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Ever since the lockdown was announced, I have been unable to hit the gym for obvious reasons. I almost had withdrawal symptoms initially. Three weeks later, watching my hard-earned muscles literally melt away made sitting at home even worse.
Thereafter, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started working out at home without ever imagining that my newfound self-reliance would lead me to a state of bed rest, unable to move to even change sides.
When ‘back’ day became the ‘black’ day
Let’s rewind and stop at the second month of the lockdown—April 2020, when I finally started working out on my own. It began with a light workout for a couple of days followed by arms day, leg day, core day, and finally—the fateful—back day!
My inner enthu-cutlet couldn’t wait to experience the sheer adrenaline rush and the sense of satisfaction that came with performing deadlifts which also happened to be the same exercise that fetched me the title of ‘the strongest girl in the gym’ bestowed upon me by my trainer. Perhaps, I took it way too seriously and suffered because of my overconfidence. Because I did do my first deadlift at home, my back gave out.
After facing the consequences of letting that happen, I have five deadlift lessons to share with you:
1. Don’t try jugaads when it comes to practicing deadlifts
Several studies and fitness experts agree that deadlifts—if done right—can tone your core area, strengthen your lower back along with your legs, and tone your butt like nothing else. But they also agree that it is one of the most high-risk exercises to perform.
Ignoring this warning was my first mistake. If doing deadlifts under the expert supervision of—wait for it—YouTube—wasn’t risky enough, I decided to use my father’s century-old rusted barbell, which literally swung on one side when I added the dilapidated weighted plates on it. The lack of balance and the inability to grip the barbell strongly was a blunder.
Hence, while working out at home, you must avoid a move as risky as a deadlift. Neither the fitness instructor in the video nor your barbell jugaad will help you when you’re bed-ridden because of a back injury from a carelessly-done deadlift.
2. Never try to deadlift without a proper warm-up
Blame it on my excitement if you will, but I simply did not spend enough time on my warm-up exercises.
Firstly, I ruled out cardio because of the fear of losing more muscle to it; but I also cut short the pre-workout stretching to prepare my body for the workout that was coming.
A short sprint along with thorough full-body stretching before slipping into deadlifts can heat your body and help increase the range of motion, minimising the risk of an injury. And nope, this isn’t something I just assumed. The fact that pre-workout stretching and warm-up can reduce the risk of injuries is also backed by several studies including one published in the journal BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine.
3. Disconnect with your housemates while doing a deadlift
The right way of performing a deadlift is standing with your feet hip-width apart, bending over and grabbing the bar with a shoulder-width grip, bending your knees until your shins touch the bar, lifting your chest up and straightening your lower back, taking a big breath, holding it, and standing up with the weight. Phew! Now, the BMJ-study quoted before also states:
A faulty deadlift-technique is one of the main factors that can lead to a back injury during this exercise.
Needless to say, the right technique requires great precision, technique and concentration, which in my case, was totally ruined by my husband entering my room every 10 seconds to take something out of the drawer and a five-year old running around the house post a sugar rush.
In fact, I felt the first spasm when my house help broke into my room to ask if I wanted to have tea while I was lifting the barbell up. The sudden thrust topped with distraction surely had a part to play in my back injury.
4. Slow and steady actually wins the race
You’ve got to stop letting yourself give in to the gravitational pull that might just want to throw the barbell on the ground when you bend forward to touch it. You’ve also got to remember to keep your motion in control and place the weight on the ground very slowly without any jerk.
5. Listen to your body
Last, but not the least, listening to your body is way more important than listening to your fitness instructor while doing a deadlift. What went terribly wrong in my case was the fact that I continued the exercise and finished the 3 sets of 8 deadlifts each very quickly, in spite of experiencing a slight jerk in my lower back during the first set itself.
Firstly, this hampered my movement in the subsequent sets and secondly, it added to my back pain that reached its peak after the third set. The pain made me restless which is why I shortened the rest period between the sets so that I could get it over with quickly.
However, as per a study conducted in 2014, taking adequate rest between deadlift sets is important for muscle recovery and injury prevention. And discontinuing the exercise immediately after experiencing that first bout of pain is obviously a given.
So, not being able to workout at the gym can be frustrating but it is important to not push yourself too hard. Hope you learned something from my experience!