Finding a decent fitness magazine is difficult these days. Right now, I feel like a consistenly good one just flat out doesn't exist. My further proof comes in the form of the October, 2007 issue of Men's Fitness. One Jason Ferruggia commented that he believes that the weighted deadlift is the kick of back-buiding exercises and suggested that if there was only time for one back exercise, this should be the one.
Even as an admitted non-expert, I seriously disagree with that notion. In fact, I think that the weighted deadlift might be the dumbest and the worst back exercise there is. The deadlift works pretty much every back muscle granted but the ones that count the most are the spinal erector muscles. These cable-like muscles are responsible for keeping your lower back alligned properly. They can be injured, along with your lower back, by either lifting with an arched back or by lifting a heavy object too far away from the chest. Both are possible to do with incorrect form with the deadlift. I'll admit that any exercise can cause injury with poor form but I think that the weighted deadlift crosses the line because it's simply too easy to let the proper form slip and the subsequent pain can be absolutely crippling. If you go to any package shipping warehouse, you'll find posters there telling you NOT to lift a box in deadlift-manner.
The problems with the weighted deadlift don't end there. The spinal erector muscles as well as the other muscles that support the spine are composed mainly of slow twitch fibers. Just for a quick refresher, slow twitch fibers are muscles that are designed for moderate-difficulty, long lasting exhertion. Much of the spine muscles are slow twitch because they are constantly contracted in order to maintain alignment. It isn't an intense contraction but it has to last all day. Weighted exercises offer more intensity and are geared towords conditioning fast twitch fiber. So, why on earth would you train with an exercise that isn't even geared towords the muscle that you're working?
To top it all off, the weighted deadlift carries the same problem that all other weighted exercises do. The extra weight that the body has to carry when weight lifting puts pressure on the cartiliage of the spine. This constant pressure can ruin the cartilage over time, especially if the trainee is overzealous with the amount of weight. The weighted deadlift puts the spine's cushioning structure under direct fire every time the weight is lifted.
What is so surprising is that Mr Ferruggia named what I believe to be the ultimate back-builder in the article but didn't place the crown upon it: the chin-up. The muscles of the back are all worked by this exercise plus the spine is protected because there is no weight placed up on it when working the muscles. The bridge, in all its forms, is also excellent for building up the back, particularly due to it's engagement of the spine's slow-twitching support muscles. These two exercises have helped me to eradicate back pain and build a big, powerful, and functional back.