Flashbacks on a Dead Lift Gone Wrong

Back in April 2007, I reported how I injured my back doing a dead lift. It was and still is (by far) the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. There hasn’t been a single gym visit since that I haven’t thought about that morning.

The dead lift is the single best exercise one can do. I had years of experience doing the exercise. My form was solid. Where did I go wrong? After almost two years of reflection and research, I think I now have the answers.

  1. Running Shoes – I’ve said this before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. In fact on my deathbed, in my Rosebud moment, I will utter the words – don’t wear running shoes in the free weight room. From May 2001 – February 2006, I did dead lifts wearing no shoes in my home gym. My feet were planted as I pulled the weight. I wasn’t standing on sponges. When I returned to the Glitter Gym, I wore running shoes. This caused my back to round and was the major factor in my injury.
  2. Early Morning – According to Art De Vany in the article Sports and Spines, when we wake up the discs in our back are fully hydrated and as result we are 0.7 inches taller. Pulling on the spine in the first hour after waking increases your chances of disk herniation, since the discs are swollen. When I had a home gym, I did my dead lifts at 3 PM. When I started up at the Glitter Gym, I lifted first thing in the morning. My spine was still asleep.
  3. X-Ray – I had an X-Ray done on my back in 2005. It showed the spacing between 2 discs to be very small. I’m not sure this was a factor, but it couldn’t have helped.
  4. Strength Imbalance – In the last 2 months, I have discovered a major strength imbalance. Over the years, my left leg has gotten much weaker in relation to my right leg. Compound movements are great for overall fitness, but they can sometimes disguise imbalances until it is too late.
  5. Form Change – The dead lift is like mountain climbing. Most of the injuries happen on the descent. In EVERY OTHER exercise, you want a controlled descent. If you try and control the descent of a dead lift too slowly it will pull your back out of position. This is especially true for a taller person. By the time the weights are by the knees, the weights should (almost) be dropped. This is fine if you have a home gym, but slamming weights down will get you thrown out of a Glitter Gym. When I started lifting at the Glitter Gym, my safe (and loud) dead lift descent was replaced by a slower and less safe descent.

Me dead lifting with no shoes in July 2002.

I now think I know exactly what went wrong on April 7, 2007.


Add yours

  1. Get Rolfed! otherwise know as ‘Structural Integration’
    -30 yrs of misalignment&pain brought on by manymotorbike&car mishaps,reduced in ten sessions.As a car mechanic,the logic of rolfing made sense,tho’ i was skeptical that it could do anything for someone like me…

  2. Great idea. I’ll look into it.

  3. For those of us who have to wear shoes in our gym, have you found any that are as flat as possible? I’m wondering if Chuck Taylors are a good bet, although you won’t catch me wearing those fugly things, same with the typical bb’ing shoe. I’m interested in Under Armour’s fitness shoes. They look stable, but might be a little too squishy inside.

  4. Chuck Taylors, wrestling shoes, ballerina slippers, anything that allows your feet to make close contact with the floor.

    Another option is to just take your shoes off when you are in the rack. Gyms typically don’t want you walking around without shoes, so put them back on when you finish your rack exercise.

  5. hi, nice read. Right now my situation is looking like I will have to start working out in the morning, do you think it will be okay for me to lift weights(more specifically dead lifts, and back extentions) an hour after waking?

  6. @Crocer – I’m not a personal trainer, but from everything I’ve read 1 hour is enough. I do recommend doing mobility exercises, but not pre-lift stretching.

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