If you were to ask ten experienced gym goers what their favourite exercise was, the deadlift would be unlikely to be in the top 20 exercises named. But if you asked which is the most effective exercise, you could be pretty sure that deadlift would be the most commonly named exercise.
Deadlifts work multiple muscles simultaneously, they teach you how to lift heavy items safely and effectively, and they are big calorie burners.
In this article, we will be taking you step by step through proper deadlift technique, we will discuss which muscles are worked, what variations there are, and the benefits of learning this wonderful exercise.
How to Deadlift
Deadlifting could easily be defined as picking a heavy weight up off the floor and putting it down again. Learning how to deadlift properly will help you to lift more efficiently (allowing you to lift heavier weights for more reps) and it will help you to lift safely. Learn how to deadlift with good technique and you should never hurt your back lifting things ever again.
Step One – Preparing Your Space
One of the most important steps is often the most overlooked. Finding a good spot to deadlift safely. If you are lucky enough to have a gym with a proper lifting platform then this is not going to be an issue. But the vast majority of gyms don’t have a lifting platform, and you will just have to make do with what you have.
The first thing you want is a flat and stable surface. This may sound obvious, but many gyms have floors that are uneven, and there will be areas of the gym that are unsuitable for deadlifting. If the floor does not have matting then it probably isn’t suitable for deadlifting.
Check your surroundings, are you in anyone’s way? Don’t be the guy (or girl) who sets up their deadlift right in front of the dumbbell rack! Also check to see whether your area gets a lot of foot traffic. You would be amazed at how many people will walk over a barbell (even midway through a set) because they “always walk this way”.
Another common issue in gyms is a slanted floor. When you place the barbell down, does it roll towards you? Or away from you? Having the bar move while you are setting up can be a nightmare. If you have no choice, then set the bar up so that it rolls towards you. But if possible, find an area with no slant.
Step Two – The Set Up
Once your space is prepared you now have to focus on getting yourself into the correct position. You also want the barbell to have the correct weight on it. Place a weight plate on each side and then use clips to secure the plates in place. Many experienced lifters avoid using clips, but there is no benefit to doing this, the less stable the plates are the harder the exercise is.
Roll the bar into the correct position and then walk towards it. To find the ideal width for your feet pretend that you are about to jump straight up in the air, you will automatically place your feet in the correct position. This is your deadlift stance!
Walk up to the bar so that the midpoint of your feet (where you tie your laces) is directly under the barbell.
Next you want to push your shins forwards until they are brushing up against the barbell, and then grab the bar in both hands using an overhand grip. Your hands should be just outside your knees.
At this point your back will be all bent over, which would be terrible for lifting. So, push your chest out and pull your shoulders back as you sit down slightly. This will provide you with a nice straight back and gets you into the ideal position for lifting.
Step Three – Lift Off
Take a deep breath and hold that breath in your lungs. Grip the barbell tightly and then raise the barbell off the floor by pushing your hips forward as you stand upright. Keep your arms straight throughout.
Once you are fully upright, the barbell should be pushed right into your hips. If it isn’t, then you haven’t been pushing your hips forwards enough. Hold this position for a beat, and then you want to return the barbell to the floor. Do this by pushing your hips backwards and maintaining a straight back.
You want full control over this, so that when the barbell touches the ground it is with a light bump rather than a crash. If you are performing more than one rep you will want to let the barbell fully stop before initiating the movement once again. Don’t just bounce the barbell off the floor and continue, no matter how tempting it might be.
So, what muscles do deadlifts work?
Here are the muscles used in the deadlift:
- Erector Spinae (lower Back)
- Latissimus dorsi
Your whole body works together as one unit to perform this exercise. We will examine each set of muscles and the role they play below.
The deadlift really works your forearm muscles. This is because you need to grip a very heavy bar throughout the movement. This is why exercises such as shrugs are so helpful for improving the deadlift, as they strengthen your grip. Weak forearms can seriously hamper your deadlift progress. Adding some hammer curls into your routine can help with this.
The abdominal muscles are crucial to deadlifts as they allow you to brace properly during the lift. Weak abdominals can make it harder to maintain good form during a deadlift, and it is acknowledged that deadlifting is one of the best exercises for abdominal strength.
During a deadlift it is the muscles of the upper back that are involved in pulling. They also brace the torso and help you to maintain a straight back. The muscles of the lower back allow you to bend forward during the beginning of the deadlift.
The shoulder muscles are important stabilising force and vital in your ability to transfer force to the weight.
The leg muscles are important for strengthening your joints, of which there are many sensitive joints in your legs. The muscles will be strengthened when performing this exercise and will help protect the more sensitive joints in your body.
The deadlift works muscles in the upper and lower body, so it is a good overall body workout. It is important to have proper form when doing a deadlift because there are a lot of muscles in your back which power the deadlift and can be severely injured if the lift is not performed properly.
Benefits of Deadlifts
There are a number of benefits associated with deadlifting. The most obvious is the large number of calories that this exercise can burn. But here are some others:
- Improved posture
- Strengthen core muscles
- Work multiple muscles simultaneously
- Improved grip strength
- Reduced injury risk
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
Deadlifts have also been found to improve athletic performance in a number of ways. One study found that barbell deadlifts helped novices to increase their vertical jump performance.
Deadlifts are a great workout, as they ensure your entire body receives attention. To get the best results, it’s critical you apply the appropriate variation and have the correct form. Bad posture while deadlifting can result in damage to the spine and lower back.
There are multiple deadlifting variations, so work with each of them and find out which is best for you.
The most popular are as follows:
As the name suggests, the conventional deadlift is the standard form that many bodybuilders use. To perform a conventional deadlift, you place your feet under the barbell and leave your arms at a hip-width distance. It’s very important that your arms are outside of your feet when attempting a conventional deadlift.
When you’re ready to lift, bend your knees and keep going until you feel the barbell against your shins. Then, raise your chest, keeping your lower back neutral. If there is an unnatural curve to your spine while deadlifting, you risk critical damage to your lower back. Keeping your hips and knees straight, hold the weight for around a second, breathing deeply all the while, then put it down by bending your legs.
The Smith machine deadlift is one of the most effective, yet underrated exercises that you can do. There are a lot of benefits to deadlifting, but the biggest takeaway is this: the deadlift is a full-body powerhouse.
It strengthens your back, legs, glutes, and even your abs. The Smith machine deadlift is a compound exercise, meaning it works multiple muscle groups at once. This is beneficial because it allows you to lift heavier weights and build more muscle.It’s also a great exercise for those who are new to lifting because it’s relatively safe and easy to learn.
The Smith machine deadlift is a great exercise for building strength and muscle, and it’s definitely worth adding to your workout routine. The biggest difference between the Smith machine deadlift and the traditional deadlift is that the Smith machine allows you to move the weight in a straight line.
This means that you don’t have to worry about balancing the weight, which can be difficult for some people. The traditional deadlift, on the other hand, requires you to balance the weight throughout the entire exercise.
This twist on the conventional deadlift is very popular with competition powerlifters, and anybody concerned with applying too much pressure to their spine. The main difference with this stance is that your legs will need to be much wider apart. Get your knees and ankles in line before you begin the lift, and point your toes outward to a 45-degree angle. Keep your knees behind the bar, and point them outward.
When you’re ready to lift, hunker down and get your hips as close to the bar as possible. The whole idea of this form is to place less pressure on the hips. Keeping your arms straight and rooting your feet to the ground, lift the bar in one fluid motion. Practice makes perfect with the sumo deadlift, so don’t lose heart if you struggle the first time.
Hex bars, or trap bars, are named after their shape – the weights attached to the sides of the bar are hexagonal. When attempting this lift and, unlike a conventional barbell, you lift from the hexagon sides. The benefits to your body are similar, but hex bars are designed exclusively for deadlifting. There will be two handles for grip, one high and one low.
Stand in the middle of the bar as always, and separate your feet to a hip’s distance. Bend using your hips when you’re ready to lift the bar, ensuring you have a strong grip. Plant your feet, and lift using the power in your legs – keeping your back neutral as always. Hold the pose, and gently return the bar to the ground.
Snatch Grip Deadlift
This is a popular lift with Olympians and bodybuilders, as it builds grip resilience and core body strength. To perform a snatch grip deadlift, stand over your barbell with your feet apart and pointed slightly outward. The width of your hips should do it. Flex your back and hips, and position your shoulders directly over the bar.
This deadlift uses a very wide arm stance that’s similar to the sumo lift, so keep them outside your shoulders. When you’re ready to lift, do from the outside of the bar. Pull it up slowly and steadily, ensuring that you don’t lean too far forward and topple over. Peak the lift around your waist whilst keeping your back straight, and maintain the tension in your hips and back as you place it back down.
These three variations all look similar at a glance and are commonly confused with each other. However, there are some fundamental differences between them.
Romanian deadlifts involve straight toes, with the feet around a hip’s distance apart. The bar must be kept close to the thighs throughout the entire life. Perhaps most importantly, the chest and shoulders must be held back and kept straight throughout.
Stiff-legged deadlifts really benefit the hamstrings. Use a rack, and don’t load up too much weight. Consider going a few pounds lighter than a typical lift. Use a double-handed grip, and back away from the rack, bending your knees and keeping your shins straight. Apply all the pressure to your legs.
Straight-legged deadlifts are very similar to the above, but as you may imagine, the knees remain unbent throughout. The spine must be left neutral, and the bar will be elevated slightly in front of the lifter. Many lifters also find it beneficial to stand upon a bench before attempting this manoeuvre.
If you feel that you would like to improve in a particular area, you could perform a deficit deadlift or a rack pull. Rather than providing a full body workout, these exercises will focus on certain body parts. It will also help build general strength.
Deficit deadlifts are popular with beginners, and people that struggle with the opening stages of a lift. It involves standing on a platform – usually other weights – that add roughly four inches of additional height. This will provide greater mobility. A deficit deadline will not be able to lift as much weight as it can be tricky to get a good grip on the bar, but it’s great for building strength,
Rack pulls, meanwhile, are designed to decrease the mobility of the lifter. They involve placing a barbell in an elevated rack, then performing a lift of the individuals’ choice. Like a deficit deadlift, this allows somebody to lift a higher weight.
You don’t always need a barbell or hex trap to perform a deadlift. A pair of dumbbells can be every bit as impactful. In fact, performing a conventional deadlift using a pair of dumbbells is arguably the ideal beginner’s exercise.
Just bend the knees, keep the hips flexed, and don’t put any undue pressure on the back. Dumbbells are not as heavy as a barbell and may not risk as much damage, but the idea of this exercise is to learn good form, not bad habits.
Frequently Asked Questions
This depends on your goals. If you’re focused on strength, you should be performing 1-5 reps of a heavy weight. If your focus is more on building muscle or muscle endurance you should perform more, usually around 8-15 reps at a lighter weight.
This depends on the weight you are lifting. If you are lifting heavy weights for strength training, I’d keep your deadlifting to around 2 days per week with at least 2 days rest between.
There are a few things you can do to improve your grip for deadlifting. First, make sure that you are using the correct grip size. If your grip is too wide, it will be difficult to keep the barbell in your hands. Second, use chalk to help keep your hands dry and improve your grip. Finally, use lifting straps if necessary.
Yes, they do work the core and the deeper abdominal muscles. You shouldn’t rely on them for all of your abs training though, because there are other exercises that can do this job more effectively. They’re certainly helpful for general core and lower back strength though.
Absolutely not. If you do them with terrible form you can hurt yourself, but if you deadlift with great technique there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them.
It depends on the technique you use. If you go with a standard deadlift it’s a fairly even balance – perhaps slightly more work done by the quads. If you go with a stiff-legged deadlift, it’s massively shifted to work the hamstrings more.
Deadlifts are incredibly important because they build huge amounts of strength and power for the whole body. They’re also a very efficient exercise – they train lots of muscle in one go.
As an exercise, they train the lower back, the legs, the glutes, calf muscles and the hip flexors. They help to improve fitness and athletic performance across a wide range of disciplines. Also, when programmed correctly they can help people to recover from and prevent injury.
Only if done badly. If you perform them properly they are one of the best things you can do for your strength, physical condition and overall health