Anyone else worried that they can’t keep their back straight during deadlifts?
The deadlift is probably the greatest exercise ever when it comes to building raw strength.
However, it can also be one of the most frustrating exercises.
There are various technical aspects you need to get right with the lift.
And if you don’t there is the potential for injury.
I guess the most common “technical fault” is back rounding during deadlifts.
So, allow me to explain why this happens and what you can do about it.
Can’t Keep Back Straight During Deadlift
There are various reasons why you can’t keep your back straight during deadlifts. The most important of these is that you should take time to properly set yourself prior to lifting. Many people view the deadlift as simply picking a heavy bar up off the floor. However, before you even pick the barbell up it’s important to load your hamstrings, engage your posterior chain, and hinge at the hips. If you miss any of these points you are more likely to pull with your arms, rather than using your lower body, to lift the barbell. This will cause the back to round.
1. You’re Not Setting Yourself Correctly For The Deadlift
The main reason that you can’t keep your back straight during deadlifts is that you don’t take the time to set yourself up correctly.
Now, I don’t mean grunting, shouting, and making lots of noise.
I certainly don’t mean throwing chalk around everywhere and slapping yourself countless times in the face.
And there’s definitely no need to be doing that “jerking thing” on the barbell prior to lifting.
No, what I mean is getting your body into prime position to deadlift and marking off all the “deadlift checkpoints”.
- Lining the bar up with your midfoot
- Ensuring that your shoulders are not ahead of the bar
- The bar isn’t too far forward or too near to you
- Getting your body tight and ready to lift
- Loading the hamstrings
- Engaging the posterior chain
- Hinging at the hips
- Having your chest up
- Looking forward or slightly up (not at the bar)
So, as you can there is a lot more to just walking up to the bar and simply lifting it off the floor.
I will also say that I tend to reset myself with each rep.
Therefore, I’m not banging through reps at a serious rate of knots.
No, I will ensure that I have hit each of the checkpoints prior to every single rep.
If you do this then there is less chance of your back rounding and you’re more likely to adhere to good form.
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2. Your Hamstrings Are The Problem
I’ve mentioned that you should “load the hamstrings” prior to deadlifting.
Now for many of us this can be a problem.
Basically, you need to activate the hamstrings in some way prior to deadlifting.
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This could involve performing some simple bodyweight exercises first, or spending more time than usual on your light, warm up sets.
That being said, if you’re someone who has tight or weak hamstrings this will impact on your deadlift.
In fact, tight or weak hamstrings are typically responsible for not being able to keep the back straight during deadlifts.
In effect, you don’t have the flexibility, or hamstring strength, to get yourself into the correct position, never mind using your posterior chain to lift the barbell off the floor.
So, it may be time for you to work on your hamstrings first before you even think of deadlifting a heavy load.
You would be better off learning to Romanian deadlift correctly first before going back to the traditional deadlift.
STOP Deadlifting Until You Learn the Romanian Deadlift
3. Think of the Deadlift as a “Push” Not a “Pull”
There is the argument that has raged on for years as to whether the deadlift is a leg or back exercise.
And this will typically impact on which particular day you choose to do deadlifts.
For me, it’s a leg exercise.
Always has been, always will be.
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Basically, you are using your glutes and hamstrings to lift the bar off the floor.
With that being said, most people would class the deadlift as a pull exercise.
So, when looking at the lower body, you would say that the squat is a push and the deadlift is a pull.
However, I want you to take completely the opposite view.
By doing so you are more likely to use the target muscles to get the bar off the floor.
Plus, this should also help you to keep your back straight during deadlifts.
The way I like to look at it is that I am leg pressing the floor, as opposed to pulling with my arms.
So, if you concentrate on pushing your feet into the ground you’ll actually find that you’ll be using the glutes and hamstrings to get the bar off the ground.
Deadlift Tip – Push, Not Pull
4. You’re Lifting With Your Arms
I guess this moves on nicely from what I’ve just said.
You are using your hands and arms to pull the bar from the floor.
By doing this you are turning the deadlift into a back exercise, and more specifically a lower back exercise.
And let me tell you for nothing that once you start lifting some serious poundage it won’t be long before your lower back can’t keep up.
Herniated disc anyone?
I’ve often seen people prepare to deadlift with a slight bend in their elbows too.
So, in effect, the first past of the movement will involve “pulling” in order to straighten the arms.
Your back will automatically round when you try to lift the barbell with a pull of the arms.
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You are no longer using the glutes and hamstrings to get the bar up, so the “rounding” is almost a form of protection for your spine.
I like to view my hands as simply being hooks that I wrap around the barbell.
My arms will be perfectly straight and my entire body is tight and ready to lift.
There will be absolutely no pulling or jerking with the hands or arms.
Remember, this is a lower body exercise.
You could actually just view the barbell as an extension of your arms and hands, so they are literally one unit.
And your aim is to move this entire unit upwards by pushing your feet through the floor and using your glutes and hamstrings.
5. You’re Using Too Much Weight
Pure and simple, if you can’t keep your back straight it’s time to drop some plates off the bar.
You have all the checkpoints you need here to ensure that you deadlift with perfect form.
So, for me, you should learn to perform the exercise correctly with a lighter load, and then move on to heavier weights once you’ve mastered this.
I see absolutely nothing wrong with deadlifting with just one plate on either side of the barbell if that’s what it takes.
In fact, I often do a conditioning workout that involves using this very weight to perform 100 non-stop deadlifts.
This is not something I would suggest to someone who doesn’t have their form on-point.
However, I can tell you for nothing, the 100-rep workout is better than any cardio machine you can think of.
So, put your ego in check, get rid of as many weight plates as you need to, and get your technique right first.
3 Deadlift Tips
The most common reason you can’t keep your back straight during deadlifts is because you haven’t set yourself correctly to lift. The deadlift is a lower body, posterior chain movement, so it’s important to activate the correct muscles first. You should also view the deadlift as a “push” rather than a “pull” exercise. Plus, if you find your back is rounding then decrease the weight on the bar and perfect your deadlifting technique.
Hi, I’m Partha, the founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I’m someone who’s been passionate about exercise and nutrition for more years than I care to remember. I’ve studied, researched, and honed my skills for a number of decades now. So, I’ve created this website to hopefully share my knowledge with you. Whether your goal is to lose weight, burn fat, get fitter, or build muscle and strength, I’ve got you covered.