Low Back Biomechanics during Repetitive Deadlifts: A Narrative Review

IISE Trans Occup Ergon Hum Factors. 2022 Jan-Mar;10(1):34-46. Epub 2022 Jan 7.


OCCUPATIONAL APPLICATIONSHeavy deadlifting is used as a screening tool or training protocol for recruitment and retention in physically-demanding occupations, especially in the military. Spinal loads experienced during heavy deadlifts, particularly shearing forces, are well above recommended thresholds for lumbar spine injury in occupational settings. Although members of the noted occupation likely have stronger musculoskeletal systems compared to the general population, experiencing shearing forces that are 2 to 4 times larger than the threshold of injury, particularly under repetitive deadlift, may transform a screening tool or training protocol to an occupationally-harmful physical activity.

Keywords: Deadlift; biomechanics; injury prevention; lumbar spine; repetitive lifting.

Plain language summary

TECHNICAL ABSTRACTBackground: Low back pain is a significant problem and one of the primary musculoskeletal conditions affecting active duty service members. There is a need to comprehensively assess the effects of repetitive deadlifts as a physical training modality on lumbar spine loads and the potential mechanisms involved in lumbosacral injuries among soldiers.Purpose: The purpose of this narrative review is to summarize studies of low back biomechanics during repetitive deadlifts as used in training programs to improve lifting capacity.Methods: PubMed and Google Scholar were searched for studies of lifting that met our inclusion and exclusion criteria. Only full text articles in English were included, and their reference lists were further searched.Results: Heavy deadlifts can result in large compressive and shearing spinal loads that range from 5 − 18 kN, and 1.3 − 3.2 kN, respectively. No studies of lower back biomechanics during repetitive deadlifts were found. However, findings of studies that investigated lower back biomechanics during other types of repetitive lifting suggest a high likelihood for adverse changes in lower back biomechanics that can increase risk of lower back injury.Conclusion: Repetitive deadlifting is increasingly implemented as a training modality to develop maximal lifting capacities required in military occupations. Further research is needed to understand the effects of such a training modality on lower back biomechanics and risk of injury.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Biophysics
  • Humans
  • Spine*