Deadlifts & the Neck

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Compound weight-training lifts improve overall strength and help you optimize your workout sessions by targeting multiple muscle groups in a single exercise. The deadlift, for example, primarily engages your lower body, but the form of the lift targets your forearms, core and trapezius muscles as secondary stabilizers. The upper trapezius, especially, is one of the major muscles that stretch beneath the back of your neck. The deadlift may sometimes cause pain in your neck following a workout, but with the use of correct form, it can be an effective and pain-free exercise.

Overview

  • The deadlift is primarily a lower-body exercise, but it’s a compound exercise that engages a broad network of muscles throughout your lower and upper body. When done correctly, the standard deadlift works your erector spinae, your hamstrings and quadriceps, primarily, and utilizes your gluteals, calves, forearms and trapezius for assistance. As with any lift, trying to carry too much weight on smaller support muscles, like the upper trapezius in the neck, can cause strains, pulls and other injuries.

Form

  • The form of the deadlift is simple. It begins with a weighted barbell on the floor in front of you. Stand with your feet slightly wider than your shoulders, bend slightly at the knees and lean over the bar. Grip the bar overhand, then bend at the waist and knees until you’re in the standing position. Move the barbell from the floor to just in front of your thighs, with your arms straight. Hold for a moment, then return to the floor.

Deadlift Neck Muscle Engagement

  • The deadlift targets two primary muscles in the neck – the upper trapezius and the levator scapulae. Both muscles provide stabilizing support for the lift and are not primarily engaged. This means that none of the stress from the deadlift directly impacts either muscle but each flexes to keep you stable. It’s difficult to gain significant strength or mass for either muscle using standard deadlifts alone. Each muscle engages during both phases of the deadlift.

Injury Prevention

  • Lifters performing the deadlift often lead with their head, pushing it upward immediately preceding and then during the first phase of the lift. This places significantly more stress on the upper trapezius than the standard form calls for and can be exceptionally painful following your set. Keep your neck in line with your shoulders and lift the barbell with your lower-body muscles, such as your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals. If you feel yourself straining your neck muscles to help you finish the first phase of the lift, stop immediately and reduce the weight on the barbell.

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