It actually sounds completely wrong to say, “Why Do I Feel Deadlift in Chest?”
I mean, deadlifts are probably one of the greatest posterior chain exercises ever.
So, if you’re going to “feel” deadlifts anywhere, surely it will be in the muscle groups at the back of the body.
However, I know that I myself have often felt deadlifts in my chest.
So, I’d like to explain why this happens and what you can do to fix this.
Feel Deadlift in Chest
There are a number of reasons why you feel deadlift in your chest. Firstly, you must ensure that your arms are completely straight whenever you deadlift. If you don’t, you’re leaving your shoulders, pecs, and upper back slack, which can cause you to feel the movement more in these muscle groups. You should also be aware of exactly how hard you’re contracting your muscles in order to create full-body tension. Furthermore, having too narrow a grip, shrugging the bar, or having tight pecs can all lead to you feeling deadlifts in your chest.
1. You’re Not Keeping Your Arms Straight
One of the most common deadlift form mistakes is having bent arms.
However, not keeping your arms dead straight is frequently associated with the potential for bicep tears.
This is especially true if you use a mixed grip when you deadlift.
With that being said, having a bend in your arms will also leave the shoulders, chest, and upper back slack.
This means that you’re far more likely to feel deadlifts in any one of these muscle groups.
Furthermore, this may also lead to injury.
Unfortunately, when you deadlift with bent arms, this forces the bar to almost correct itself on the way up, and this places a huge amount of stress on the biceps, shoulders, upper back, and pecs.
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So, you must ensure that your arms are completely straight to avoid chest or bicep pain, or potentially something much worse.
2. You’re Contracting Your Pecs to Create Full-Body Tension
I will say that one of the most important factors when you deadlift is to create full-body tension before you pull the weight.
Basically, you’re going to be lifting a very heavy weight off the floor and this requires “help” from literally every muscle group in your body.
Yes, deadlifts are mainly known to be a glutes and hamstring exercise, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a helluva lot of muscles involved too.
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In fact, there are few greater exercises that work the entire posterior chain.
With that being said, creating full-body tension typically involves contracting just about every muscle in the body.
Your aim is to create a tight, solid, base, and to prepare your body for what is about to come.
However, it’s not unheard-of to strain muscles when we overly contract them.
Then again, muscle groups can even feel as though they have been trained when we excessively squeeze and contract them.
So, this could simply be a case of you squeezing your pecs really hard as you prepare for and complete the deadlift movement.
You probably don’t even realise how hard you’re contracting your pecs, as your mind is totally focused on lifting the weight.
But, this could explain why you feel deadlifts in your chest.
3. Hand Placement Makes a Difference
That’s right, where you have your hands on the bar may impact on chest activation.
In fact, even the way you grip the bar could bring the chest muscles more into play during deadlifts.
When performing conventional deadlifts you’ll want to have your hands placed on the bar just outside your knees.
However, if you’re using too narrow or too wide a grip then you’ll be activating the pecs much more.
A narrow grip will typically see you contracting the chest muscles, as your arm placement is literally pushing your pecs together.
But, with too wide a grip, you’ll bring the lats far more into play during deadlifts, and this will also stimulate the antagonistic muscle group for the lats, namely the pecs.
Yes, I understand that there are deadlift variations which require different hand placements.
However, always stick to the “just outside knees” cue when performing traditional deadlifts.
Something else to consider is the grip you’re using for deadlifts, and this is especially true of the mixed grip.
We would all love to deadlift some serious weight with a double overhand grip.
But, in truth, our grip is the limiting factor when it comes to deadlifting.
So, it’s fairly common to change up your grip or even use straps to ensure that you can deadlift more weight.
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A very popular grip is the mixed grip, or the overhand/underhand grip.
This will typically allow you to lift substantially more weight during deadlifts, but you do need to be very wary of your form.
There is a tendency to slightly twist the body, which means that you are no longer in perfect deadlift symmetry.
It can also mean that you’re not lifting the bar evenly and you’re probably also putting more stress on one side of your body.
So, if ever you feel mixed grip deadlifts in your chest or shoulders, it’s more than likely that you have slightly twisted your body.
4. You’re “Shrugging” the Bar
Okay, I’ve spoken of creating full-body tension when you deadlift.
And often this causes you to really squeeze the pecs prior to pulling the bar.
However, the opposite can also be true.
Basically, when you deadlift you’ll want to fully depress your shoulders and keep them there throughout the movement.
But, if you don’t do this it’s likely that the shoulders and surrounding muscles, e.g. biceps and pecs, will all be slack.
What happens here is that you’ll end up literally “shrugging” with your shoulders during the second half of the lift.
Not only does this place a lot of stress on the shoulders, it will also bring your biceps and pecs into play.
With that being said, it is still possible to feel deadlifts in your chest even if you have fully depressed your shoulders.
If this is the case it’s likely the smaller muscles of the chest and shoulder haven’t yet fully adapted to the heavier weights you’re using during deadlifts.
I would suggest that you practice the deadlift movement, while having your shoulders fully depressed, with an empty bar.
This way you can really work on form, which should remove any issues when it comes to pulling much heavier weights.
5. You Have Tight Pecs
It’s actually quite common to have tight pecs.
This can often be caused by posture issues, especially of the neck, shoulder, and upper back.
In truth, so many of us have poor posture, especially in the modern day and age, and often this goes unnoticed.
However, if you regularly lift weights then you’ll soon get found out.
Generally, posture problems affect the back of the body, frequently causing pain or discomfort in the upper or lower back.
With that being said, it’s not unheard-of to eventually lead to tight pec muscles.
This can actually be made worse (and usually is) by having too much of a focus of push-based training in the gym.
Realistically, you’ll want to be performing pull-based exercises twice as much as push-based, but this rarely happens.
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The simple fact that the bench press is the most popular “bro” lift tells us everything we need to know.
If you do have tight pecs, you also notice this when you are bench pressing, so keep an eye out.
If this is the case then you should be stretching and foam rolling the pec muscles regularly, and even before you lift.
Not only will tight pecs affect your bench press and deadlifts, it can cause issues with a wide variety of lifts that involve stretching the pecs even slightly.
A prime example of this would be holding onto a barbell for the back squat.
So, it’s time to loosen up those pecs.
How to Foam Roll Your Pecs
So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why you feel deadlifts in your chest.
Firstly, this may be due to you deadlifting with bent arms.
Not only are you likely to feel this more in the chest, as well as your shoulders, upper back, and biceps. It’s also extremely dangerous.
You should always deadlift with your arms completely straight.
Additionally, contracting your muscles too hard, having too narrow a grip, or shrugging the bar, can all lead to you feeling the movement in your chest.
Finally, it could be a case that you have tight pecs, which will not only affect your deadlift, but many other exercises too.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.