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Q&A: Back Soreness After Deadlifts

August 17, 2011 Category: Coaching, Lifting Technique, Powerlifting Tags: , .

Q: I get lower back soreness after I deadlift, especially with lower reps and heavier weight. I’m pretty sure my form is good but I also want to make sure I’m not injuring my back. Thanks for your help!

A: This is a great question and one that I literally get weekly, so I figured I’d devote an entire blog post to it.

The first questions we have to answer are:

“What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve by deadlifting?”

The goal when deadlifting is to keep the back flat, or in its neutral alignment. For my fat loss clients, I really don’t want them rounding their back whatsoever – after all, what’s the point?

After all, I don’t think an extra 10 pounds on their deadlift is going to expedite their fat loss goals all that much!

Now, when we’re talking about true strength-focused programs, that’s a different can of worms. Any time you start to push the limits of your strength, even if your goal is to maintain perfect technique when the weight gets heavy, things will get a little more fuzzy.

People often get sore in their lower back when they’re using too much lower back when they deadlift. Instead of getting their hips down, their back flat, and using their legs to generate the power, they get a lot of strength from their lower back. This repeated lumbar (low back) flexion and extension is the reason their lower back gets so sore.

Now keep in mind, too, that simply arching hard can cause a lot of soreness in the lower back. For example I know when I used to arch really hard when bench pressing my back was more sore after a heavy bench workout than a heavy deadlift workout!

Just because your back is sore doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong, but it could mean you’re doing it wrong.

Nothing like being vague, right? :)

I would suggest one of two things:

  1. Ask a qualified coach to watch your technique and give you feedback.
  2. Videotape your lifts yourself and then watch in between sets.

Again, if your goal is to move heavy weights and get stronger, you will probably lose your arch very slightly somewhere during the lift – this is normal.

Stuart McGill has often cited that powerlifters may flex more than most in an effort to move maximal loads, but they know and understand intuitively to stay out of the last 2-3 degrees of lumbar flexion, where their chance for low back/disc injury goes up significantly.

I know this was a bit drawn out, but I hope it answers your question.

Good luck and good training!

Stay strong

MR

P.S. – If you want/need more information on deadlifting, be sure to check out my Deadlift blog post – it’s pretty all-encompassing in this regard!

(Lead Photo Courtesy of Ramsey Everyday)

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  • Gabe

    “For example I know when I used to arch really hard when bench pressing my back was more sore after a heavy bench workout than a heavy deadlift workout!”

    Word. I deadlifted yesterday and the only thing that is sore is my hams, glutes, and upper back.

  • Jeff

    Mike,

    I always enjoy all the info and questions you answer. You have helped my out tremendously with all of your knowledge. I do have a question about my forearm. I am having pain with one forearm on the top side, when I do pullups with a pronated or supinated grip. I don’t typically use a supinated grip at all, but I just tried it and it hurts as well. I can do pullups with a neutral grip with no pain, but as I start adding more weight to my pullups, even the neutral grip will start to hurt some. I use the stick on my forearms daily and do the stretching for them as well. I have been using Blue Heat to try and warm things up a bit, but I’m still wondering what else should I do to help eliminate the pain. I do at the minimum a 2:1 in favor of pulling versus pushing exercises as I had shoulder issues in the past, which have improved 100%.

    thanks for any help!

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Good post. I usually get a little back pain from dead lifting. I’m going to try your tip of video taping myself. Thanks for the great tip. Keep it up.
    Conor