In this post and episode, I explain why Andy Galpin’s defense of the deadlift is actually a clear demonstration that it is a dangerous lift.
Specifically, he notes at least four conditions that must be met for the deadlift to be safe: appropriate positioning, volume, intensity, and complexity.
I note that it is difficult to meet those conditions consistently in the long-term while still progressing on the lift. More importantly, it is very difficult to know how to meet those conditions while still training hard enough to make progress: how much training is enough, and how much training is too much?
This becomes even more complex and difficult when adding outside stressors and other, often unpredictable training volume in the activities of athletes.
Doing this consistently weekly over the course of decades without making an error becomes even more difficult.
Additionally, I note how much training is too much may be individual, but more importantly, that the four conditions that Andy lays out are actually not the only conditions mentioned by many experts: there is a controversy in this area because the evidence about what causes injury from the deadlift is sparse.
This makes it even less clear whether safety can be ensured by controlling the variables that Andy mentions.
I draw an analogy with a gun—a gun is inherently dangerous but can be made safe with the proper stewardship. I point out that what proper stewardship for a deadlift is, is quite unclear.
Andy says that if someone gets injured from the deadlift, it is their or their coach’s fault. I note that most people do not have the knowledge that Andy has, nor a coach like Andy, and that even if he was right, in the real world many laypeople are ill-equipped to manage training in the way that Andy outlines.
I make the pragmatic argument: why not simply use less dangerous lifts that can produce the same benefit, without needing to manage half a dozen variables to avoid injury? The necessity of managing so many variables to avoid injury does not exonerate the deadlift: it clearly demonstrates its inherent danger.
Now, many people might object: but other exercises also have the same problem. Should we avoid all exercises?
The deadlift poses a unique stress to the lumbar spine, and similar training benefit can be achieved with exercises with a larger margin of safety to the lumbar spine.
Split squats, lunge variations, Cossack squats, step-ups, belt squats, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, single-leg conventional deadlifts are the exercises that I use.
Other people report success with their lumbar spine and back discomfort using the box squat, hex bar deadlifts, goblet squat, and front squat. Some also report that variations in the back squat, such as the high-bar squat and a narrower stance also help.
Happy single-leg deadlifting.
Watch the video or listen here: