There’s too much controversy about why it happens and what the biomechanical culprit is. I read what’s there to read from blogs and non-specialist forums and also from lifters. That’s what interests me the most: it doesn’t matter if the lifter is way off in his/her explanation of the phenomenon: he/she knows how it feels.
Some people blame it on hyperlordosis, others on lack of proper core stability but most lifters who actually sought medical care and advice received two types of diagnosis: either there is some herniation or it is the quadratus lumborum muscle. In most cases, it’s the latter.
No heavy lifter fails to recall a couple of occasions where he/she felt this uncomfortable pain in the lower back after a heavy deadlift day or even after a heavy squat day.
There are more questions than answers here. If, as data suggests, the recruitment of lower back muscles is much higher in the squat than the deadlift (Hamlyn et al 2007), why is the quadratus lower back soreness so much more frequent with deadlift training than with squatting?
I don’t know if anybody has a good answer for that except the intuitive one that, in the DL, unlike the SQ, the weight contributes to the lifter’s loss of the spine curvature, whatever that is. Let me explain my point: extremely proficient deadlifters will keep the spine curvature constant throughout the movement. It is common to receive questions from students asking: “but Andy Bolton and Andrey Malanichev are deadlifting exactly like you say we shouldn’t, like a stiff legged DL and their spine is curved”. Wait: I never said the spine had to be hyperextended, I said there is back hyperextension along the movement, first. Second, these guys are huge and they manipulate huge weights. Can you actually see what’s going on with their shoulder blades? Can you tell if they lost scapular adduction? No, you can’t: there’s too much muscle mass there for you to tell anything and the videos from their DL will not allow for any such conclusion. Third and most important: their spinal curvature is constant throughout their DL. Bottom line is: extremely proficient DLifters will keep spinal curvature constant throughout the movement.
So I checked my own video from my last DLs, which caused annoying soreness. I am coming from a serious biceps and flexor injury, so it has been a while I haven’t DLed. Bingo: loss of spine curvature. It is visible in the videos and happens from the upper lumbar (L4) to the lower thoracic (T7) region.
I checked videos from other lifters who complained to me about this same soreness (lots of them do and send videos): same thing.
There are many explanations for this. It may be a chronic technical issue for the lifter: he or she never actually mastered the technique to a point of keeping the spine curvature constant throughout the DL. In many cases, you just lose the ability to do it.
That’s a tough one and deserves a new article: why do powerlifters lose technique? Shouldn’t experienced lifters keep the same movement pattern throughout their lives? They don’t. Neither do weightlifters. That’s one of the things training is about: not necessarily improving technique, but re-acquiring the ability to automatically perform perfect technique. This ability seems to be as dynamic as it is for any complex sports gesture.
People may lose spinal curvature stability either during the liftoff or the knee-pass. Problems with lockout usually involve scapular adduction and hip stability to actually LOCK… out.
While we lose spinal curvature stability, we over-tax the damn quadratus. The origin of the pain may be only muscle tightness – no actual injury has occurred yet. Yet… But obviously it can get worse.
Other factors may affect the ability to keep a constant spinal curvature, such as hip muscle imbalance (Nadler et al. 2002) or some other weird joint issue which I refuse to even look up at pubmed to avoid embarrassing myself by citing things out of context.
What is within my field of expertise is the observation of a correlation between DL technical execution and the onset of this type of lower back soreness.
My only advice here is: video-tape your DLs. Watch for any change in the execution of the movement and if you feel pain after the workout (or competition). If it’s “just a little sore” but you are experienced enough to know it’s not just DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), which is ok, then please correct your technique. Otherwise, it will tend to develop into an injury and you won’t like it.
Hamlyn, N., D.G. Behm, and W.B. Young. Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. J. Strength Cond. Res. 21(4): 1108-1112. 2007
Nadler SF, et al. Hip muscle imbalance and low back pain in athletes: influence of core strengthening. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Jan;34(1):9-16.
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A vida é pentavalente: arranco, arremesso, agachamento, supino e levantamento terra. Life is a five valence unit: the snatch, the clean and jerk, the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.