The deadlift is one of the most effect exercises in resistance training, yet it can be one of the most difficult to learn and also one of the exercises which causes the most muscular soreness. In this article we will look at why you might be experiencing muscle soreness, ways you can help recovery from the soreness created from a deadlift session and how to prevent it in the future.
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There is a very important distinction between muscle soreness, formally known as delayed onset muscular soreness or DOM’s, in the muscles of the lower back and pain from an injury in the lower pack. This article is to discuss only soreness related to DOM’s that can be caused by deadlift and not anything related to injury of the spine or lower back muscle. Any issues regarding lower back pain from injuries should be discussed with a qualified physiotherapist.
There is currently a great deal of debate if lifting with a neutral spine (flat back) is actually beneficial for mitigating injuries. Some current literature has found no relationship between lifting with a rounded back and increased likelihood of injury. Personally, I could see this being true when it comes to injury, though I am not fully convinced. However when it comes to DOM’s from lifting with a rounded back, I can say that anytime I have had muscular soreness in my lower back after deadlifting it has been because of high volume deadlifting with a rounded back. Keeping a flat back and lifting with a braced spine will enable you to prevent having unwanted DOM’s in the lower back muscles.
Volume is the amount of repetitions you perform through sets and repetitions. Think of it as the total amount of work you perform on a specific movement pattern. When we perform extremely high volumes of an exercise, much more so than we have the habit of doing, it can create a huge amount of soreness compared to our other sessions. This is also the case any time you start a new movement. If you typically perform three sets of five reps on a deadlift, then move to six sets of twelve repetitions, you could easily see a large amount of muscular soreness. The same can be said for the first time you perform and exercise, if you have never performed an exercise before it will stress the body a great deal, causing soreness.
Intensity refers to the amount of weight lifted or load lifted on an exercise. It is very intuitive that lifting a heavier weight than normal is much more likely to cause soreness than repeatedly lifting the same weight over again will. Again, if it is the first time you are performing an exercise, then it will certainly be the heaviest you have lifted in this exercise making it easy to create a lot of soreness.
As discussed above, lifting with a neutral lower back can help prevent soreness in the muscles in the muscles of the lower back. This is not the case if there has been dramatic increases in the volume and intensity, even with perfect technique you will not be able to avoid the soreness. However with progressive loading in both volume and intensity mixed with excellent technique, we should be able to only feel small amounts of fatigue post deadlifting sessions. It is by no means normal to not be able to move correctly the day after a deadlift session.
If you are reading this article because you currently have bad DOM’s and are looking to learn about this, then you will also likely be interested in how to recover from these DOM’s. Muscle soreness is caused by the tearing of muscle fibres from the resistance training. So what can we do to facilitate the recovery of these muscle fibres.
The soreness will usually go away from between 48-72 hours, is some very bad cases it can last a little longer. You will just need to be patient and focus on your recovery for a couple of days.
Putting emphasis on your sleep will be crucial, sleep is when the recovery process will occur, so make sure you are getting your eight hours or more, keeping caffeine intake post midday to a minimum and having good levels of sleep hygiene.
Having enough protein intake will also be important for your recovery as protein is the nutrient that will be used to fuel muscle protein synthesis that will allow the muscles to recover. So just make sure you’re getting plenty of protein sources throughout your day.
There is no evidence that performing light movements actually speeds up recovery time, but whenever I have overdone it or my clients have a lot of soreness, i always suggest performing some form of light movement like walking or cycling or yoga. This is more just for the feeling tone of the movement rather than a physiological effect.
If you are just learning the deadlift and are getting a lot of back pain from the movement, you need to make sure you’re not using too much weight and too much volume. When you start out on a new exercise the emphasis should be on learning the technique through using weights that you consider light and repetition ranges that are not too challenging. So many people strive for intensity early on when they havn’t even reached the basics of technical proficiency.
Appropriate training is simply the successful manipulation of load and intensity to create adaptation without causing large amounts of muscular soreness. This will mean progressively overloading the deadlift in such a manor that your performance will increase sustainable over time without the discomfort of the soreness. Appropriate training will involve small increases of load and volume over long periods of time, with reductions every once in a while to prevent progressions being too fast.
The deadlift is one of the best movement available to us in resistance training. However many beginners may fit it technically very challenging, or even the barbell itself too heavy a starting point. Learning to hinge successfully can take a great deal of time, with my personally training clients I will always start with much simpler hinge variations than the barbell deadlift to both build technique and a base layer of strength. Here is an example of a simple exercises you can use prior to learning the barbell deadlift. If you interested we have a library of hinge movements that you can look through to design your own training sessions.
Ensuring your technique is excellent can help prevent soreness in the future. If you are new to deadlifting you way want to perform some sessions with strength and conditioning coach to ensure your technique is good. If this isn’t an option, try videoing yourself and checking it against the deadlift video above.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.