It’s a pretty common complaint in the gym; sore muscles, stiff tendons and general discomfort due to an intense bout of exercise.
Whether it be immediately following a set of heavy deadlift repetitions or post-workout soreness the day after your loading phase workout, soreness is simply a fact of participating in resistance training.
While being sore is not usually indicative of any injury or condition (so long as it is actually soreness and not pain), many lifters may wish to avoid the discomfort altogether.
Fortunately it is possible for you to reduce the incidence of soreness after performing the deadlift, as well as to identify whether it is general muscular soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness - both of which are caused by different types of stimuli altogether.
Soreness after intense resistance exercise is usually caused by microscopic tears along the soft tissues of the affected area - a natural and entirely expected effect of placing resistance on the muscles of the body.
In time, these tears are repaired denser and stronger than they were before in a process known as hypertrophy, or what is otherwise known as gaining muscle mass.
Certain types of training stimulus or movement patterns are more conducive to causing soreness than others, with heavy free weight dynamic movements being the most likely to result in soreness, as well as loaded movement patterns that your body is as of yet unfamiliar with.
Particularly, the lower back is taxed in an isometric and eccentric manner during each deadlift repetition, causing it to become damaged in a non-injurious manner that may result in minor inflammation or swelling as the body initiates the muscular hypertrophy process.
A very important point of distinction to make is whether your discomfort is actually simple muscular soreness, or the far more concerning sharp-pain that comes with physiological injury.
Soreness is entirely normal and expected when performing movements like the deadlift, and outside of the relative discomfort it may cause, there is little danger associated therein - unlike if it is pain on account of an injury.
Generally, most individuals will immediately be able to tell whether they are sore or experiencing pain as a result of a muscular injury, as soreness is often described as a mild “burn” or “dull”, whereas the pain of an injury can often be sharp and accompanied by several other symptoms.
If you are experiencing pain alongside symptoms like reduced range of motion, tingling, changes in physiological function of surrounding areas or discoloration of the afflicted area - then it is likely an injury, and proper steps must be taken.
Keep in mind that while injuries are a cause for concern, their severity may vary and relatively minor injuries are not something to worry too much over. Proper rest and recovery procedures are often more than enough to cure soft tissue injuries of the lower back.
If you indeed suspect that your lower back (or any other area) has sustained an injury, it is important to cease any physical activity involving the injured area - and to then assess the severity of your injury, preferably with the aid of a medical professional.
While the majority of soft tissue injuries caused by resistance training are relatively minor, they can worsen or cause other areas to also become injured if left untreated for extended lengths of time.
Furthermore, the help of a medical professional will not only speed the recovery of your injured tissues, but also ensure that the full physiological capacity of said area is retained throughout the rehabilitation process.
Every type of injury requires different forms of rehabilitation, and without the help of a trained physician, it is possible that you may make your injury worse by attempting to rehabilitate it yourself.
In the meantime prior to visiting your physician, placing ice on the injured area, reducing your time spent standing upright and generally ensuring that the injured tissues are supported will help in achieving a full recovery.
Though soreness of the lower back is relatively common, it is also caused by several different factors related to your training methodology - often with one or several of these factors influencing the severity and location of the soreness itself.
Because of the intensity and weight of a conventional deadlift set, many individuals will perform the exercise in the lower ranges of repetition volume - usually between three and eight repetitions per set - resulting in little soreness on account of reasonable training volume.
However, for specialized athletes or individuals following a particularly rigorous training program, performing deadlift sets for high repetitions is actually common practice, often resulting in soreness of the lower back as it is taxed quite significantly by the constant time under tension.
The severity of this soreness is usually mild, and will often be negligible or entirely absent in more conditioned weightlifters.
In anatomy, dynamic movements are separated into two phases depending on the state of the muscles behind said movement.
These are the concentric or “shortening” phase and the eccentric or “elongating” phase, with the term isometric referring to a contraction of the muscles in a manner that does not lengthen or shorten them whatsoever.
Among these three forms of contraction, the eccentric or elongating phase is the most likely to cause small tears to appear in the skeletal musculature, especially when the muscle is under load such as is the case with a repetition of the deadlift.
This greater incidence of microscopic tearing in the muscle will result in more soreness than with other forms of contraction, meaning that if one were to perform an extended eccentric phase of the deadlift with each repetition, they would effectively become more sore.
Fortunately, this is not a negative effect whatsoever, and it is actually advisable that the lifter do so, as this greater amount of muscular tearing will result in far better development and the lifter more rapidly reaching their training goals.
Perhaps the most common cause of muscular soreness in the lower back is being new to resistance training in general.
An individual whose body is relatively unadapted to the stresses of the deadlift - or a lifter who is returning after an extended period away from training - will have a greater physiological response to the small tears that come as a result of said resistance training.
This means that newbie lifters or athletes making a comeback will almost always experience some level of soreness the day after their training session - a phenomenon known as “DOMS”, or delayed onset muscle soreness.
This kind of soreness is the most frequently encountered and complained about, and is usually moderate in intensity. In time, as the lifter’s physiology adapts to the rigors of resistance training, the soreness will reduce in intensity or entirely stop occurring outside of certain situations.
Considering the fact that soreness (for the most part) is simply the body’s response to the tiny amounts of tearing that skeletal muscle tissue can sustain from weight training, it is no surprise that compounding these tears can result in greater soreness.
This is often the case for individuals who do not give their muscles enough time to recover between training sessions, or for individuals with poor recovery methodologies like insufficient protein intake or very high levels of intensity for numerous workouts in a row.
Not only will this error in training programming result in soreness, but it can also cause their progress to stall or otherwise slow down due to the body being unable to keep up with the frequency of the training.
Apart from the elite levels of resistance training, it is best to give the body one to two days of rest between workouts targeting the same areas, as this is the approximate length of time needed for the tiny damage sustained during training to be repaired.
Finally, there is the case of the lower back being recruited at too great a level of resistance due to improper deadlift mechanics.
Rounding of the lower back or collapsing of the chest will both lead to undue stress being placed on the muscles of the erector spinae and lower back, resulting in not only a greater risk of soreness but also injury in more severe cases.
Furthermore, pulling the barbell from the ground at too great a distance from the body, as well as performing a hyperextension of the lower back at the apex of the lift can both result in greater pressure being placed on the lumbar and thoracic portions of the spinal column, as well as result in disadvantageous positioning of the muscles nearby.
Each of these form issues - as well as several more technical ones - will result in the structures of the back being overloaded in disadvantageous positions, resulting in greater damage and therefore greater soreness.
One of the most effective ways of reducing soreness after it has already occurred is to perform stretches dynamically targeting the area affected so as to release tension and fluid build-up therein.
Stretching and releasing sore muscles can aid in the reduction of soreness intensity, as well as aid in speeding the recovery process by promoting blood flow to the area and otherwise allowing the skeletal muscles to relax more readily.
For the lower back, these are stretches like the Yogic child’s pose, the back flexion stretch, the kneeling lunge stretch and the cat stretch.
Furthermore, certain mechanical means of stimulating the area such as the usage of a foam roller or massage therapy can also achieve much the same effects.
For lifters whose soreness is caused by improper deadlift form adherence, correcting their deadlift execution is the surest way to reduce any soreness experienced - as well as an absolutely vital step in ensuring that they do not injure themselves in the future.
Depending on what sort of errors the lifter is making during the deadlift, this can range from simply adjusting their starting position before the lift, to actively re-learning the entire movement pattern of the exercise itself.
If unsure of how to go about correcting your deadlift form, it is best to seek out the advice of an athletic coach.
As was mentioned in the previous section of the article, lifters who perform the deadlift for high amounts of repetition volume or those who train at an extreme level of intensity for multiple workout sessions will both experience soreness and poor recovery in general.
To correct this, the lifter must alter their training program in such a manner that their body is not overtrained, and is given sufficient enough time to recover between workout sessions.
Generally, programming one to two days of recovery between workouts targeting the same area is considered sufficient, especially if the lifter is performing high volume sets of the deadlift.
Furthermore, programming a lower intensity workout within the week - or even a lower intensity week itself - is also required, as consistently performing very high intensity workouts will cause fatigue to accumulate and the body to eventually fail at fully recovering the muscles.
In addition to these changes, lifters suffering from these two programming errors may wish to reduce the total volume of their workout, or to at least ensure that the intensity of each set is reduced in a method known as back-off sets.
For lifters whose lower back is sore because of their body being unadapted to training, a good method of reducing the incidence of DOMS is to simply train more often.
Keeping the body adapted to the rigors of resistance training is often sufficient enough to prevent the occurrence of delayed onset muscle soreness, and said soreness will generally not return unless another extended period of inactivity takes place.
Certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are quite effective at reducing muscular soreness, the majority of which are readily available over the counter at any pharmacy.
Keep in mind that these medications are not suitable for everyone or for use in just any situation, and it is best to follow the advice of a medical professional prior to using them.
The ever-popular acronym of RICE refers to the methodology of rest, ice, compression and elevation - four methods that are known to reduce soreness alongside a host of other symptoms associated with soft tissue damage.
Considering the fact that soreness of the lower back is simply very low-level soft tissue damage, these principles apply much the same way.
Allowing the lower back to recover by taking a recovery day, reducing inflammation and swelling by applying ice and providing support for the muscles through compression are all effective methods of reducing soreness after performing a deadlift set.
Outside of delayed-onset muscle soreness, deadlifts should not leave you feeling too sore anywhere in the body.
After particularly intense workouts or a powerlifting meet however, it is entirely normal to feel soreness in the posterior chain - meaning the muscles of the hamstrings, glutes, and even the lower back in certain cases.
Ordinary muscular soreness can last up to a week or two after it begins, whereas delayed-onset muscle soreness can last for several days, depending on the severity and your recovery methods.
If you wish to speed up the process and reduce the length of time in which you are sore, follow proper recovery methods and ensure you are giving your body everything it needs to heal as rapidly as possible.
Remember that deadlift muscle soreness is not the same as pain from an injury, and the latter will take a far longer time to recover from, depending on the severity of the injury and the rehabilitation methods employed.
The deadlift is highly taxing not only on the skeletal muscles of the body, but also to the central nervous system and connective tissues as well.
Unlike skeletal muscles which recover relatively quickly, the central nervous system or CNS can take some time to fully adapt to the rigors of training - meaning that, for novice or intermediate lifters, recovery is often slow after intense deadlift sets.
Furthermore, connective tissues do not heal as rapidly as muscles as well, and will occasionally be the cause of nagging soreness and stiffness due to inflammation during their recovery process.
Checked all the boxes and still getting a sore lower back after deadlifting? Try re-assessing your form, or consulting with a coach.
Soreness is an entirely normal phenomenon for lifters, and is not something that should put you off training - remember to follow proper recovery procedures, and it should go away quickly enough.
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