If you are feeling sore hamstrings after deadlifts, you might be concerned that they are injured or overworked, or something else is wrong. But maybe it’s just an indicator that your hamstrings are doing their job while deadlifting.
So, why are your hamstrings sore after deadlifts? Sore hamstrings after deadlifts are normal and can be caused by three reasons: (1) delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), (2) fatigue, or (3) injury. Depending on the deadlift variations you performed and the total sets and reps, you can identify if your soreness falls under one of these categories.
Let’s break down the process to identify where your hamstring soreness is coming from.
Why Are Your Hamstrings Sore After Deadlifts?
If you are experiencing sore hamstrings after a deadlift, it comes down to:
- You are feeling DOMS (usually the case)
- You injured them (not as common)
- You’re fatigued (usually depends on the type of deadlift variation)
The American College of Sports Medicine explains DOMS for us nicely:
“Any type of activity that places unaccustomed loads on muscle may lead to delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This type of soreness is different from acute soreness, which is pain that develops during the actual activity. Delayed soreness typically begins to develop 12-24 hours after the exercise has been performed and may produce the greatest pain between 24-72 hours after the exercise has been performed.”
It was previously thought that DOMS was caused by the lactic acid that fills the muscles during an intense exercise of the muscle, but that has since been debunked. It’s simply the soreness of your muscles rebuilding the micro tears caused by the intense exercise.
So by this definition, if your deadlift workout included an “unaccustomed load,” (which it should, if you’re properly incorporating a progressive overload), then there’s a good chance you’ll experience DOMS afterward.
An “unaccustomed load” doesn’t only refer to the weight on the bar. You could also add intensity by performing more volume (reps x weight) than you normally do. As your muscles endure the exercise under load for a longer time (time under tension, or TUT), the effects of DOMS will be even more likely than by simply increasing the bar weight.
In fact, your worst cases of DOMS will come after periods of hiatus from training and training with higher volume/TUT. Check out my article on how to return to lifting after a break in order to minimize DOMS.
As far as your deadlifts are concerned, hamstrings are one of the primary leg muscles used in the conventional deadlift, and they are used in every variation of the deadlift.
The more deadlifts you do, the more weight you have on the bar, the more your hamstrings are being worked, and the more likely they are to experience DOMS afterward.
You might be interested in an article I wrote on Are Deadlifts Back Or Legs and what day you should consider putting deadlifts on when it comes to powerlifting training.
Remember, I’m not a doctor, and if you think you are feeling sore hamstrings due to an injury, consult a physician.
What I can say about injuries is that if your hamstrings are sore because of injury, it’s likely you felt the injury during the workout, rather than discovering it after the fact, as is the case with DOMS.
This is different from the acute soreness we described above (or “the pump,” the burning sensation during the exercise when you train with intensity). You may recall feeling a pop, snap, or pinch, or some sudden, sharp pain during the lift. You may have felt that this pain made it difficult or impossible to continue deadlifting even after some rest.
If the pain in your hamstring is suddenly present during a workout and it doesn’t go away with rest between sets, there’s a chance it’s an injury (could be minor or major), and you should get advice from a medical professional.
The last reason your hamstrings might be sore is fatigue, or emphasis. What I mean by this is how much your hamstrings were recruited or used during your deadlift workout.
For example, the conventional deadlift requires much more hamstring recruitment than the sumo deadlift variation. And, a stiff leg deadlift or a good morning uses the hamstring even more than the conventional deadlift.
Check out my article discussing the differences between the conventional vs sumo deadlift.
Depending on your deadlift variations and how much work you did on them, you may have simply fatigued your hamstrings more than you normally do, even though the load and volume were comparable to other workouts you recently did with different deadlift variations.
So you may not be injured or introducing an unaccustomed load, but you simply emphasized your hamstrings more than you normally do, and they are more fatigued.
Should You Be Worried If Your Hamstrings Are Sore After Deadlifting?
Based on the explanations above, sore hamstrings are totally normal after deadlifts, depending on how often you train them and what your last workout was like.
As you think through your workout, recall if the load or volume was different than you’ve recently done? If not, did you feel the pain during the workout, and has it not gone away after significant rest? Finally, what did your selection of deadlift variations look like, and did they use more hamstring than other exercises?
The only time you should really be worried is if you answered “yes” to the second question. Otherwise, be happy that your workout was effective enough to trigger DOMS!
Technique To Implement If You Want To Reduce Hamstring Soreness From Deadlifting
If you feel you are performing deadlifts the best you can, but constantly experience hamstring soreness, there can be a few things to consider.
Think of the stiff leg deadlift for a moment. Your knees are locked or almost locked as you deadlift the bar off the ground. The bar is further away from your body, rather than dragging it up along your legs.
One of the major benefits of this lift is to remove quad muscles from the lift and make your hamstrings initiate the movement, as well as pitching your upper body further forward to exaggerate the use of your hamstrings and then lower back to lock it out.
Most lifters will feel their hamstrings are much more sore after doing sets of stiff leg deadlifts than conventional deadlifts, because of the variations described above.
Now record a video of your deadlift from the side. Does it look more like a stiff leg deadlift than a conventional deadlift?
Look at your starting position. As you initiate the pull, where are your hips/butt in relation to your knees? How bent are your knees when you start pulling?
If your hips/butt are high and your knees aren’t bent very much, you may be relying on your hamstrings to do much more of the work than they may need to.
If you can “sit down, and sit back” into the position more, with your knees more bent, your hips only a little higher than your knees, you’ll be able to use more quads (like a leg press) to start the pull. Your hamstrings will still do their job, but they won’t be doing it alone.
Finally, how far away is the bar from your shins/body when you pull? If the bar isn’t right against your legs as you pull, your hamstrings (and lower back) will have to compensate for that inferior position.
Fix your deadlift form, and your hamstrings won’t have to feel beat up every time you deadlift.
One of the key concepts when looking at your deadlift technique is pulling the slack out of the barbell when starting the movement. Check out my article that explains more!
Which Deadlift Variations Can Make The Hamstrings More Sore?
As we described above, there are a few variations you can avoid to keep your hamstrings from being sore. The inverse is also true – you can (and should) actively include these variations so that you CAN emphasize them and more specifically train them.
The following deadlift variations train your hamstrings more:
- Conventional Deadlift
- Stiff Leg Deadlift (barbell or dumbbell)
- Romanian Deadlift
- Deficit Deadlift (barbell or dumbbell)
- Single Leg Deadlift (barbell or dumbbell)
- Good Mornings
Note that every deadlift variation will require your hamstrings to work (like the sumo deadlift), but the list above will overemphasize the activation of the hamstrings.
Want to improve your deadlift? Check out my article on 18 Exercises That Will Increase Your Deadlift Strength.
What To Do If Your Hamstrings Are Sore After Deadlifts (6 Things To Follow)
If you’ve been experiencing soreness in your hamstrings after deadlifting and you’d like that to be less frequent, follow these tips:
Here’s an easy one to avoid injury and potentially decrease the impact of DOMS – take the time to warm up. I always start my deadlift days with a few minutes on a stationary bike and even do a few light squats before deadlifting. Once I step on the deadlift platform, I always do several reps with an empty bar before I even throw a plate on there.
Want to steal my deadlift warm up? Check out my article on the Best Deadlift Warm-Up.
Improve your technique
Take the time to really look at your form and see where it can be improved. If you’re constantly feeling sore hamstrings after deadlifts, there’s a good chance your form needs attention (i.e. bend your knees more when lifting).
Spread out your volume
As we explained previously, DOMS becomes more common with higher volume and intensity. You may try doing more sets of fewer reps. For example, instead of 5 sets of 5, try doing 8 sets of 3. See if spreading it out helps reduce the onset of DOMS.
This may seem counterintuitive, but you might need to train your hamstrings more. If you’re only training hamstrings once a week, you could benefit from lightly training them a second time a week, so they aren’t so “cold” when you deadlift.
Consider adding a few sets of isolated hamstring work, good mornings, or stiff leg deads on your squat days or other lower body days and see if the frequency helps.
Curious to know the optimal training frequency for deadlifts? Check out my article on How Many Times Per Week Should You Deadlift.
Similar to a warm up, try taking the time to cool down after a workout. Hop on the stationary bike for a few minutes after your heavy deadlifts, or do a few light hamstring curls on a machine or with a band after you pull.
Stay the course
Lastly, it may just be a growth period for your hamstrings, and this soreness is just a sign that everything is working the way it should. Eventually, your hamstrings will catch up with the rest of your deadlift muscle groups. Stay the course, and it’ll get better. And when it does, it’s probably a sign you’re ready to increase the intensity so you can feel that burn again.
What If Hamstring Soreness Was Unexpected After A Deadlift Workout?
Here’s a quick checklist to go through:
- Determine the type of soreness. Determine if you are experiencing DOMS, soreness from fatigue/emphasis, or injury.
- Determine if the soreness is intended. Did you do a workout that is designed to make your hamstrings sore? For example, did you include more hamstring-dominant variations of the deadlift? Did you increase the volume or TUT?
- Review your workouts and technique. Using the breakdown above, check your form. See if there’s a positioning change you can make to improve your technique and not rely on your hamstrings as much.
- Keep moving. Some of the best advice I can give a person who is sore after lifting is to just keep moving. Nothing makes sore muscles more sore than sitting on them and doing nothing.
Can You Still Train If Your Hamstrings Are Sore From Deadlifting?
If you are experiencing a little DOMS from your deadlift workout, but it’s already time to deadlift again, you’ll be totally fine continuing.
Just be sure you’re confident that the soreness is not related to an injury, and be smart during your next workout not to overextend yourself or make the soreness worse.
I’ll say it again – continuing to move and be active is often the best way to work through that DOMS.
If you are sore from an injury, consult a professional before training your hamstrings again.
Most of the time hamstring soreness will be due to DOMS, fatigue/emphasis, and sometimes injury. Most of the time, sore hamstrings are a good thing!
Soreness is the name of the game in hypertrophy, and it’s commonplace in strength training, as well. Just be aware enough to identify the likely cause of your soreness and proceed with your training accordingly.
And remember – if you’ve stopped feeling soreness in your hamstrings from your deadlifts entirely, you’re probably due to push a little harder or hit some variations to make those hammies sing a little bit.
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