asshat) in a University setting, and the student who overheard the comment reached out to me and asked for some commentary.

I happily obliged.

You can read the original post HERE.

Even though I wrote that blog coming up on four years now, it’s still one that gets a lot of “love” and frequent comments.

Today I want to share the latest comment (another deadlift detractor) that was posted up two days ago by a physical therapist (and I assume a pilates enthusiast based off some of her wordplay), as well as mine, and subsequently, Bret Contreras’s, response.

I understand that some people will think to themselves, “What’s the point? If someone who’s clearly educated and is a practicing therapist feels deadlifts are the worst thing since Hilter (my words, not the therapist’s), do you really feel writing a response will change their mind?”

It’s a valid question, but my response is simple.

These types of posts are important for other fitness professionals since they’ll undoubtedly hear these types of arguments over time and they need to know how to respond.

So to begin lets take a gander at the therapist’s comments. Again, it may help to read the original post HERE.

I’ll preface this by saying that, giving credit where credit’s due, she kept things “civil” and refrained from using ad hominem attacks, which was refreshing to say the least.

In addition, she used her REAL name in the comments section (Meggen Lowry.  I wasn’t going to include the name here, but since people can see it in the comments section anyways, why not?), which was a nice change of pace and sure beats hearing from the likes of PowderPuffPrincess or JackedGunz84.

In doing a quick Google search, Meggen’s a well educated professional who works with a very specific population (pre-natal/post-natal clients, as well as those in a rehabilitative setting), which is relevant and gives context into her point of view.

Anyways, lets get to the meat and potatoes!

Posted on TonyGentilcore.com 4/27/14:

1) Your attitude and arrogance makes for an unpleasant reading experience.

2) Pilates uses limb loading, and can create significant loads through your spine but tends to be done in better postures and positions that support the spine and reduce downwards strain on the pelvic floor. Try it. You might find it isn’t for wussies.

3) Osteogenesis (bone adaptation by means of increased bone laydown) in response to loading is not a phenomenon unknown to researchers and physical therapists.

4) The problem with ‘educators’ like yourself is that you use the collective terms “spine” and “back” when talking about individual components of those structures. Deadlifts do not strengthen your whole spine. They are not good for your back.

The erector spinae will be strengthened (and possibly injured) with a dead lift, nobody is denying that.

The vertebral bodies themselves will experience adaptation and increase in density also. The intervertebral discs, however, will suffer. Under such huge compressive forces the nucleus pulposis will be ‘squished’ backwards and the annular fibres of the posterior portion of the disc will tear under strain. Those discs are not replaceable….

5) Intra-abdominal pressure is far far greater with a deadlift than any other exercise you mentioned, and increases even more if the person holds their breath. Intra-abdominal pressures of that magnitude cause significant detrimental strain to the abdominal wall, predisposing it to herniation. Even worse, it causes even greater strain to the pelvic floor, stretching and weakening the pelvic floor muscles and predisposing them to urinary incontinence and prolapse.

Until you show me some research (preferably not 20-30 year old research) demonstrating intervertebral disc and pelvic floor adaptations to dead lifts, proving that the annular fibres of the discs are not broken under strain and the pelvic floor is not weakened and lowered, I’m still going to advise my clients against them.

WHEW! And there you have it.

I’ll admit it:  when I first read all of that the other day my first reaction was as follows:

LOL – Just kidding.  I’m not going to kill anyone.

I was a bit “miffed,” but I think that would be anyone’s reaction whenever someone questions your training philosophy and beliefs.  Strength coaches defend deadlifts; yoga instructors defend downward dog; pilates instructors defend reformers; bodybuilders defend fanny-packs and benching with their feet up. It’s just how the world revolves.

Even so, I was bit taken aback by some of Meggen’s comments.  Sure, she brought up some valid points (addressed below), but she also seemed, in my opinion, to have a very narrow-minded mentality – especially for someone who’s a physical therapist.

I mean, in checking the Mission Statement of the establishment where she’s employed you find the following text:

In addition to home visiting, we offer exercise classes carefully designed and delivered by physiotherapists for people whose bodies are vulnerable to pain and injury because we believe movement can be the best medicine if you perform exercise tailored to the shape you are in.

How can someone who’s company’s Mission Statement says “we believe movement is the best medicine if you perform exercise tailored to the shape your are in” completely disregard a basic, human movement patternthe deadlift – and deem it and all its iterations “dangerous” or “risky” or gloss over them because of the potential for spinal stress?

That seems a bit harsh and shortsighted if you ask me.

Isn’t that the point of exercise – to stress the body, including the spine?

Any competent coach will assess his or her client/athlete, progress them accordingly – based off their training experience, injury history, etc – and provide the minimal essential strain to stress the body so that it will come back stronger.  It’s called adaptation!

In my experience, those who disregard certain exercises or movements and/or poo-poo them altogether typically (not always) are those who’ve never performed them themselves in the first place.

Calling a spade a spade, these are also the same people who have no idea how to coach said movement(s) well.  So, as a result, the exercise becomes too “risky” and everyone else who uses it is wrong.

Meanwhile if we were to take Meggen’s company’s Mission Statement and apply it to real life, we’d realize that the deadlift, like every exercise ever invented by human beings, can be regressed and tweaked to fit the abilities and needs of each individual.

Using a quick example: Look at me hinge from the hips, load my glutes, maintain tension in the upper back and lats, keep a “neutral” spine, and reduce “stress” on my spine below.

This is a deadlift, too.  Not all deadlifts have to be max effort, full-exertion, grind it out movements. And while it (should) go without saying:  a properly executed deadlift – done with a neutral spine – is a far cry from the eye sores you see a lot of trainees performing.

The two can’t and SHOULD NOT be lumped into the same category (which is what I feel many people, not just Meggen, are doing).

Okay, so lets break down Meggen’s comments. I’ll re-post her point-by-point breakdown below followed by my response (if I have one) and Bret’s.

1) Your attitude and arrogance makes for an unpleasant reading experience.

Tony:  You know what.  You’re right.  I re-read the post again and I can see how someone would come to that conclusion having never read any of my stuff before. I did come across as a bit of an a-hole, and I apologize for that.

Not that it’s a hard defense, but it was FOUR years ago that I wrote that post, and I’d like to think that I’ve grown as a person (and writer) since then.

Having said that, I “get” that my writing style isn’t for everyone. Touche.

Bret: As somebody who is very well-versed with industry leaders in strength & conditioning, I can say with confidence that Tony might be the most humble of the bunch. 

Tony’s Response to Bret’s Response:  Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

2) Pilates uses limb loading, and can create significant loads through your spine but tends to be done in better postures and positions that support the spine and reduce downwards strain on the pelvic floor. Try it. You might find it isn’t for wussies. 

Tony: And, Pilates should be held under the same microscope. Just like deadlifts, Pilates, too, can add undo strain or stress on the spine when done incorrectly.

Can you honestly sit there and tell me that performing hundreds of repetitions of any Pilates exercise – even if supported and done in alignment – won’t “stress” the spine?

I actually know quite a few Pilates instructors, most of which understand the importance to strength training, who recognize that it can hurt people when done incorrectly.

The key term you use is “better postures and positions,” which I assume means alignment.

YES!!!  Alignment is key.

This is something I discuss quite often. It makes no sense to debate over which comes first or should be prioritized – mobility or stability – if someone isn’t in (optimal) alignment.

Note:  it should be highlighted that there’s no such thing as true alignment or neutral or symmetry.  It doesn’t exist, because the human body – based off our anatomy – is designed to be asymmetrical.

I 100% agree with you on this point.  So, tell me again, if a deadlift is performed correctly, with a neutral spine, it places too much stress on the spine?

And, as far as your comment “Try it (Pilates). You may find it’s not for wussies.”  I did!  

You can read about it HERE.

Funny thing:  I like to try things that I write about.  In fairness, the Pilates post was written well after the post we’re all discussing here.  But still, I feel like I should get a gold star or something.

Which begs the question, Meggen:  what’s the parallel you’re trying to make between a modality which was originally designed to treat injured dancers and……deadlifts?

More specifically: deadlifts, when performed correctly and by healthy individuals with no contraindications?  Even more specifically:  deadlifts, which have been utilized by thousands of physical therapists (past and present) to help people get stronger and move more efficiently.

Also, when was the last time you performed or even coached a deadlift?  When was the last time you ever prepared an athlete for a long, competitive season?  When was the last time you coached ANYONE interested in performance?

I hate to break the news to you, but deadlifts are kind of important in this regard.

Context is important here.  I understand – and respect – the population you work with (pre and post natal women, and those in a rehabilitative setting), and deadlifts may not be a good fit for some of YOUR clients.  I doubt that’s the case entirely, but still…….you know your clients better than me.

There are ways to regress the deadlift and to teach someone how to groove a proper hip hinge pattern.  It takes coaching, it takes times, and it also takes not deeming an exercise too “risky” because you’re not familiar with it.

Like I said above, not all deadlifts have to be loaded with 400 lbs on the bar. You can’t equate all deadlifts as being equal. What I’d do for someone who’s in pain, de-conditioned, has little to no training experience has chronic back issues, and moves like the Tin Man is COMPLETELY different compared to someone who’s healthy and otherwise “good to go.”

Take THIS post I wrote not too long ago on how to groove the hip hinge.

Lets try not to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

Bret: Most strength coaches borrow from Yoga and Pilates and incorporate various drills into their warm-ups and corrective exercise regimes. We’ll use anything that’s effective, as S&C is all-encompassing.

The same cannot be said of trendy modalities that pick and choose what’s included and what’s excluded and fail to tailor programming to the goals and needs of the individual.

Pilates can definitely be progressive in nature and isn’t always “wussy,” but if maximum power, strength, or conditioning is the goal, then you’re going to have to jump, sprint, lift heavy, and move around more. 

3) Osteogenesis (bone adaptation by means of increased bone laydown) in response to loading is not a phenomenon unknown to researchers and physical therapists. 

Tony:  Cool, we’re on same page. 

Bret: Agree! Perhaps you’d be interested to know that the highest bone densities ever recorded are in powerlifters (see HERE and HERE), and that high load exercise is more effective than low load exercise in increasing bone density (see HERE). 

4) The problem with ‘educators’ like yourself is that you use the collective terms “spine” and “back” when talking about individual components of those structures. Deadlifts do not strengthen your whole spine. They are not good for your back.

The erector spinae will be strengthened (and possibly injured) with a dead lift, nobody is denying that. 

The vertebral bodies themselves will experience adaptation and increase in density also. The intervertebral discs, however, will suffer. Under such huge compressive forces the nucleus pulposis will be ‘squished’ backwards and the annular fibres of the posterior portion of the disc will tear under strain. Those discs are not replaceable….

Tony:  Again, I think you’re equating deadlifts done incorrectly (which if that is the case, I’ll agree with you 100%) with deadlifts that are progressed appropriately and with progressive overload in mind.  They are not the same.

And, not for nothing, a 1994 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in a study of MRIs of 98 asymptomatic individuals, 82% of those MRIs came back as positive for a disc bulge, protrusion, or extrusion at one level.  And, 38% actually had these issues at more than one level.  You can read the free full text HERE.

I bring this up because, as this study shows, there’s a fair number of people walking around out there with disc bulges who are asymptomatic and show no signs of stress or pain.

What prevents (most) of them from reaching threshold is appropriate strength training, attention to tissue quality and movement impairments, and, yes, things like positional breathing and pelvic alignment (but that’s obvious, right?).

It’s not a death sentence, and we shouldn’t go out of our way to demonize certain exercises and to toss them aside because of personal ignorance.  

As fitness and health professionals we can’t place people in these “no stress” bubbles, cower in the corner every time we ask them to do anything challenging, and expect them to get better.

As noted earlier, any competent coach will assess their client, progress them accordingly, and provide a minimal essential strain to STRESS the body so that it comes back stronger. 

Using a population you (Meggen) may be more familiar with, HERE is an article I wrote about training women through their pregnancy.  These were HEALTHY women, with no major injuries and dysfunctions, and both of which had been training with me for a few years.

I’m not sure if you’ll read the post (don’t worry, I won’t be offended), but hopefully you won’t cringe at the thought that both women deadlifted throughout their entire pregnancies.

Here’s Whitney at 32 weeks:

Here’s Cara at 33 weeks:

NONE of these lifts were even close to what either woman could do when not pregnant. The objective was to maintain a movement pattern and training effect, do what felt comfortable, and prepare them for something a helluva lot more strenuous…..giving birth!!

In addition, because I had been training both women for two years, progressing them accordingly, I had full confidence that they would be able to deadlift up until “game time.”

And, as it happens, both had seamless births (coming from a guy, that seems a bit wonky as I recognize that giving birth is anything but “seamless”) with no complications or ramifications afterwards.  

It’s BECAUSE they strength trained (and yes, we did diaphragmatic breathing and tons of core work, too) that they were able to bounce back so quickly.  I believe both were back in the gym within a week after giving birth. 

Bret: Do you have any research to support your claim that deadlifting with a neutral posture leads to disc herniation?

I’m very well-versed in spine research, and I’m unaware of any such research.

I believe that with proper deadlifting, the erector spinae will be strengthened, the vertebrae will be strengthened, and the discs will be strengthened too, in concordance with Wolff’s law of bone and Davis’s law of soft tissue. 

Nevertheless, the spine is very good at handling compressive loads when in neutral postures, and shear loading is limited in neutral spine deadlifting as well. If you round your spine close to full flexion when deadlifting with heavy loading, then lumbar intervertebral discs can indeed herniate and ligaments can be damaged.

However, now we’re talking about a different exercise (roundback deadlifting, not neutral deadlifting). An exercise is judged based on how it’s supposed to be performed, not how jackasses screw it up.

We could also speculate about the effects of performing Pilates maneuvers with improper form, but this wouldn’t imply that the exercises should not be performed with proper form.

5) Intra-abdominal pressure is far far greater with a deadlift than any other exercise you mentioned, and increases even more if the person holds their breath. Intra-abdominal pressures of that magnitude cause significant detrimental strain to the abdominal wall, predisposing it to herniation.

Even worse, it causes even greater strain to the pelvic floor, stretching and weakening the pelvic floor muscles and predisposing them to urinary incontinence and prolapse.

Until you show me some research (preferably not 20-30 year old research) demonstrating intervertebral disc and pelvic floor adaptations to dead lifts, proving that the annular fibres of the discs are not broken under strain and the pelvic floor is not weakened and lowered, I’m still going to advise my clients against them.

Tony:  So 20-3o year old research, even if it’s applicable and still very much referenced by many other fitness professionals, isn’t relevant to the topic at hand?  Why not?  

Besides, good luck finding ANY research which states exercise doesn’t stress the spine. Walking stresses the spine.

Unless you tell someone to lie down their entire life, it’s impossible not to put the spine under some strain.

Research is more Bret’s wheelhouse, and I’m sure he’ll satiate your appetite for something more “up-to-date,” but it’s my hope that this conversation will help shed some light from our (mine and Bret’s) point of view.  Neither of us are therapists, nor claim to be. We don’t diagnose anything and we don’t “treat” our clients and athletes. That sort of stuff is reserved for the likes of you.

We do, however, both recognize the importance of bridging the gap between the strength and conditioning world and the physical therapy world.

Going out of your way to state deadlifts aren’t beneficial because of the “perceived stress” they cause not only widens that gap, but flies in the face of pretty much every physical therapist I’ve ever dealt with.

I don’t expect this to alter your mindset, and I am in no way stating that I’m completely correct and without my own biases, but I hope it challenges you to think a little more outside the box.

Bret: If you’re going to deadlift, you better hold your breath until you pass the sticking region.

Failing to do so would reduce IAP and therefore reduce spinal stability, which could compromise spinal posture and lead to injury.

I agree that IAP will be extremely high during deadlifting. However, strength coaches first introduce deadlifting to clients with light loads, ensuring proper mechanics.

 

Each week, loads are increased so that the body has the ability to build up in strength. This is the essence of progressive resistance training. We also program multiple exercises that will further strengthen the abdominals, the erectors, and the glutes, which will further help prevent injury. 

I’m aware of no research showing that deadlifts lead to increased incidents of hernias.

You can speculate that deadlifters might be at greater risk for experiencing hernias, but the role of exercise and occupational lifting on hernia risk has been debated, with both sides providing great arguments (see HERE for references).  In my experience as a personal trainer for well over 15 years, I would say that proper deadlifting does not significantly increase hernia injury risk. 

When you deadlift, the muscles of the TVA, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor (sometimes referred to as “inner core unit” muscles) contract to produce IAP. Essentially, a pressurized cylinder is formulated via contraction of each of these muscles (a few more assist, but this is beyond the scope of this article).

The pelvic floor muscles draw upward and inward, which increases the IAP and stabilization. As you can see, the pelvic floor muscles will be strengthened and not stretched out.

Women tend to notice improvements in incontinence after learning proper resistance training, including deadlifts.

If their pelvic floor muscles draw outwards, then they are exhibiting a dysfunctional pattern and need to be taught proper pelvic floor biomechanics.

Research shows that 78% of women who exhibit flawed pelvic floor mechanics can properly contract the pelvic floor muscles after basic instruction (click HERE for an article on this topic).

Women who properly contract their pelvic floor musculature will properly stabilize during deadlifts, Pilates, and other exercise. Women who don’t will improperly stabilize during deadlifts, Pilates, and other exercise. The IAP doesn’t blow the pelvic floor outwards during the deadlift like you propose, nor does it force the diaphragm upwards. Rather, it’s the proper mechanics of the core muscles that creates the high IAP. 

 

In summary, you have failed to issue an evidence-based response, and I believe that your unfamiliarity with the deadlift exercise is biasing your beliefs.

Just as you recommended that Tony give Pilates a try (Note from Tony:  I did! See above), I recommend that you start learning about deadlifts and experimenting with them in the gym.

From the various hip hinging drills, to single leg RDLs, to partial deadlifts such as rack pulls and block pulls, to full range deadlifts such as conventional, sumo, and trap bar deadlifts, to various variations such as Romanian deadlifts, stiff leg deadlifts, and snatch grip deadlifts. 

Since you’re making the claims that proper deadlifts damage discs, abdominal walls, and pelvic floors, the burden of proof is on you.

You can speculate all you want, but bear in mind that if this were true, all powerlifters would have wrecked spines, hernias, and incontinence. This isn’t the case at all; quite the opposite. But they’re loading the spine to the maximal limit.

Research shows that there’s a u-shaped curve with regards to low back pain and exercise. Sedentary folks and individuals who perform strenuous exercise have increased pathology and low back pain, whereas those in the middle are more healthy and comfortable (see HERE and HERE).

Therefore, a few days of strength training per week utilizing basic strength training exercises such as squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, planks, push-ups, and rows will generally improve back health and structural integrity. 

Did I just blow your mind? Make (or ruin) your day? Leave a comment, then share this with EVERYBODY.
  • Dunkman

    Great response, but I have to question anyone who claims to be an expert being that close-minded. The human body may be a subject of scientific inquiry, but much more is unknown than known, and anyone who closes themselves off the other possibilities cannot possibly provide the best available advice to patients/clients who rely on them to be experts.

    In my own case, I had back issues early in adulthood, only correcting them and living pain free after learning to deadlift properly. If deadlifting were definitively bad for the back, I would undoubtedly be experiencing it.

  • deansomerset

    In terms of pelvic floor and deadlift, I’m actually helping a physiotherapist in town conduct a research trial on post-natal PF dysfunction and loaded training to see how to use deadlifts specifically to train the pelvic floor to accommodate increasing intraabdominal pressures. Currently we’re using a combination approach of ultrasound-guided PF contraction, instructed bracing of the entire abdominal wall, and hypopresive breathing mechanics as a lead-in to loaded movements. Some of the results we’re getting are pretty remarkable. One woman with a triple organ prolapse surgically repaired and meshed has been able to pull close to 1.5 times her body weight from the floor, with a relative perceived effort of only 7/10. The belief that increased pressures cause PF dysfunction is only present when the PF is currently dysfunctional and hasn’t been trained to respond and develop a recoil effect from specific intervention. We’ve only had one subject who was unable to train the deadlift progressions used due to ongoing incontinence, which was present before the training began and wasn’t made worse during. When the research is published (hopefully next year if accepted) we’re hoping to show that lifting isn’t the end of the world for people with PF issues, but something that’s a logical progression. I’d be happy to share some info with Meggen if she wants it.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Dean – awesome stuff. I knew you would chime in on this conversation once the topic of pelvic floor dysfunction came up! Thanks so much for touching base on this, and I hope Meggen reaches out!

      • Reilly Edwards

        Hernia anecdote:
        My DL form is great; I’ve progressed slowly in weight in the 2 years since starting. 5-rep PR of 285 lbs, 185-lb BW, in Aug 2013. Then an inguinal hernia presented. (It was in the incision site from a few years back when I lost my nut to cancer.) So I had immediate mesh surgery and I’m now back to lifting. So maybe the hernia came from high IAP during DLs. Or, maybe instead it was b/c I stopped using my fat Inzer belt last summer? Who really knows. But my take? I’ll let ya know when I hit a 450 PR for my 45th bday in a few years. :)

  • Frank J Baptiste

    Great post Tony. In my book, a “deadlift” is simply the proper technique used to safely and efficiently pick something up off the floor. All my pre/post-natal clients practice it. They will need to pick up their children after all! -Frank Baptiste, CSCS

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Frank – really appreciate it.

  • Mike Anderson

    TG, i just want to point out that you referenced two posts of yours that I’m a part of, which essentially means that we are best friends, i think.

    for what its worth, the TA in the original article was doing an internship at the time with another popular strength and conditioning facility in the Boston area….in woburn, or north andover or haverhill.

    • TonyGentilcore

      The only thing left to do is practicing karate in the garage together!

  • KP

    Owned.

  • Emily

    Great response Tony and Bret. ;) Well played sirs. I hope that Meggen actually reads your post in response to her comments because if she is going to go out of her way to comment on a subject that she is obviously not that familiar with due to her own ignorance and biases, then I would hope that she would take the time to read your response. It is the professional thing to do. I think the problem is that when people think of deadlifting, they think of a loaded barbell with 900lbs on it….as if ANY of her clients could pick that up. And I am truly surprised that a PT would not understand that the hinge pattern is a movement pattern that should be taught and loaded, in order for people to truly understand how to function properly in their daily lives. And no one is saying that you have to train with a barbell to learn how to deadlift. We “deadlift” in our lives on a daily basis. Does she even do laundry? Has she ever picked up a case of water from the floor? Picked up a child? I am constantly “deadlifting.”

    Back in 2011, I met a trainer once at my PT’s office (I had already started Starting Strength and was deadlifting and squatting, feeling fantastic and ready to dance again – I was going to Leigh’s for just a visit to say hi) and as I was leaving, she was coming in. Leigh introduced us and we started chatting. Somehow the conversation ended up with me talking about deadlifting. The trainer just stared at me. “I would hope that you wouldn’t teach your clients how to deadlift. It will wreck their spines.” I explained that in fact deadlifts had fixed my back and I was hoping to start dancing again soon. “Why would you want to lift that much weight? (ie. Why would you want to be strong?” Because, I told her, if I can deadlift 200 lbs, picking up a case of bottled water is cake. Because EVERYTHING I pick up will feel light because I am strong. She just shook her head and started talking about Bosu balls. I smiled, took her card and chucked it in the trash on my way out.

    This will be an ongoing battle. Stand your ground and keep on doing. ;)

    Emily

  • rich t

    But JackedGunz84 is my real name!

  • Brackon L

    Tony and Bret awesome retort to the comments. I think it was well done and not too harsh (it could have been very much worse). It most likely would not be well received as an attack, I commend your professionalism. The use of peer reviewed articles helps to disseminate information very well. I want to add my support of the deadlift pattern. Notice I used pattern, as an agreement to Tony’s progression/regression argument. As a student physical therapist, I realize the use of this exercise in developing good movement patterns and learning to protect the spine during movement. A Plug for Bret too, I’m a week in to 2×4 and I love it! Keep it up guys.

  • Alex Kraszewski

    As a Physio, it’s a bit of a shame to see someone criticising something without any direct experience with it, either/both as a coach or involving themselves in it, but that dogma is unfortunately very common in this field.

    It never ceases to surprise me that healthcare professionals do this – using fear inducing language about exercises, scans, the fragility of the body and so on, it’s why there is such a chronic pain problem across the Western world, of which one factor is fear avoidance of movement, of which healthcare professionals have a huge influence upon this with things like ‘Deadlifts will wreck your spine!’

    If a deadlift, a loaded hip hinge is bad for your back, then how about when this physio’s patients pick up their children, you know, with loaded lumbar flexion, lateral flexion and maybe some rotation thrown in for good measure? Probably tens to hundreds of times a day? How good’s that for a back? Last time I read McGill I’m pretty sure these put greater risk on spinal structures than the buttress effect you gain with appropriate co-contraction of core/abdominal/spinal musculature in what is neutral for the individual lifting. Maybe she should read LBD and UBP for some research into what makes a painful back a not-painful-anymore-back!

    Healthcare professionals only in the last few years have started to celebrate with patients how strong the spine truly is, it takes a hell of a beating over years of use and abuse and if you treat it right, it’ll serve you well. Unfortunately when certain professionals give patients an image of fragility, it induces fear, amplifies pain and movement avoidance, and you have yourself in a vicious circle, when all that person needed was reassurance and movement training to get out of pain in the majority of cases!

  • Jim Smith

    Context is important here. I understand – and respect – the population you work with (pre and post natal women, and those in a rehabilitative setting), and deadlifts may not be a good fit for some of YOUR clients. I doubt that’s the case entirely, but still…….you know your clients better than me.

    Ok, so I had to chip in on this. I am not quite up there with you, Dean or Brett, but like Dean, I have first hand experience with dodgy backs and dead-lifting. I have found that since I was introduced to the joy of dead-lifting, my back has improved in strength, and have actually reduced the kyphotic curvature of my Schuermann’s Kyphosis that little bit more. My lower back has never felt so great, and the reason for this is, as you both said, ADAPTATION. I use half dead’s or safe dead’s. I do it mainly sumo, which with a replaced right hip, gives me a much more stable platform to lift from, and also, I don’t artificially change my foot stance, which as has been noted by the three of you, is more of a day to day thing.

    Now, to get this into perspective, I am a PT, and prefer working with injury clients, much more rewarding in my view *not that I don’t have “normals” for clients, but, it is good seeing another injury client grow in strength. One of my clients was in a bus accident, and came in with limited function on her left hand side, after a very vigorous and “athlete inspired” 20 sessions, she basically stayed the same weight and dropped quite a few inches. Her back has been stronger, her shoulders more level, and her walking gait has improved. Just to let Meggen know, her physio actually handed her off to me after 6 sessions after reading my letter to him, and seeing her progress.

    Another client of mine who has sciatica in both legs, first came to me and could barely walk without pain. After 7 sessions and some assistance from his physio, I have got him doing cable machine dead-lifts without pain. Again, adaptation for this one is key. We started off with exercises getting hip movement and postural stability, and have moved on from there.

    Also, I did yoga for about 6 months, and loved it.. though, if I were to base my experience of it on just two exercises that I had to discard because the pain was intense, I would never recommend it to ANYONE, but because I had an instructor who loved working with “problem cases”, we found quite a few new ways of doing stuff safely, or we just scratched it altogether.

    Have a great evening folks.

  • Valtssu

    Just a quick question. In this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCRKeWhzcZA the women is lifting sumo, but she starts with her hips really high. I personally find this style more effective and it increases my lifts by 20-45lbs in the 5-rep range. People however claim that lifting with hips this high puts too much stress on the back. Anyone here that could confirm or deny this?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, she was 33 weeks pregnant when the video was taken……her belly was in the way….;o)

      But, I wouldn’t say she was egregious with her hip position (too high), nor would I say that DL’ing with a higher hip position places a higher strain on the back. There are many people, depending on their leverages, who pull with a higher hip position. So long as they’re maintaining a proper spinal position, things should be fine.

  • Adam Noll

    Tony, was that your mixtape playing in the background during Cara’s deadlifting clip?

    • TonyGentilcore

      It must have been “Back in the Day Buffet…..Tony’s hits from the 90s” day….haha.

      • Adam Noll

        I knew it! ..But in all seriousness, you managed to forge yet another fantastic, informative, and entertaining article. Good show!

  • Chris Bartl

    Maybe Meggan can send you a video of how she teaches her post-natal clients how to pick up their baby off the floor from a standing position. Or maybe she teaches them how to levitate their child so they don’t have to deadlift. If that’s the case…she’s a Jedi and not one to be trifled with.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Oh man, that was good Chris. Well played. But don’t Sith Lords deal in absolutes?

    • Shelley Hardin

      Turkish Get up anyone?

  • Shelley Hardin

    Admittedly, I just stopped reading after point #2 re: Pilates. I promise to read this post in its entirety….tomorrow. As a Pilates teacher I could not agree more that the Pilates method should be held to a certain standard. I wish there was more research on the benefits of Pilates compared to weight lifting, yoga or just taking more naps during the week. Not every thing is for every body. Also, I was hoping you would use that picture of Mr. Pilates and you did not disappoint! Props to you sir.

    • TonyGentilcore

      I don’t doubt for one second that there’s MANY benefits to Pilates, and I hope I didn’t come across as if I was “dissing it.” I just didn’t agree with Meggen’s parallel that Pilates AUTOMATICALLY places people in better alignment than those who deadlift (or lift weights for that matter). That’s just not correct if they’re doing (either) incorrectly.

      Shelley…..I know you and I discussed this the other day in person that that we’re both on the same page. I think it’s so cool that you’re “one of the good ones” that recognizes EVERYTHING has a time and place.

      • Shelley Hardin

        You did not ‘diss’ Pilates. No worries there. It is ludicrous to suggest that Pilates (with or without the proper equipment) will provide the same or better strength, neurological or physiological benefits as resistance training. The thought that someone would suggest such a thing makes me laugh. Sometimes (often times) people need to build leg strength first (ie. lift weight correctly) in order to practice Pilates optimally.

  • nancysherpt

    Preach it! I deadlifted 2 days before I delivered my daughter 14 years ago. All went well. I don’t suffer from the incontinence from which most of my mommy clients seem to suffer. I also was in phys. therapy recently from knee surgery and had to perform different variations of the RDL.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Nice!

  • Leonie Dykes

    Love the post from you both, I’m a Pilates instructor and massively believe in Strength and Conditioning alongside Pilates, I personally do both and have a protruding disc L4/L5. If they are questioning the deadlifts in this context then are they teaching Pilates correctly and do they understand what they are doing to their clients in the various positions we put them into?……………………..

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for chiming in Leonie! Always nice to hear from those instructors who recognize that strength training can serve as a perfect adjunct.

  • FredBarbe

    That reminds me of a discussion I had with an osteopath in some house party. He told me he just came back from a conference for therapists and the subject was how dangerous and hazardous the deadlift is for the human body. I basically took the opposite position claiming the deadlift is the most beneficial exercise and could be the only thing you do for health and/or performance if you are short on time. I’m glad you guys wrote this post, for it gives a lot of good information for the kind of argument.

    • TonyGentilcore

      An ENTIRE conference on how the deadlift is bad? Whoa. That’s serious.

      • FredBarbe

        It could be just part of a bigger thing, but it sure sounds more dramatic this way, lol!

  • Shelley

    Great response. I have had back issues and have found that really working on my deadlift form has greatly impacted my awareness of my movement patterns in everyday life. So previously, where I would have picked up my kids with a rounded back and caused myself problems, I now have better movement patterns ingrained so that I lift using a neutral spine position. I’m also a heck of a lot stronger.

    In Meggen’s defence (sort of), I think I can understand her concern about holding one’s breath potentially weakening the PF given the population she is working with. The PF in many postnatal women is often very weak. More than likely the women she is working with have very weak PF muscles and probably aren’t even aware about how to engage them properly in every day life, never mind during a deadlift. I think it might stand to reason that if a postnatal woman hasn’t worked to strengthen her PF, doesn’t know how to engage her PF, and then she takes in a big breath of air and tries to pull off a heavy deadlift, damage could occur. But again that’s a case of someone not deadlifting properly – which you and Bret have addressed most eloquently.

    • Evan

      Also, PROGRESSION is addressed to its full extent as well. These women would not be pulling heavy weights without first having learned the proper mechanics with manageable weight / assistance exercises.

  • Ooi Choon Ee

    Going to bookmark these for future references! Great sharing and i feel kinda related when you said ‘Strength coaches defend deadlifts’

  • Jess

    My boss (a doctor of Physical Therapy) is also against deadlifts and any “high intensity” exercise… He said once, “when I watch an olympic lifter, I just think to myself of every ligament and joint he’s stressing.” It inspired me to write a post (rant) about it months ago on my first blog…. We essentially “deadlift” everyday, wouldn’t it be wise to learn how to do it properly? http://tinyurl.com/oa8czw

    • TonyGentilcore

      And that’s one of my arguments! The body is meant “to be stressed!!!!” We can’t just live our lives scared of “stressing” our bodies. That’s a horseshit way to live.

      Thanks for sharing your post!

  • Shane Mclean

    Think Doctors, PT, Chiropractors and other rehab specialist tread dangerous ground telling clients not to do a move that is natural to the human body, like the dead lift, squat, anything overhead. Usually has with most things, the truth lies somewhere in between.

  • Tim

    A couple of years ago, i was discussing a client of mine with a physical therapy student. He had upped his deadlift significantly using the easy strength method. Immediately making assumptions, she said “I spend all day fixing people’s backs who deadlift.” My response was that if that was the case then they probably had an improper hinge pattern and should not be lifting heavy. I mentioned that deadlifting properly is one of the best things you can do for performance, overall strength, and health. I could tell she was not convinced but that was the end of the argument since she is a friends girlfriend. It bothers me when people assume that all strength coaches are just loading up bars until there is an injury. She assumed that we maxed out daily. Anyone familiar with easy strength knows that that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a coach i view myself as part of the team, not one person with every answer. If you have an injury, you probably need to see a PT. If you are out of alignment, a visit to the chiropractor may be in order. The true professionals are those that are humble enough to know and embrace their scope of practice. At the time i was working with a PT(unbeknownst to her) that has since told me how much he learned about strength training form and programming from me. Simultaneously I was learning a great deal about prehab and mobility work from him. I have also learned much from this site and others like it. Thanks for posting great material like this, hopefully more professionals of different backgrounds keep reading. This sharing of knowledge is how we all get better at what we do.
    End Rant.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Good rant!….;o) There’s A LOT we can all learn from one another for sure. But we do need to understand our scope of practice.

  • Sam Iannetta

    load is load and depending on how it is applied, it has a negative or positive effect. You could shoot me an email with any blanket statement and I could prove it invalid in minutes. Remember that you are looking at one PT or a couple and a couple of trainers or weight lifters opinions. In 30 plus years of personal training I have literally 45,000 hours of one on one experience and over 6,000 teaching classes. All I can say is that there is an appropriate exercise for the client or person standing right in front of you. Look for it an perform it. Use common sense and learn a little about the laws of physics before you start applying force to joint structures. Sheer, torque, compression traction are all good for you and bad for you. i.e. compression of the spinal discs is the quickest way to rehydrate them. Your knee has sheer force applied with every step you take and as a matter of science all of these forces travel through your body with something as harmful as walking. Don’t be a dumb ass….think first, then think about what was right and wrong about the way you moved.