Training

7 Ways To Avoid Getting A Stiff Neck From Deadlifts!

April 10th 2019

We all know deadlifts are the king of all exercises. What we may not know are all the small intricate details about deadlifting pains beginner lifters may get. In fact, some veteran lifters may still experience these symptoms time and time again. For example, should you have a still neck from deadlifting? Should there be any pain associated with your neck while deadlifting?

Stiff neck after deadlifts

A stiff neck after deadlifts is not a common symptom and is usually associated with bad form and habits. Practicing a great deadlift technique and learning proper deadlift mechanics can significantly drop how often you get stiff necks from deadlifting. Though beginners in strength training usually suffer from this uncommon symptom, some experienced lifters may also experience this condition as well. Here are 7 awesome tips that all lifers can use in order to limit the about of stiff neck tensions they get after deadlifting:

i) Do not tense up your neck

When you deadlift a heavy amount of weight, beginner lifters may be tempted to psyche themselves out. They want to be aggressive and manhandle the weight. In theory, these powerful thoughts and driven emotions are the building blocks for having the desire to get towards a big deadlift PR. Unconsciously, however, you may not realize you are tensing up your neck a little too much.

One way people can get a stiff neck is that they are lifting their chins too high or too low. In either direction, you are engaging more muscles on your neck to hold that position. Under a heavy deadlift load, this can be a recipe for a stiff neck after a couple of reps. But where should you look? There are two main schools of thought:

Keep your head neutral

One school of thought is that you keep your head position neutral during the entire deadlift. So, at the bottom of the lift, you may be looking a couple of feet away from your toes. If someone were to put a ruler on your back, three points would touch the ruler - the back of the head, your mid back and your butt.

Legendary strength coach and founder of Starting Strength Mark Rippetoe does not advocate for a high chin position as he claims that deadlifters who maintain a higher chin position will tend to lean forward.

Keep your chin high

In another school of thought, your head position will either be looking straight ahead or even looking up to the ceiling as your deadlift motion progresses. If you look at multiple world record holders for the deadlift, you will notice that more than a majority of lifters have their chin position relatively high. Now, can you disagree that this chin position is incorrect? At the same time, can you argue with their results of achieving monstrous deadlifts?

Objective analyzing the high chin position, I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with it as long as you are not straining your neck to get to that high chin position. If you can look straight or even look up without straining your neck, why not experiment with what works best for you?

ii) Avoid hyperextension of your back

Another common issue with beginner deadlifters is that they may be flexible enough to get into hyperextension from the starting position in the deadlift. Mobility is great but when it is excessive, it can cause form issues, which is not good for a heavy deadlift.

You want to keep a neutral spine during the deadlift so that when you go to heavier weights, your body remembers and tries to maintain perfect form. A neutral spine is the strongest and most stable position to be in when deadlifting. Each individual vertebrae are aligned and compression forces are distributed away from the discs in between each vertebra. Since your spine runs all the way up to your head, you can cause stress on your neck by hyperextending your back during heavy deadlifts. This can easily be fixed by practicing proper form and to make sure you are doing deadlift with great technique.

iii) Avoid shrugging the weight

If your traps are well-developed and strong, you may have a tendency to shrug up the weight because that is naturally a strong position for you. However, when you are deadlifting near your max, you may actually do more harm than good if you are not aware that your traps are being activated intensely while doing deadlifts.

Leave the shrugging for an accessory exercise and only focus on deadlifting when you are doing deadlifts. It can help avoid any potential neck strains and tweaks that you may develop if a split second.

iv) Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth

Did you know that when you press your tongue on the roof of your mouth, you can relax your neck and jaw? This is a powerful strategy that can help limit the number of neck strains you suffer in the gym.

v) Do not look sideways while deadlifting

This may be an obvious tactic but you would be surprised with how many lifters want to check out their form in the mirror by deadlifting next to the mirror and looking sideways. Not only is this dangerous for your neck and back, but you can also hurt someone else in the gym if you are not careful.

If you are worried about your form, take a video with your cellphone or camera. There is plenty of storage space on your device that you do not need to risk for neck safety in order to check yourself out.

vi) Neck stretches and massages

Over time with lifting, muscles will get tense and be limited in mobility. One way to prevent future stiff neck issues during deadlifts is to stretch your neck often. In today’s times, we live in a world of computers and cellphones. Forward head posture and tight necks are very common in all generations. Therefore, it is vital for you to stretch your neck so that you do not suffer from any crippling neck stiffness or soreness. Practice tucking your chin backward and stretching your traps.

Massages are also good in that they help your muscles relax and have more blood flow to the area. Myofascial releases are another great way to break up any scar tissues or adhesions in your muscle cells so that they can resume normal flexibility, strength, and mobility.

vii) Do not have a deadlift face

Do you make a tensed face when deadlifting? If so, you may be contributing to having more neck muscles involved during the deadlift than you initially wanted. Have a neutral facial expression and follow the steps in bullet i.

Should I deadlift with a stiff neck?

If your stiff neck causes you any limitations, discomfort or pain, it would be best to skip the deadlift and to rest until your symptoms improve. The last thing we want is to have a paralyzing injury because you were too eager to start deadlifting when your body was showing you signs to not deadlift.

For some people, an awkward night of sleeping will cause them to develop a stiff neck. However, over the course of the day, their neck symptoms improve and they have regained their neck mobility again. If this is the case, deadlifting should be fine as there is no real issue with your neck.

If you have chronic neck stiffness or your neck has been stiff for days, it may be better to wait and see if your symptoms improve. Skip the deadlifts and do other exercises that would not improve any excessive pressure on your neck. Always consult with a medical professional to confirm there is no structural or internal damage to your neck.

What are some good neck stretches for deadlifts?

There are many great exercises to warmup your neck before your deadlifts. In no particular order, here is a list of neck warmups and drills I use quite frequently:

1. Neck circles

Slowly rotate your neck in a full circle clockwise. Notice all the small cracks and snaps when you do this exercise. Do not be afraid. Slowly, go through the entire circle a couple of times. If you notice a particular part that is more difficult to glide through, be sure to give extra attention to that area. Once you have done a couple of circles clockwise, do the same anti-clockwise.

2. Head tilts

Tilt your head left and try to touch your left ear onto your left shoulder. Hold that position and feel your right traps being stretched. For a more aggressive exercise, hold onto a bench with your right hand. Using your left hand, pull your head down until you feel a moderate stretch on your right neck. Hold this for a few seconds and repeat it while tilting your head to the right.

3. Neck rotations

Look upward as high as you can and hold that position for a few seconds. Then, look to the right as far as you can turn your neck and hold that position. Look downward as low as you can bend your neck and hold that position. Finally, look left as much as you can and hold that position. For each position, hold it for about 10-15 seconds. Once you completed all four positions, that is considered one rep. Do this 1-10 times, as needed to relieve tension in your neck.

4. Neck retraction

For many lifters who have a forward head posture, this exercise is a must-do for you. While relaxing your neck and head, tuck your neck and chin backward. As you do this movement, your ears should at least reach alignment with your shoulders. If you have more flexibility and strength, you can retract your neck even further past your shoulder alignment. Do this for 1-2 sets of 10-12 reps.

Conclusion

A stiff neck from deadlifting is nothing to be ashamed of. It can happen to even some of the most experienced lifters. What you should do is evaluate your symptoms and to make sure you are practicing a proper deadlift form.

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