Experts Opinions On Deadlift Variations For Back Pain and Max Strength:
Recently, the last year off and on, I have been experiencing lower back pain whenever I began to incorporate heavy deadlifts into my training. I would attempt to ramp up the weight over the course of a few weeks, and without exception I would begin to feel some tightness in my lower back. After ramping up for a few weeks and then experiencing muscle strains in my lower back I began to realize that I was having a problem.
I originally believed that the pain I was experiencing was coming from the uneven weight distribution I was using on my heavy sets where I was pulling with a mixed grip. A mixed grip, for everyone that does not know, is basically gripping the barbell with one hand supinated and the other pronated. In some cases this can cause a slightly uneven pull on the spine, but by itself should not be a major source of discomfort.
Once I began to look at my grip I experimented with a hook grip, a double overhand grip, a double overhand grip with straps as well as a slightly narrower and wider grip then I had originally been using. After a few workouts I began to realize that the issue was perhaps not my grip. I went back to the drawing board, Google, and began to read a little bit more about what people with a similar issue were doing to resolve their problems. After reading into other people’s issues with the deadlift I realized that the issue might not be coming from my grip at all.
Many people who had experienced phantom injuries on deadlifting were able to cure their symptoms with one unusual addition to their training. While there are many different injuries that people could get all with their own unique solutions, one solutions rose to the top as the most frequently cited remedy to people’s issues.
ENTER: The Jefferson deadlift
I was first introduced to the Jefferson deadlift by David Dellanave. His site, Physically Cultured features a bunch of great articles, many of which focus on progressing your deadlift. In addition to helping you to cure back pain, many of David’s variations can help you to increase your maximum strength. David himself is a world record holding deadlifter and author of the manual Deadlifting Off The Floor.
While I was originally interested in the Jefferson deadlift becasue of its ability to help relieve lower back pain, I soon became interested in its ability to assist in increasing my maximum strength on my conventional deadlift. For a little back ground, I am primarily an endurance athlete as I need to be in shape for various military selections, and my job in general. Anyone in any of the military’s combat arms or special operation’s branches can tell you that these services place a premium on endurance and running in particular.
One thing I noticed was that it seemed nearly impossible for my to progress on my squat whenever I was trying to lower my run times. At one point I worked down to being able to run a 5 minute mile pretty consistently and saw my 1RM squat fall to around 300 lbs (not good). I did notice that it as possible for me to lower my run times while improving my 1RM deadlift. Therefore when I began to experience lower back pain it was particularly hard for me to deal with as that was my main full body strength lift.
After the second workout using the Jefferson I began to notice significant improvements in the tightness in my lower back. Following my third workout I was able to pull near 90% of my 1RM without experiencing any pain in my lower back. Before incorporating this lift I was at the point where I was nearly ready to take a break from deadlifting in my training all together.
The way I incorporated the lift was similar to how it is used in Dellanave’s Deadlifting Manual. Basically he recommends deadlifting heavy once a week with medium to low volume, deadlifting once a week with relatively light weights and medium to high volume, and deadlifting once a week with a deadlift variation that is limited by your grip. You can also incorporate one accessory lift for the hips or the upper back. This is in no way an explanation of his program, simply an abbreviated summary of one of the templates he says you can begin working from.
Using the above template I utilizes Jefferson deadlifts along with a grip focused deadlift as my main accessory deadlift. So far this has worked well and has allowed me to climb back to my previous 1RM. Generally I use form similar to the basic Jefferson he describes in the above video where the feet are about 45 degrees offset from the bar. It looks similar to the below picture when I perform it.
Back to What The Experts Say:
While I was not convinced the first time I saw this lift, I was after I saw it popping up all over the internet. I realized that largely due to David’s enthusiasm for the lift, its popularity was definitely spreading.
In one of John Romaniello’s articles he discusses how David helped him to cure his back pain by getting him to utilize biofeedback based testing along with the Jefferson Deadlift. John talks about not being able to deadlift at all and eventually working close to his previous max and even doing working sets with 555 lbs a few months after incorporating the lift into his training. John details his experience in great detail and goes over a little bit more as far as his first experience with biofeedback training.
For a little less about the Jefferson Deadlift and a little more about Biofeedback training, check out a primer in biofeedback training, by one of the originators of the specific system mentioned above. If you want to hear about John’s experience I suggest you check out his article on How To Live a Successful Life instead. Plenty of other people on the internet can give you a great introduction to biofeedback training, but the above is pure John and in my opinion, one of his best articles.
In my experience, the Jefferson deadlift, along with biofeedback training is a great starting point for anyone looking to increase their max strength on the deadlift or clear up lower back pain.
These two additions to your training could prevent you from taking weeks off of your training. In my experience, whenever I would get tightness in my lower back, I would need to back off from 3 days to 2 weeks. Having regular layoffs of this duration is going to seriously derail anyone’s training and pretty much eliminate motivation.
For anyone that wants to learn everything you can about the deadlift and about how biofeedback training can benefit your journey to a better physique, definitely check out David’s Manual and his site physically Cultured. He has some great tips and a truly unique voice on training. I have definitely learned more from his blog then just about any other resource I have looked at this year. In fact, his Deadlifting Off The Floor manual along with his primers on biofeedback training allowed me to workup to some of my current 1RM lifts including a standing press over 1x bodyweight. Before utilizing biofeedback as he recommends it, I was not even close to this level of strength.
Definitely check Dave out here: Physically Cultured