One day in my 20s I was stressed and I stupidly tried reverse dumbbell flyes too fast and with too much weight. Something went deeply wrong, more or less under my right scapula, and I completely quitted lifting weights.

Now I am 40 and back to the gym. I try to do exercises that involve a lot of muscles simultaneously, i.e. squat, bench press and so on. But I cannot do Deadlift without feeling pain. Yes, I have gone to a doctor and he tells about applying warm and massages and so on, but there is something more than pain there. I feel like somehow my scapula is weakly fixed and I am afraid I could damage my back again.

So my idea is changing Deadlift by a collection of exercises that work the same muscles separately, so that I can address the ones that cause discomfort differently, perhaps by going for many low-weight repetitions until gradually reinforcing the zone.

I imagine that two of them are: reverse dumbbell fly, and machine back extension. Any other suggestions?

Later Edit, months before

The pain doing Deadlifts went away after reading in SS how to do Deadlifts with proper form and start with very light weights. It was merely caused by trying to lift with not-retracted shoulder blades and rounded back (thanks God I stopped soon). Form does matter. I think everybody should be forced to read some standard basic document before entering any gym, alerting from the risks of not learning proper form. It really is a problem. Who knows how many guys get severely injured because of a lack of information.

  • 3
    If it was me I would head back to the doctors / chiropractors and find out the root of the problem. There is a possibility it can be corrected then you could work up to doing deadlifts again. Find out what that pain is first. All the best.
    – james508
    May 21, 2013 at 2:28
  • 1
    I think your edit would be better as a self-answer. You can even accept it if it was what made things better for you.
    – user4644
    Oct 10, 2013 at 16:13

2 Answers 2


It very much depends on what is causing the pain or discomfort. First of all, if you are worried, see a doctor or physiotherapist, they will be better able to diagnsoe the problem.

As for substituting a deadlift, its not really possible as its a complex compound exercise that involves a lot of muscles.

However, if you can move smaller weights relatively pain free there are other exercises you can do that will stengthen the component muscles that are active during a deadlift. But again it depends on what your goal is - if you want to have a large deadlift you by definition need to deadlift, but if you are looking for better stability and better health there are plenty of options.

First of unilateral-exercises, like single-leg deadlifts will help with stability and leg-strength. Another good option is the turkish get-up, which even at low weight, requires concentration and balance to perform well.

A good place to start is EXRX, exploring which muscles you'd like to strengthen.

  • That link is a great resource! However something is wrong with your post, it doesn't work - the classic 404 forbidden bullshit. I suggest you try simply pointing to the main page exrx.net. Thanks for your answer. I'll choose it as "answered" in a few days, since perhaps someone in the meantime gives a detailed list of explicit exercises (my goal is not the deadlift per se, I am happy finding a collection of other exercises addressing approximately the muscles that are active during a deadlift). But the link has been already very useful.
    – Mephisto
    May 22, 2013 at 20:18
  • 1
    No problems, I've fixed the link now too.
    – user2861
    May 22, 2013 at 21:55

Here are some replacement exercises, however, as stated above, it can not be replaced entirely due to the complexity of the exercise itself.

Lat Pulldowns (compound, overhand grip)

Pull-Ups (compound, weighted, overhand grip)

Bent Over Barbell Rows (compound)

Seated Cable Rows (compound)

One-arm Dumbbell Rows (compound)

Pullover Machine

Kneeling Cable Bent-Over Pullovers

Decline Cable Pullovers


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