Last updated on February 10th, 2023 at 02:24 pm
If you’re going to get sore anywhere from deadlifts, your obliques would probably be the last place you’d think of.
However, it’s actually far more common than you’d think.
It is perfectly natural to get sore obliques after deadlifts, especially if you haven’t trained the movement in a while. The entire core works as a stabilizer whenever you deadlift a heavy barbell from the floor. However, oblique soreness can also be due to bending at the waist rather than the hips, having weak core muscles, or simply because you lean ever so slightly to one side when you deadlift.
1. The Obliques Are Involved in the Deadlift
I think it’s important to state that the entire core actually has a huge role to play during deadlifts.
However, if I’m being honest the main core muscle worked is the erector spinae (okay, I know that the glutes, lats, and traps are considered “minor” core muscles).
The erector spinae muscles are located at the back of the body, either side of the spine.
Deadlifts are a posterior chain movement, so you should “feel” it more in the muscles at the back of the body.
Basically, the posterior chain is working against gravity as you lift the barbell from the floor, so you’re going to feel these muscles working hard.
That’s why when you perform an exercise such as a crunch or a sit up (please don’t) the front of the body is working against gravity, so you “feel” it in your rectus abdominis (the 6-pack muscles).
Anyway, back to the point.
As I say, the core works as a stabilizer during deadlifts, so you can expect some form of soreness in any of the core muscles.
The external oblique muscles are forced to work whenever you bend or twist the body.
And the internal obliques, which sit just below the external obliques, support these movements.
The deadlift is a hip-hinge exercise, which involves you bending at the hips.
So, whenever you bend at the hips (every single rep) the obliques are called into action.
In reality there’s a lot of core stabilization going on during deadlifts.
I will say that this feels even more obvious if you haven’t performed the deadlift in a while.
As a regular deadlifter your core muscle will acclimatise to the movement.
Obviously, as you add more weight to the bar through weekly progressions the core has to work harder, so you may constantly feel this.
However, if you return to the deadlift after having taken a break from the lift for a while you’ll soon realise just how hard the core has to work.
2. Are You Bending at the Waist?
An extremely common deadlift error is bending at the waist rather than at the hips.
This can most commonly be seen by a rounding of the back.
I’m sure you’re aware that rounding the back during deadlifts is a definite no-no.
This puts a huge amount of additional and unwanted stress on the lower back.
So, in order to compensate for the pressure that you’re putting on the lower back, the core muscles, and especially the obliques, are forced to work much harder.
To be honest, rounding your the back during deadlifts is just a precursor for injury.
And this is most notable in the stress placed on the spinal discs.
However, you may be lucky and get away with this for a while, but your other core muscles will definitely feel the strain.
Bending at the waist also activates the obliques to a far greater degree.
So, it’s possible that you will feel sore in the obliques.
But, this can eventually lead to an oblique strain rather than general DOMS.
Plus, if you carry on bending at the waist while you deadlift it may not be too long before you herniate a disc.
So, it may be time to drop some weight from the bar and practice hinging at the hips once more.
3. Are You Core Muscles Weak?
I’ve already spoken of the importance of the core muscles during deadlifts.
And this is especially true of the obliques because you bend at the hips during the movement.
If you’re feeling sore in the obliques after deadlifts this could actually be down to having weak core muscles.
We typically view the deadlift as a glute and hamstring exercise above all else.
But to be honest, pretty much every exercise you perform will have some form of core involvement.
In fact, the core is basically the centre of all movement.
Any move you make, whether in the gym or outside, will start from the core.
I will even go as far to say that many injuries that we typically suffer over time can be due to weak core muscles.
And this is regardless of where the injury is.
We generally view having a weak core as having its biggest impact on the lower back muscles.
I will say that there is a lot of truth to this, but weak core muscles can affect every single thing you do.
So, if you’re trying to rip an extremely heavy weight off the floor, a weak core is going to limit what you’re capable of lifting.
In fact, I will say that if you strengthen your core, you should eventually be deadlifting more weight.
4. Check Your Deadlift Form
Something I’ve previously spoken about is how our dominant side can sometimes take over when we lift weights.
I spoke of this in the context of squats at the time, but the same principle applies to deadlifts.
We all typically have a “stronger side”, so this side can often bear the brunt when we’re lifting heavy weights.
Additionally, we may have a particular weak spot or tight muscles in certain areas of the body.
One of the most common complaints of tightness or weakness is the hip flexors.
For such a tiny set of muscles, their weakness can actually cause a huge amount of problems in the body.
A major concern when it comes to tight or weak hip flexors when you deadlift is that it may cause you to lean ever so slightly to one side.
This will typically be to your “strong side”.
And this action may not even be noticeable to you.
However, this slight lean once again adds a lot more pressure onto the core muscles.
And this can cause your “strong side” oblique to work even harder than it normally would.
I will also say that this “lean” can happen without any form of tightness or weakness in the hip flexors, or anywhere else for that matter.
Unfortunately, your use of improper technique has just become a habit.
So, if you are feeling soreness in the obliques it’s probably time to check your deadlift form.
Key Learning Points
- Deadlifts work your core very hard, so you’ll often feel deadlifts in your abs or obliques anyway.
- Sore obliques can be caused by improper form, such as bending at the waist rather than hinging at the hips.
- Ensure you’re not leaning to one side during deadlifts. This could indicate that the weight you’re trying to lift is more than you can handle.
- Weak core muscles will affect your ability to deadlift effectively. In fact, if you train you core to become stronger and provide more stability you’ll find that this improves your 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.