The deadlift is one of the best exercises for building overall strength. You can do it either with a hip-to-shoulder-width stance or sumo-style, with your feet out much wider. It’s also great for building muscle size in your lower body, but where you’re adding that muscle exactly can differ dramatically between the two styles.
The deadlift involves picking up a heavyweight from the ground. It directly trains the spinal erectors and involves the entire posterior chain as well as upper body muscles including the deltoids, trapezius and biceps muscles. It builds a strong back better than any other barbell exercise.
Back strength is important for overall back health – a strong back is a less vulnerable back to injury. Deadlifts are, unfortunately, easy to do wrong and therefore, have the potential to injure. However, if you learn to deadlift correctly, you will have less potential for a back injury while performing the movement and in life.
The deadlift is mostly performed with a bar and plates or fixed barbell. Dumbbells can also be used but the effect is similar to the dumbbell squat. This description uses the barbell. Several advanced variations are possible with alternative leg and grip positions. As for all exercises, don’t lift too heavy, to begin with, and stop if the pain is felt, particularly in the lower back. Remember to breathe; don’t hold the breath at any point.
The Five-Step Setup
Walk up to the barbell until your shins are just one inch away – this will place the barbell directly over your midfoot, which is the balance point for all barbell exercises. Your heels should be 6-8 inches apart, a narrower stance than your squat.
Lean over with stiff legs, and take a grip that places your elbows just outside your knees. Be careful not to move or roll the bar from your midfoot.
Bring your shins forward to touch the barbell – again without moving or rolling it away from your midfoot. Freeze your hips in place – they are not allowed to move from here.
Squeeze your chest up to tighten all the muscles of your back. Don’t drop your hips while you squeeze your chest up. This crucial step sets your lumbar spine in normal anatomical extension.
Drag the barbell up to your legs while maintaining the lumbar extension.
- When starting out, practice with a lightweight until your form is satisfactory. A personal trainer or gym trainer can check you for correct form. Practice in a mirror if necessary.
- Brace the abdominal muscles. Breathe out on exertion. Don’t hold the breath.
- Use the mixed overhand-underhand grip for heavier weights. This grip provides some reassurance that heavier weights will not slip from the hands. (Not shown here.)
- Keep the back straight with no rounding at the shoulders and spine. Keep those hips down, butt out.
- The bar should travel close to the body for maximum lift efficiency and safety.
- The key to the lifting process for beginners is to lift with the legs and not the arms and shoulders, although their stabilizing role is no less important.
The deadlift is too often ignored in general fitness weight training, although it is a specialty of the powerlifters. For men and women wanting to build good looking legs and backside, the deadlift joins the squat as a premier exercise and can go some way toward replacing the squat for those who find balancing heavyweights on inflexible shoulders, not to their liking.
Deadlift day is my favorite day of the week.
And soon, it will be yours.