Lats on Fire After Deadlifts? Don’t Panic! Here’s What You Need to Know

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Your lats should not be sore after deadlifts, but there are a few reasons this may occur. Firstly, it’s important to realise that the lats work isometrically to ensure that the bar stays close to your legs. Plus, if your arms aren’t fully extended during the deadlift, so even the slightest bend in the elbow, you’ll activate the lats to a far greater degree.

The Lats Work Isometrically During Deadlifts

You’ll typically hear a lot of conflicting information about muscle soreness.

And this is especially true when it comes to deadlifts.

Many will say that soreness only occurs from eccentric contraction of a movement.

And of course, there should be no eccentric contraction of the lats during deadlifts, so you shouldn’t feel sore there.

Then again, some may say that deadlifts are a full-body exercise and you can expect to feel sore pretty much everywhere.

Mark Rippetoe, Starting Strength: "Some lat engagement is fine, but avoid excessive pulling with your upper body. Focus on driving with your legs and using your lats primarily for spinal stability."

For me, I probably lean more towards the latter.

Deadlifts are a massive exercise.

They hit just about every muscle group in the body.

They tax the Central Nervous System immensely.

So, “feeling sore” is just a by-product of deadlifting.

I also think that this is why there is much confusion over whether deadlifts are a leg or a back exercise.

And this is why many of us are unsure what lifting day we should be performing deadlifts.

From a personal perspective, if I separated body-part training (which I don’t), I would deadlift on leg day.

Deadlifts are basically an exercise to train the posterior chain, and they typically work the hips, glutes, and hamstrings the hardest.

But, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any involvement from the lats, upper back, and traps when you deadlift.

Basically, the upper body muscles of the posterior chain will perform an isometric contraction throughout the movement.

This ensures that the bar stays close to your legs, and it also helps in getting the bar off the ground.

If you think about it, if you placed a 200kg barbell into someone’s hands who had never deadlifted before, it’s likely that the bar would rip their shoulder clean out the socket.

Or dislocate it at the very least.

The upper back, lats, and traps all work together whenever you deadlift to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

So, if your lats are feeling sore after deadlifts I wouldn’t overly worry about it.

They’ve had to do a fair amount of work throughout the movement.

Are You Bending Your Elbows?

Something that you may unconsciously be doing is bending at the elbows.

Whenever you perform a deadlift the aim is to keep the arms completely straight throughout the entire movement.

I believe this is why I view the deadlift as a leg exercise (more on this in the FAQ section below).

Basically, my hands are only there as hooks, something to literally hook around the bar.

In order to get the bar off the floor I am pushing through my feet and using just about every muscle in my legs to lift.

John Meadows, Mountain Dog Athletics: "Remember, deadlifts are a complex exercise. Embrace the multifaceted muscle recruitment, but prioritize proper form and leg drive above all else."

Obviously, as I’ve mentioned, there will be an isometric contraction in the upper body muscles of the posterior chain.

This of course ensures that my arms stay attached to my body and I don’t have to worry about the hideous notion of having them ripped out of my shoulder sockets.

However, the slightest bend in the elbow when you deadlift completely changes the exercise, and the muscles affected.

In fact, as soon as you bend at the elbows you have literally turned the movement into some type of hybrid bent-over row.

You may not actually be pulling the same as you would do with a row-type exercise.

But that slight kink in the arms at the elbows will definitely bring the lats and upper back far more into play.

So, check your form, and ensure that your arms remain ramrod straight whenever you deadlift.

Just as an aside, I have previously spoken about whether you should perform deadlifts and and bent-over rows on the same day.

Which Deadlift Variation Do You Perform?

Okay, so we’re aware that the lats have a fair amount of involvement whenever you deadlift.

However, the type of deadlift you perform could also have an impact.

Admittedly, whenever you lift from the floor, and return the bar to the floor, you will typically be deadlifting more weight than other variations.

In reality, I’m talking about the amount of weight you may deadlift using the conventional, sumo, or trap-bar compared to the Romanian.

The Romanian deadlift involves you picking up the weight once from the floor, performing your entire set, before the bar finally comes to rest on the floor.

So, in effect, by having the bar in your hands throughout an entire set of Romanian deadlifts your lats remain in isometric contraction.

In most cases we all typically “relax” somewhat when we return the bar to the ground during the traditional deadlift.

Okay, perhaps we should maintain tension in the body, but we all generally “take a breather” at the bottom.

Personally, I like to completely reset myself at the bottom to ensure that my form is tight and ready for the next rep.

However, I tend to deadlift in the 3-5 rep range, so I’m usually going pretty heavy.

So, if you typically feel lat soreness more after performing Romanian deadlifts when compared to the traditional deadlift, this is because you aren’t releasing the tension until you’ve finished your entire set.

Are Your Lats Weak?

Something else to consider is that you may have a potential weakness in the lats.

Even though deadlifts aren’t an actual lat exercise, we’ve established that they have to work pretty hard to keep your arms attached to the rest of your body.

Firstly, if you’re deadlifting, that’s cool.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I love the fact that you appreciate what a great exercise this is.

However, there does seem to be a leaning towards training the front of the body more than the back of the body.

Basically, the muscles that you can see in a mirror, and that you assume that everyone else can see.

This is especially true of the pecs and biceps.

I mean the bench press and bicep curls get a hammering pretty much everywhere around the world.

And if you’re going to train the “show muscles” for balance, then I guess the quads and front delts often get a lot more training than they should.

Menno Henselmans, Science of Physique: "Don't just chase the mirror muscles. Training your posterior chain builds a strong foundation for your entire body, leading to better athleticism, aesthetics, and overall fitness."

What I’m saying is that there seems to be a preference to train the muscles at the front of the body more for aesthetic purposes.

And do you want to know what the weird thing is?

If you trained the opposite muscles at the back of your body you’d probably actually look far more athletic and sexy.

If you don’t believe me, try it.

Spend the next few weeks just training the glutes, hamstrings, lats, upper back, traps, rear delts, and triceps.

I guarantee that you’ll go through a complete body transformation.

You’ll look fantastic.

And the front of your body will probably look better than it ever has done before.

The point I’m trying to make is that the back of the body typically gets left behind (no pun intended) a lot of the time.

So, if you’re experiencing lats soreness after deadlifts this could simply be down to weak lats.

Therefore, it’s probably time to up your pulling game.

You want to make row variations, pull ups and chin ups your new best friends.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should You Do Deadlifts on Leg or Back Day?

When it comes to slotting deadlifts into your workout routine, the question of whether they belong on leg day or back day is a common one. 

Personally, I always perform deadlifts on leg day, as I believe they are primarily a lower body exercise.

That being said, they can be viewed as a bit of a hybrid. 

They’re incredibly effective at working multiple muscle groups, including both the legs and the back. 

Greg Plitt, PTSquared: "Experiment and see what works best for you. Some thrive on deadlifting legs fresh, others prefer the back day connection. Listen to your body and build your program around your individual needs."

If you’re focusing on traditional heavy deadlifts you might find they fit well on back day. 

This is because they heavily engage the posterior chain – muscles like your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

On the other hand, if your routine emphasizes leg strength and you’re using variations like sumo deadlifts, you might prefer to include them on leg day, as they can work your quads more intensely.

My advice? Consider your overall workout plan and where the deadlift fits best in terms of muscle recovery and training balance.

If you’re doing a split routine, try deadlifts on both days initially and see how your body responds. 

It’s important to listen to your body and adjust accordingly. 

Remember, the goal is to find a balance that works for you, ensuring you’re not overworking certain muscle groups and giving your body adequate time to recover.

Should I Feel Deadlifts in My Lower Back?

Feeling deadlifts in your lower back is an extremely common topic of conversation. 

It’s normal to feel some engagement in your lower back during deadlifts, as they work the entire posterior chain, which includes the muscles in your lower back. 

However, there’s a fine line between normal muscle activation and strain. 

A Muscular Man's Back With His Left Hand on His Lower Back, Which is Glowing Red, Indicating Lower Back Pain

If you’re feeling a sharp pain or discomfort that doesn’t feel like the usual muscle fatigue, it might be a sign that your form needs adjusting. 

When performing deadlifts, it’s crucial to maintain a neutral spine and engage your core to support your lower back.

If you’re consistently feeling uncomfortable pressure or pain in your lower back, I recommend reviewing your technique. 

Sometimes, minor adjustments like changing your foot position, hip height, or how you’re gripping the bar can make a significant difference. 

Ppain during exercise isn’t something to ignore. 

Ensuring proper form and technique is key to getting the most out of your deadlifts without risking injury.

Which Deadlift Targets the Back the Most?

When we talk about targeting the back with deadlifts, it’s interesting to note the differences among conventional, sumo, and trap-bar deadlifts

Each of these variations hits the muscles of the upper back, hamstrings, and glutes, but there are some differences in how they engage these areas. 

Furthermore, these deadlift variations engage your hands and grip slighty differently to each other.

In a conventional deadlift, you get a balanced development of the posterior chain, which includes the entire back, hamstrings, and glutes. 

It’s a great all-rounder for back development.

The sumo and trap-bar deadlifts change things up a bit. 

Matt O'Toole, Stronglifts 5x5: "If you want to add some variety to your deadlift routine, the trap-bar is your friend. It hits your muscles slightly differently, keeping things fresh and adding a new dimension to your training."

Both of these styles involve a more upright torso position compared to the conventional deadlift. 

This upright position means that while they still work the upper back, hamstrings, and glutes, they shift a bit more focus to the quadriceps. 

So, if your goal is comprehensive back development, it’s beneficial to incorporate a combination of all three exercises in your training regimen. 

This approach ensures you’re engaging the back muscles from different angles and intensities, leading to more balanced muscle development.

When integrating these deadlift variations into your workout, it’s important to pay attention to form and balance. 

Each deadlift style has its unique technique, and mastering these can help maximize muscle engagement and reduce the risk of injury. 

Diversity in your exercise routine not only aids in overall muscle development but also keeps your workouts interesting and challenging. 

So, mixing up your deadlifts with conventional, sumo, and trap-bar variations can be a strategic move for optimal back development.

Final Thoughts

You shouldn’t feel sore in the lats after deadlifts, although they do play a role in the movement. The lats perform an isometric contraction to ensure that the bar stays close to your legs throughout the deadlift. However, if you have a bend in your elbows the lats will be activated even more. Furthermore, if your lats are weak in relative comparison to your other “deadlift muscles” this can certainly lead to soreness.

So, that’s the lats sorted, but check out what I have to say about deadlifting with a rotator cuff injury.

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