What Should You Do If You Can’t Squat Or Deadlift Anymore?

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August 1, 2023 0 Comments

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In this article I will be answering the question “what should you do if you can’t squat or deadlift anymore?”. Squats and deadlifts are the biggest compound exercises that you can do in the gym.

They will help you build lots of strength and muscle mass. Therefore, not being able to do these exercises will hinder you from achieving maximal gains in size and strength.

However, it is not the end of the world if you can’t squat or deadlift anymore. This article will help to show you what you can do if you are in this situation.

What Should You Do If You Can’t Squat Or Deadlift Anymore?

First of all don’t panic! There will likely be squatting and deadlifting variations that you can still do. You may not be able to barbell back squat anymore, but front squats and hack squats could feel fine.

Similarly you may be able to perform romanian deadlifts with lighter weights and back extensions instead of heavy deadlifts. In this way you can still engage the lower body muscle mass that gets targeted on the squat and deadlift.

If an injury is holding you back you may be able to overcome it and get back to squatting and deadlifting. You would need to consult a sports medicine doctor and a physical therapist.

Isolation exercises will also help to work the muscles of the lower body, these are not as good as compound exercises but will help build muscle. Yoga is also another beneficial activity that you should consider to improve overall mobility and flexibility. 
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Consult A Healthcare Professional

If you experience an injury from squatting or deadlifting or any other injury that prevents you from performing these movements, you should consult a healthcare professional.

It depends on the severity of the injury, but if it is severe it is a good idea to get it checked out. Go to a sports doctor and get the injury scanned. Often it will be lower back injuries that prevent people from squatting and deadlifting.

The lower back is pivotal in both these movements. If you have a bad lower back then you will never be able to deadlift super heavy safely. The movement will just end up further irritating your lower back and causing more problems.

The same is true of the back squat. A bad lower back injury can prevent you from back squatting as it will cause too much pain. It is important to identify what the exact injury is and go about rehabbing it as best as possible.

If you brush more serious injuries under the carpet and try to deal with them yourself, you will likely cause more dysfunction down the road and end up with even worse injuries down the line.

Modify Your Technique

If you have an injury that prevents you from squatting and deadlifting in the manner that you were before, you may be able to continue these exercises by modifying your technique.

For instance, you may have been squatting with a narrow stance before. After an injury, changing to a wider stance may help to allow you to carry on doing the exercise.

Likewise with the deadlift. Switching to a sumo deadlift may help to get you into a more upright pulling position and reduce some stress on the lower back. This way you could still be able to deadlift, albeit not being able to do the conventional deadlift anymore.

Explore Alternative Exercises

Fortunately there are so many exercises that you can choose from. Unless you compete in powerlifting you don’t have to squat or deadlift.

Many top bodybuilders don’t do back squats or heavy conventional deadlifts, yet they have still managed to build impressive physiques.

When it comes to leg training there are various compound exercises like the hack squat, leg press, front squat, pendulum squat and bulgarian split squat that you can try. 

It is likely that you will still be able to do a few of those exercises without any pain. Instead of heavy deadlifts you may still be able to do romanian deadlifts with lighter weights.

You can also use the back extension and reverse hyper to strengthen your posterior chain. Hamstring curls and leg extensions are two great isolation exercises that will work a lot of muscle in your legs. 

So you shouldn’t despair. Yes it is true that after a serious injury you will likely not be able to have the same pulling power that you once did on the deadlift. You also won’t be able to back squat very heavy like before.

But you can still get stronger on other compound and isolation exercises and build a great physique. You just have to switch gears and make the best of your situation.

Previously I have discussed whether back extensions are worth doing.

My Story Regarding Injury

I thought I would share my own story regarding an injury as it fits in well to the topic. Many years ago I injured my lower back pulling a heavy 200kg deadlift on the 2nd or 3rd rep.

I have previously deadlifted 225kg before in the past, but on this day my glutes were sore coming into the workout and I decided to pull heavy regardless. I had been deadlifting heavy every week for many months in a row.

In the end this caught up to me and led to the injury. Since then I am not able to deadlift heavy or back squat at all. The deadlift was my favourite exercise so this was very disappointing.

However, I adapted and picked other exercises that worked similar muscles that I can do safely. Nowadays I use the leg press as my main power exercise for legs. 

The bulgarian split squat is my secondary leg exercise that I use to work the glutes and hamstrings. I position myself further away from the box to target my glutes more.

Instead of deadlifting I do 45 degree back extensions and reverse hypers. I find that if I go too heavy on back extensions I can irritate my back. So I use the back extension for higher reps and the reverse hyper for heavier loads.

I also do plenty of heavy rows and inverted rows to ensure that my back is well muscled, thick and as strong as it can be. 

Elliot Hulse’s Take On This Topic

Elliot Hulse is well respected in the fitness community and is known for his love of lifting and strongman. His take on this topic is refreshing and also very pertanent.

What he says is that the strongest version of yourself isn’t always how physically strong you can be. Life is all about pivoting and doing the best you can in the situation you find yourself in.

This is why comparison is the thief of joy. You have to just compete with yourself and do the best that you can with your current capabilities.

Elliot also says that he would advise people who are in this situation to do yoga regularly. Yoga will help to make your body more flexible and help to keep it healthier.

By regularly practicing yoga you will find that your body becomes more supple and limber. 

Final Thoughts

What should you do if you can’t squat or deadlift anymore? You shouldn’t panic, it sucks if you have a real love for squatting or deadlifting.

However, you can get around this by diagnosing and rehabbing the injury as best you can. You can modify your technique and explore alternative exercises.

You can also pivot and create a new version and identity for yourself. Life is always about pivoting and making the best you can of given circumstances.

If you have any comments on this topic please leave them below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!

>> Are Long Term Injuries Inevitable?

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