Top 5 Deadlift Variations To Train Around Lower Back Pain

By Dr. Russell Manalastas

deadlift variation

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Are You Force Feeding The Barbell Deadlift?

Let’s be honest, we’ve all tried to force the issue with certain lifts at some point in time during our lifting careers. We read all these different articles from different sites that say you have to do X, Y, and Z, and then when you try and do it, you either do it with poor form or you develop discomfort when trying to do it “their” way. Force feeding certain lifts, especially compound lifts, is a sure fire way to make sure you’re on the sidelines recovering from an injury that could’ve been prevented.

The deadlift is a cornerstone exercise that is utilized in many strength and conditioning programs to help develop glute, hamstring, and spinal stability. However, I’ll be honest in saying that I see this exercise performed wrong more often than I see it performed right.

It’s a privilege to be able to safely lift heavy weight off the ground, and if you can’t do it properly or if you’re doing it while having pain, then maybe you need to consider other ways to develop strength that is specific to you.

In this article we’re going to cover five different deadlift variations you can utilize if you’re struggling to do conventional deadlifts to still get the benefit of strengthening the posterior chain, but doing it smartly.

Let Pain Be Your Indicator

Before we get into the deadlift variations, I’ll put a disclaimer out there that if you are experiencing discomfort, whether it be pain in the front of the hips, low back pain, or any other issues when trying to do these compound lifts, you need to make sure you see a qualified health care professional first.

There’s a laundry list of things that you need to have in order to be able to perform these lifts properly, so having a comprehensive plan in place by a qualified health care professional can help you along that route that much quicker.

Searching for all the mobility drills, stability exercises, and other various suggestions that are out on the internet may yield some result, but it may not yield the result that is specific for you.

With that being said, let’s get into five of the top variations I like to use for people who struggle with the conventional deadlift to get them training hard and staying injury free in the process.

Barbell Sumo Deadlifts

These are by far my favorite deadlift variation as I normally have a tendency to feel more comfortable with the hips opened up and feet turned out. Those with some bony deformity or pathology in the anterior hip will also feel like they can perform this lift with more ease and less irritation.

Barbell Rack Pulls

For those who really struggle with form, complaint of discomfort when approaching the bar on the ground, or even when the bar is elevated off the ground, this is a great place to start. Although some might claim that they don’t feel the same amount of stress on the posterior chain, again it’s all about intent.

Try and really engage the lats as you drive into an upright position, or maybe even superset a lat exercise with the rack pull to help drive lat activity. Start the rack position in an area that is comfortable while paying attention to strict form, and then as you continue to work on hip/ankle mobility and spinal stability, perhaps you can progress by slowly bringing the rack lower.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Thanks to JR for the video above demonstrating the Trap Bar Deadlift. The nice thing about this exercise is that the weight setup is even to your body, so the amount of hip flexion is not as great and you can maintain a more upright posture to help reduce the stress on the low back for those who feel strain there during a conventional deadlift. Make sure you are squeezing glutes hard at the top of the movement to maximize recruitment.

Barbell Landmine Deadlift

This is another favorite of mine as the anterior loaded bar allows your center of mass to stay over the bar and helps keep things compact and tight throughout the whole movement.

The landmine is a great setup for engaging a strong core position and helps to “balance” the movement since your hands are placed on the landmine setup which is stabilized to the ground. Ensure that you are squeezing the bar hard and staying tight through the shoulders along with the core and hips during this movement.

Deadlift with Isometrics

These are more challenging than you think. People often struggle with initiating the pulling movement of the deadlift and will try and just do everything in their power to get past that sticking point to get them to the lock out position at the top.

Adding an isometric hold when you first initiate the pulling movement really helps you hone in on what you’re feeling and where you’re feeling the strain to make sure you’re doing the lift properly. This is also a nice anti-flexion based exercise to improve spinal stiffness and also to make sure the lats are really firing up to reduce lumbopelvic strain.

Start Pulling Without Pain

In summary, being smart about lifting should be the number one priority. Yes you want to get strong, look good, and feel like your exercise program is getting you somewhere, but if you’re doing things without taking into consideration what your body is telling you, then you’re missing the point.

If you’re struggle with these variations as well, then you can always elevate the weight a bit to make it more user friendly. Give these deadlift variations a try and let me know what you think, happy lifting!

About The Author

dr russell manalastas

Dr. Russell Manalastas is a board certified sports physical therapist, strength and conditioning specialist and clinic director of Lattimore Physical Therapy located in Rochester, New York. Russ uses a combination of strength and conditioning principles incorporated into his rehab with a variety of sports and orthopedic related conditions to expedite recovery. Connect with him on:

Facebook: Russell Manalastas

Twitter: @RussPT

Instagram: @RussDPT

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  1. Jeff Craft December 1, 2016 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Useful article – will have to experiment with these at some point

  2. Bitsy December 5, 2016 at 7:54 am - Reply

    Very informative article. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Andy February 9, 2018 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    That landmine variation looks pretty useful and controllable. I have to give that one a go! Thanks great article!

  4. Rachel May 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm - Reply

    Love it! Landmine deadlifts are my fav, as I have scoliosis and really struggle with traditional deadlifts. Will have to try the last version with the iso holds. Never thought about the lats coming into play on a deadlift but this might be a weak link for me. Thanks!

  5. Mark May 21, 2018 at 10:07 pm - Reply

    I’m confused with the post. These lifts don’t work around back pain. They are popular lifting techniques many trainers are posting. There’s no modification to speak of except for the load. Thank you anyway. I’m seeing many trainers posting the same things.

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