Training

Why Is My Upper Back Sore From Deadlifts? Normal Or Not?

Updated September 23rd 2022

Read more to find out whether or not having upper back soreness is normal from deadlifts.

It is not uncommon to get upper back soreness from deadlifts.

It is much more common to feel light headed after deadlifts.

However, lifters need to make sure they are lifting with proper form so that they are not excessively hunched over when performing a deadlift, especially if you are deadlifting 4 plates.

Sore upper back from deadlifts

It is not uncommon to have a sore upper back from deadlifts. As long as you maintain good form, one or a combination of the following reasons are why you are feeling upper back soreness:

  • Weak upper back
  • Trap soreness
  • Keeping your shoulders and spine stable
  • You are a newer lifter

Weak Upper Back

You need to add more exercises to target this weakness.

This is a very common area for many lifters to have weaknesses in since a majority of us do sit in front of computers all day with poor posture.

As a result:

  1. Lengthen posterior neck muscles
  2. Weakened and inactivated upper back muscles
  3. Tight and short anterior chest and neck muscles
  4. Potential neck issues

All of these issues stem from poor posture.

Solutions?

  • Strengthen your posterior, upper back muscles
  • Reeducate your body on proper alignment and muscle firing patterns
  • Do perform mobility drills for the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and shoulders

In this article, we will address the first bullet; here are upper back accessories (in no particular order) that you should be doing every time you step foot in the gym—

  1. Face-pulls, all grips
  2. Rear-delt flies
  3. Rows, all variations
  4. Pull-ups, all grips
  5. Pullovers, all grips
  6. Upper back shrugs
  7. Lat pulldowns, all variations
  8. Uni-lateral rows, all variations

Trap soreness

The biggest purpose of your traps during a deadlift is to stabilize your upper back.

Your traps keep your upper back sturdy and able to withstand a heavy deadlift.

A big time deadlifter, Cailer Woolam, emphasized how one of the best exercises he has ever done to get to a 900+lbs deadlift was to work on his traps.

He implemented heavy shrugs into his routine many years ago.

His results speak for themselves.

Though you never want to try to shrug up your deadlift.

Cailer Woolam claimed to have his deadlift strength increase greatly from doing heavy shrugs once a week.

What does the research say?

Lifters do use a moderate to large amount of upper trap activation during the concentric part of the sumo or conventional deadlift.

This means that lifters require a tremendous amount of force from their upper traps during the ascend of the deadlift.

The hardest part of the deadlift for your upper traps is picking it off the floor.

It is not an accident that Cailer Woolam deadlifted 900+lbs after he included his barbell shrugs in his deadlift accessories.

Do not forget about these overhead press accessories as well.

Keeping your shoulders and spine stable

In order to deadlift, the weight hinges on your shoulders.

In order for your shoulders not to be ripped apart from a heavy deadlift, your upper back is working on stabilizing your shoulders.

In addition to keeping your shoulders healthy, your upper back also serves to stabilize your spine and prevent any excessive upper back rounding.

Some lifters may find that they have upper back soreness whether they have good form or not.

This soreness compounds if you also have a sore upper back from squats.

It is always best to maintain a neutral spine while deadlifting.

This ensures that you are placing any unwanted pressure on your spine.

With heavy deadlifts, this can go south very quickly.

For the overhead press, you might get ohp neck pain.

You are a newer lifter

Your quads are sore from deadlifts since your shins might not be perpendicular to the ground.

If you first started to deadlift, you may have full body DOMS for the entire week.

Maybe after every deadlift session.

The deadlift physically challenges you to make improvements to your physique and strength.

As you start to deadlift heavier and heavier, you will notice you may get less sore every session.

This can only happen after you have been sore from previous deadlift workouts.

Though soreness does not directly correlate your strength or size gains, it is one signal that can be revealed when your muscles have been pushed past their limits.

This is one reason why newer gym-goers can eat at maintenance and lift.

How normal is upper back soreness from deadlifts?

It is not uncommon to get upper back soreness from deadlifts.

Many lifters either:

  1. Have underdeveloped upper backs
  2. Have weak upper back strength
  3. A combination of the two above

This full body compound exercise requires a ton of back stabilization.

This isometric contraction is so great that it can leave you sore every workout depending on whether or not your upper back is the weakest link in the chain.

Just be aware that the deadlift is one of the big four movements and that there are muscle groups not addressed by the big 4 lifts.

For the record, having first time lower back pain from deadlifts could be a red flag for you to re-evaluate your form.

I cannot deadlift without upper back rounding?

Can't deadlift without rounding your back?

I have done some research on this topic and found some interesting results.

There were many surveys done on big deadlifters on their opinion about upper back rounding.

While the general consensus is that upper back rounding should be avoided, all-time deadlift record holders have different thoughts.

Big time deadlifters, like Cailer Woolam, Blaine Sumner, John Gaglione, have weighed in on their thoughts about upper back rounding during the deadlift.

Unanimously, they all agreed that upper back rounding will occur during max attempts during deadlifts.

There was no further discussion about that.

There was another great point - that upper back rounding should never be thought to newer lifters.

In fact, all three world-class lifters shared the same opinion that strength athletes need to train with proper form all the time.

This means that you need to keep a neutral spine throughout the lift.

Will there be a time to do upper back rounding during the deadlifts?

Yes, but you are not supposed to “learn” how to do that.

Lifters should always strive to maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire deadlift.

As expected, all three lifters made it clear that this upper back rounding should be minimal, if ever occurring.

Once upper back rounding spread down to the lower back, you are inviting trouble into your life.

This is an absolute no-no in the lifting community and these three powerful lifters also agree as well.

What to do if my upper back is sore during deadlifts?

  1. Get your upper back stronger
  2. Get your upper back bigger
  3. Work on general conditioning

You can work on all three by implementing a circuit-style warmup before your main deadlift workout.

You may also see these as Wenning warmups.

Perform each exercise for 25 reps for 4 cycles with no rest.

The main point of adding these warmups into your routine—

  • Gradually builds volume to address your weaknesses
  • Increase your work capacity
  • Has your body activating the right muscles when performing your main lift

For most lifters, they will be ready for the next deadlift session.

I am assuming you are doing deadlifts every week.

Keep moving and making sure you get enough sleep and food will always ensure that you stay on top of your recovery.

There will always be good and bad soreness.

You usually get this when you do deadlifts and squats only for legs.

Your good soreness might turn into a bad soreness if you are working out on 5 hours of sleep.

Again, most lifters will experience a good kind of soreness in their upper back from deadlifts.

This soreness does not involute acute, sharp pain that feels like needles and pins.

If your symptoms do not improve for a few weeks, it would be wise to see a medical professional.

How to make sure your upper back is neutral during the deadlift?

One cue that some lifers can use is to try to arch their lower back while picking up their chest.

This will ensure that their upper back is in a neutral position from the starting position.

For bigger lifters, their upper backs may appear more flexed than usual due to how wide their upper backs are.

They may look overly flexed even with a small amount of upper back flexion.

There is another powerful cue that many strength coaches have offered us lifters - how you start off is how you will end.

This is a very good strategy to internalize since your starting position is practically your bread and butter of your lift.

If you have a crappy deadlift starting position, you will finish poorly.

Speaking of which, do you take your deadlift breath at the top or bottom— make sure it is consistent with your best technique.

On the other hand, master your deadlift starting position by having a neutral spine, vertical shins, etc, you will find that your deadlift will be a lot of smoother.

Conclusion

Upper back soreness from deadlifts should be nothing out of the ordinary.

So, a 405lbs deadlift should be within reach.

However, it is important to keep track of whether or not you are practicing good form.

Periodically, take workout videos of yourself doing the deadlift and see if you are implementing the optimal technique.

It might not be a bad idea to deadlift barefoot for one or two cycles to increase foot proprioception.

It is very easy to fall into a bad habit if you are not aware of the dire consequences.


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