Last updated on February 11th, 2023 at 06:23 pm
There are few better exercises than deadlifts when it comes to building size and strength.
Let’s face facts, they work pretty much every muscle in the body.
However, a common issue for many gym-goers is that they feel deadlifts in their arms.
I mean, there are various areas of the body where you should feel deadlifts, but surely not the arms?
Allow me to explain what’s happening here and how you can fix this.
You will always feel deadlifts in your arms to some extent, especially if you are new to the exercise. You will need to grip the bar in order to perform deadlifts, so this will automatically activate your forearms. However, you’re likely to feel it more in your arms if you have a bend at the elbow as you lift the bar. This will mean that you’re pulling with your arms rather than pushing through your feet. You are also likely to feel deadlifts in your arms if they are your weak link. Performing some kettlebell work and farmer’s walks will help.
You Will Feel Deadlifts in Your Arms to Some Extent
I will say that you should feel deadlifts in your arms to some extent.
And this is especially true if you are new to the movement.
You are required to grip the bar, so your forearms will automatically be activated.
In fact, for the vast majority of us it will be either our grip or forearms that give out first with deadlifts.
With that being said, the more you train deadlifts, the more accustomed your arms will become to taking the strain.
Therefore, this is simply a case of getting used to deadlifting.
However, you can certainly improve things by deadlifting more often, using variations, and also training in different rep ranges.
Most of us typically view deadlifts as a pure out-and-out strength exercise.
So, I’m willing to bet that you generally perform heavy conventional deadlifts in the 1-5 rep range.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this, but a little variety never hurt anyone.
You can try Romanian and sumo deadlifts, which will work many of the target deadlift muscles harder or differently than the traditional movement.
Plus, there’s nothing wrong with reducing the weight substantially, concentrating on perfect form, and performing a higher number of reps.
You Are Bending At the Elbow As You Approach the Bar
Something I see quite often when people deadlift is that they approach the bar with a slight bend in their elbow.
By this I mean that they place their hands around the bar ready to lift and their arms aren’t completely straight.
You may even be using this error in technique unconsciously and it has now become part-and-parcel of your deadlift.
Basically, before the bar even leaves the floor you’ll have to take the slack out of your arms.
So, in effect you will already have exerted quite a fair bit of effort and energy without the bar even moving.
The heavier the weight is the more dangerous this practice becomes.
Depending on your grip, you could seriously injure an elbow joint or even tear a bicep (mixed-grip).
Furthermore, your form will become more reminiscent of a bent-over barbell row.
And I’m pretty sure that the weight you have on the bar is far more than you can effectively and safely barbell row.
So, as you approach the bar and grab hold of it, make a conscious effort to have your arms locked out.
A bend in your elbow is basically a kink in your deadlift armour.
You’re Pulling With Your Arms & Not Pushing With Your Feet
This actually leads on quite nicely from what I’ve just said.
There is the age-old argument about whether deadlifts are a leg or back exercise.
For me, it’s all about power through the legs, especially the glutes and hamstrings to get the bar off the floor.
Yes, your upper back and traps are definitely involved in deadlifts.
However, these muscles should do nothing more than go through an isometric contraction in order to stabilize the upper body.
Plus, if you didn’t contract the muscles of the upper back, your shoulders would literally get ripped out of their sockets.
With that being said, as I’ve already mentioned, you should not be “rowing” the weight.
This is a mistake that many, many people make.
Their initial reaction is to pull with their arms.
By doing this your arms are definitely going to fatigue quicker, and this is probably why you feel deadlifts in your arms.
Your arms should be completely straight and your hands are nothing more than hooks around the bar.
All the effort in getting that bar off the floor comes from the posterior chain, especially the glutes and hamstrings.
It makes sense that if you’re going to lift the heaviest weight you’re likely to with a barbell that you use the largest muscle in the body to achieve this (the glutes).
I’ve mentioned many times before that I liken the initial movement for deadlifts as leg pressing the floor.
So, remember your hands are just hooks, your arms are straight and don’t move.
You then want to imagine that there is a leg press plate on the floor and that you’re going to push this away from you with your feet.
This will automatically engage your hamstrings and glutes and take much of the strain away from your arms.
Your Forearms are Your Weak Link (Try These Exercises)
When it comes to the big compound lifts you’ll typically feel it first in your weakest link.
Basically, with all compound lifts there’s a lot of muscle being used at the same time.
So, it stands to reason that the “weakest muscle” will give up first.
Therefore, if you’re feeling deadlifts in your arms it’s likely that your arms are closer to failure than any other muscles.
The obvious solution is to strengthen your arms, and indeed your grip.
However, I would go about this a slightly different way to most.
For me, I would work on strengthening both my forearms and grip, but I would also work the other “deadlift muscles”, as well as the hip hinge movement too.
In fact, you could make a complete workout out of this at least one day a week.
Personally, I would concentrate on kettlebell swings, kettlebell snatches, and farmer’s walk.
Each exercise will help to improve your grip, as well as your forearm strength.
The two kettlebell movements will also work the hip-hinge movement.
And farmer’s walks are one of the greatest grip exercises there is, but you also take your upper back and traps through isometric contraction.
Furthermore, farmer’s walks will also aid in posture, plus glute and hip activation.
Try Hooks or Straps as a Last Resort
I’ll openly admit I’m not a fan of using hooks or straps for lifting.
I much prefer improving and increasing strength “naturally”.
Plus, you don’t want to become reliant on using these implements.
That said, I can certainly see the appeal of using straps if you’re deadlifting near your one-rep max.
However, if you’re feeling deadlifts in your arms, then you probably shouldn’t be training your one-rep max just yet.
The use of these additional implements will certainly help you to lift more weight, thus increasing size and strength.
But, you’re not really dealing with the issue at hand.
I would prefer to train the kettlebell exercises and farmer’s walks as a way to improve both my grip and forearm strength.
I guess it’s just a matter of personal preference.
Hopefully you have a better idea of why you feel deadlifts in your arms.
Firstly, you should appreciate that your arms do play a role as you’re gripping a heavy bar.
However, you should always ensure that your arms are completely straight whenever you deadlift.
Also, focus on pushing through the feet to activate your glutes and hamstrings, as opposed to pulling with your arms.
If you find that your arms typically fatigue first then work on improving your grip and forearm strength.
And finally, if you absolutely have to, you could use hooks or straps when you deadlift.
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.