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One Popular Exercise That Can Cause Lasting Damage to Your Back

The deadlift is a wonderful, all-purpose lift—unless you're doing it all wrong.

The deadlift is one of the most popular exercises you can do—and for good reason. It works your entire body and strengthens your lats, glutes, hamstrings, and core. It's also a great test of strength and helpful for teaching you to pick things up off the floor safely. And if you're an athlete, know that using a hex-bar while deadlifting may be the single greatest lift you can possibly do to achieve better performance. According to the top NFL combine trainer Ryan Flaherty, the hex-bar deadlift—also known as the "trap-bar deadlift"—is the single surest way to run faster, jump higher, and discover explosive strength.

But if you're not deadlifting properly—whether it's a regular deadlift or the hex-bar variety—you can do some serious damage to your lower back if you perform it all wrong. Some experts even say that, for the sake of their backs, deadlifts should be avoided altogether for some people. (I'm not totally there, for the record, and believe that you should simply lighten the load until you can do it properly.)

All this to say: Having good form with the deadlift is crucially important. When performing the deadlift, you need to make sure your body is properly aligned from the starting position to the finish. Read on for two of the worst mistakes you can make while performing a deadlift, which are all but guaranteed to hurt your back, along with some tips for proper form. And for more reasons you should consider strength training, check out The Only Workout That Will Change Your Body Shape, Says Top Trainer.

The Mistake: Setting Up Improperly with a Rounded Back

improper deadlift setup

When getting in the right position, perhaps the single biggest mistake is having your back rounded. This places a lot of stress on the part of your back that can lead to injury. Never do this. And for more great fitness advice, know that This Is What Walking on a Treadmill Does to Your Body, According to Experts.

The Proper Setup

proper deadlift finish

This is what a good setup looks like. Your back should be straight, not rounded, with your lats engaged, and your shoulders over the bar. Also, make sure that you're not lifting too much weight.

The Mistake: Finishing with Lumbar Hyperextension

bad deadlift finish

See how I'm leaning backward here? Never do this at the top of your lift. A big mistake people make when finishing a rep on their deadlift is hyperextending their lower back instead of extending their hips. Lumbar hyperextension places a lot of unnecessary strain on your back and isn't necessary.

The Proper Finish

proper deadlift finish

When performing your deadlift, you want to imagine driving through your hips, while squeezing your glutes and lats as you finish the rep. At the finish, stand tall, with your lats pulled back and your butt squeezed. And for more great exercise tips, see Why Drinking This 30 Minutes Before Exercising Helps You Torch Fat!

Tim Liu, C.S.C.S.
Tim Liu, CSCS, is an online fitness and nutrition coach based in Los Angeles Read more about Tim