Mastering the Deadlift – Part 4 – Back Rounding

Back Rounding During Deadlift

Everyone who deadlifts fears for the health of their backs. One wrong move, and POP, there goes one of your vertebral disks. That’s why extending the spine and maintaining it in a neutral position during the lift is so important. I’ve written before about the importance of maintaining a neutral spine during load-bearing activities, and it extremely important to apply this to the deadlift due to both the amounts of shear force and compressive force experienced during this particular lift.

I’ve been usually throwing on an additional 10lbs to my deadlift each week. Until I hit a plateau, I’ll be milking my gains for what they’re worth. Anyway, what I’ve noticed is that if I’m fatigued or performing a new personal record, my back rounds ever-so-slightly. If a buddy of mine is watching and tells me that I’m rounding, I can usually correct it. I’ve mentioned this “mind-body connection” before in a previous edition of Mastering the Deadlift.

While in a previous post I talked about how my back rounding may possibly be a technique-issue and a lack of bodily awareness, what if it is actually a sign of weakness?

Rounding – Is It Caused by a Weak Back or Weak Legs?

In a video by Jonnie Candito of Candito Training HQ, Jonnie addresses various reasons as to why your back might be rounding during deadlifts.


He mentions one of the reasons why we end up rounding our backs during deadlifts is muscular weakness. Commonly, it is believed to be lumbar erector weakness, so people begin adding in RDLs and stiff-legged deadlifts to strengthen the back. Jonnie says that he believes this is incorrect, and that strength of the glutes, hamstrings, and quads is lacking if the back is rounding. He claims that rounding the back is a stronger position for when the legs begin to fatigue.

I find this claim a bit counter-intuitive, but it makes sense. However, Bret Contreras (a prominent strength-and-conditioning expert) makes an argument for the conventional thought that the back is the weak-link, not the leg muscles. In short, you can test people on the single-leg deadlift and the conventional deadlift. Typically, people will perform more than half of their conventional deadlift on a single-leg deadlift.

The single-leg deadlift removes back strength from the equation, whereas the conventional deadlift is back-intensive. If back strength was not an issue, the amount lifted in the single-leg deadlift should be exactly half of what someone can deadlift conventionally. If you can single-leg deadlift more than half of your conventional deadlift, it makes sense that the back is the weak link.

Maybe Jonnie’s theory that the legs are the weak link applies to those who are new to lifting and have yet learned how to properly activate their glutes? Given that the typical man or woman “lifts with their back and not with their legs”, this may be an issue entirely specific to beginner lifters.

With that said, I believe my ability to consciously activate my glutes is fine. Heading advice from both camps, I’m training my back squats to get my legs stronger, and will continue to perform RDLs to strengthen my back.

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One Comment

  1. Photo Credits
    Deadlifting. Author: Rhodney Carter.

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