My Love-Hate Relationship with Deadlifts

I love deadlifts, a deceptively simple exercise where you bend over, grip a barbell that is resting on the floor, and stand up.

I have hurt my back six times doing deadlifts over the course of the last three years. Each time, I feel my lower back strain with awful pain at the very start of the lift, just as I’m trying to lift the bar off the ground. That night will find me on an ice pack and during the ensuing three days, my entire back will go into spasm. It is difficult to sit, impossible to drive and utterly miserable. At some point, I manage to find my way to my chiropractor or acupuncturist who manages to get me back on my feet. Then in about a week, I head back to the gym, treating each move carefully, slowly and mindfully. Months go by. I get stronger and move faster. And then I get arrogant and sloppy. And then boom.

Whenever this happens, the non-athletes in my life say: “why do you do this to yourself?” “You should not be doing deadlifts.”

The athletes in my life ask: “Where is the weakness?” “How do you fix it?” “When can you get back to the gym?”

There is no athlete who has not experienced injury or setback. If you push your body to discover what it can do and challenge yourself to get stronger or faster or better, you run the risk of injury. There will be tweaks here and strains there and aches when you get up in the morning.

Here’s how I see it. Deadlifts are a functional movement that teach you how to pick things up from the ground. And I want to be able to bend down and pick things up for my entire life. And I want to keep getting stronger and fitter.

Being injured sucks. It’s uncomfortable, painful and frankly, a little bit scary.

But scarier still is believing that I can’t learn to do this movement properly. Scarier still is believing that as I grow older, I will be unable to bend over and pick up heavy things.

Being as fit and strong and healthy and active as possible is part of who I am. It enables me to run and play and swim and climb trees and stand on my head and ski and do all of the things that I love.

So as soon as I am able, I will go back to doing deadlifts. I will work to figure out what I’m doing wrong and strive to fix it so that I can continue to get stronger every day. I will not stop. Hopefully, I will finally learn to remain mindful and focused and resist the urge to keep pace with the athletes decades younger than me.

This time when I got back to doing deadlifts, I will try to act my age.