Your Bad Technique Isn’t Why You’re Injured

Any popular fitness YouTuber could release a video today stating that rounding your back is the reason you have low back pain, the reason you got injured in the gym, the reason you can’t get a text back, the reason you got fired from your job…you get the point.

That video would receive nothing but positive attention. Thousands of likes, comments of approval, keyboard warriors stating if you ever round your back on deadlifts you may as well sign the bill for the emergency room now, and on and on…

That video would also be wrong…

Despite what has always been branded as the leading cause of injury in the gym (your form), technique as a whole lacks a solid evidence base to be viewed as pivotally as it is when it comes to the topic of injury.

In fact, even defining in the first place what is and is not “proper technique” get’s problematic the more you begin to think about it.

There are definitely reasons to care about technique, and there are certainly variables to consider when it comes to injury risk. However, I’m here to try to convince you to step outside the box and challenge the preconceived notion that there is a “correct” way to move as a human being and that your “bad technique” is the sole reason you are injured.

1. Why We SHOULD Care About Technique:

Don’t get the wrong idea that this article is implying we should throw away technique altogether.

Technique is important in teaching consistent and repeatable efforts to new lifters, improving our overall lifting efficiency, and in striving to be able to lift the most amount of weight physically possible. There ARE a lot of fantastic reasons to care about “good technique“.

However, claiming “bad technique” is the whole reason behind why a lifter got hurt, and/or only ever addressing the topic of injury from this standpoint is at this point in time archaic.

2. Technique Does Not Influence Injury Risk:

We have no solid evidence to suggest that technique influences injury risk.

We have no solid evidence to suggest that technique influences injury risk.

Everything you’ve heard to date about “round back deadlifts are bad“, “lift this way and you’ll get hurt“, “move this way and you’ll tear a muscle“. It’s all word of mouth. Simple statements that have been repeated and over and over so many times that they are just accepted as truth by the general public.

If you were to go searching for an evidence base behind these statements, or to ask your favorite fitness influence to defend their stance with research…things start to fall apart. Turns out there isn’t much evidence to fall back on this stuff for after all, despite this being well know “universal truth“. Still I get it, visually looking at a round back deadlift does indeed “look painful“. However, that “visual evidence” is not exactly sound science.

It’s also important to note, and I could not go without saying, that we don’t have conclusive evidence that technique does not impact injury risk either. (And likely never will as research to prove this would probably involve hurting the participants…that’s a big research “no no”…)

However, when it comes to making a claim, especially something as important as “why you are getting injured“, the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim, not the individual refuting it. So, when a fitness influencer states “your back is injured because your form sucked” it’s perfectly acceptable to require of them that they provide some evidence that this statement is true. They will not be able to do so.

3. Focus on LOAD Management Over Technique:

If load is properly controlled, technique becomes irrelevant.

I fully understand that you may not be sold on this idea yet (you may reach the end of this article and still disagree and that’s fine). Here’s how I like to best explain that technique in and of itself is not a huge variable in injury risk.

If I were bend over to pick up a pencil, using zero athletic form whatsoever (just full on cat back pencil deadlift), no one is going to bat an eye.

Now…if I go over to a barbell with any amount of weight loaded on it (could just be the silly 10lb bumper plates) I’m almost immediately going to be accosted by some random gym-goer about the imminent danger I’m in, the death wish I just signed, and interrogated on if I care about my vertebrae or not.

What variable changed? The load.

The movement pattern itself was not the issue. No one’s going to care for my safety if I simply bend over with a rounded back. I could do round back deadlift after deadlift to pick up a pencil with no problem. The load in this case changed my injury risk. If I’ve never trained to lift under a heavy load with a rounded back then that CAN be a factor leading to injury.

Load management CAN impact your injury risk. Try to take on too much load all at once, try to ramp up the load you are using week to week too quickly, or simply consistently use a load that your body is not able to properly recover from between sessions, and you WILL be impacting your injury risk.

Now, this isn’t suggesting that if you want to stay injury free you can’t train heavy. You sure can. Rather you have to train smart. If you are gradually increasing your exposure to heavier and heavier loads over time, you’ll have no problems smashing some gym PRs all while staying healthy.

At the end of the day though, load will not be the be all end of all of injury either. There are a variety of other factors to be considered (stress/fatigue/sleep/psychology/nutrition to name a few). However, this is the first spot I’d rather individuals start to shift their attention to in terms of injury rather than form. Focus on form to improve your skill and performance, focus on load to manage overall injury risk.

5. Injury Is More Complex Than Just “It Was Bad Technique“: 

The main lesson here aside from “just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s true” is that pain and injury are much more complex than a singular variable and always will be.

Multiple variables should always be consider in the case of injury. What was the training load involved? What training load has typically been used in previous sessions? Was this a new movement? What’s their experience level? How’s the athlete’s stress level been? How’s the athlete’s overall fatigue? Their sleep? Their nutrition? Their own perception of pain and injury?

Trying to narrow down why an athlete got injured to one sole reason is not only near impossible, but it’s borderline negligent treatment of the athlete in question. Despite this we will see this type of response from professionals in the field such as athletic trainers and even doctorate level professionals such as physical therapists. Thankfully, information on this subject is improving and making it’s way into higher level education, but the process is always slow.

6. Why This is Such Good News:

When we move away from this idea that there is a “correct” way to move, or there are certain movement patterns that are inherently more “injurious”, we are not only freeing ourselves in terms of fear of movement, but also in terms of our own potential.

Not only does this lift a burden off your back. Influencers will no longer be able to control you with fearmongering and scare tactics. When you understand this is no “wrong” way to move you open yourself up to the limitless possibilities of human performance.

 

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.