Most people cringe when they see someone deadlifting with a rounded back. Even to those who know absolutely nothing about barbell training, it just looks “unsafe”.
But lifters do it all the time. Even the best in the world round their backs, especially during conventional deadlifts. World Champion and elite level powerlifter Konstantin Konstaninov always pulled with a rounded back. And he said he never had a back injury.
So why do so many world-class lifters do it?
When a lifter protracts her scapula/rounds her upper back, it drastically improves leverage in the following ways.
- It allows the arms to hang lower which essentially increases the length of her arms.
- Rounding her back shortens the length of the torso. This creates a shorter moment arm between the hips and the bar. It also means her hips sit higher.
- Higher hips create a more open knee angle in the start position. (Remember, the more open the joint, the greater the mechanical advantage. Quarter squats are easier than full squats, right!?)
So what’s the problem?
- Vertebrae aren’t like most joints. It’s nearly impossible to round your upper back without rounding your lower back/lumbar.
- When the spine is flexed under load, it can lead to disc bulges, herniations, and other disc injuries.
- The erector spinae (the muscles that run along each side of the vertebral column) are primarily isometric muscles. They really aren’t designed to extend under a heavy load.
Should YOU deadlift with a rounded back?
If you’re a recreational lifter, absolutely not. If you have a goal of getting stronger and feeling healthier, it's still a big NO. It’s not worth the risk. Rounding your back significantly increases the risk of disc herniation or injury. And we’ve all known someone with back pain. It’s debilitating and depressing.
If you’re an elite-level competitive lifter and are aware of the risks, maybe. But that's a big maybe. Being elite doesn't make you invincible. And you can still lift enormous weights with a neutral spine (elite lifters do it all the time).