The deadlift is often hailed the most efficient compound exercise that exists. It’s a power lift that people around the world compete to do with the greatest weight. It works muscles in your body you didn’t even know about. If you think that it has no place in your workout routine, then you’re dead wrong. Pun intended.
Deadlifts don’t just change the efficiency of your workout, they can help to change your body composition as well. Weight lifting has a proven impact on physical appearance by growing the muscles and giving you a more toned appearance. And whilst it shouldn’t be all about looks, if you are interested in the aesthetic impact of your workout, then deadlifting is a great exercise to have in your routine.
What is a deadlift?
Deadlifts are actually dead simple. A barbell, or weight of choice, is simply lifted from the ground to the same level as the hips. With a slight bend in the knees, you pick up the weight by hinging down from the hips so that the torso is parallel to the floor. You then lift so that the torso is back in line with the rest of the body.
What is the correct posture and form for a deadlift?
To protect your lower back, avoid back pain, ensure your targeting the right muscle groups, and generally be as efficient with your strength training as possible, it’s important to get your form right.
The grip. You’ve got the option of either underhand or overhand grips for a deadlift. But be aware, that both have limited grip strength. The mixed grip, where one hand adopts an overhand grip and the other an underhand grip can allow you to lift heavier. Just make sure to keep mixing up which hand goes where to avoid developing any muscle imbalances.
The stance. From the starting position, make sure your grip is shoulder-width apart, the barbell is over the middle of your foot, and your head is lifted and facing forwards. It’s vital to keep your upper back straight and not hunched over. You can do this by making sure your chest is lifted as you perform the move.
The movement. Make it explosive. Lift the barbell to hip height in one explosive movement. At the top, pull your shoulders back and squeeze your glutes before dropping the weight again.
What muscles do deadlifts work?
Deadlifts are famous in the lifting world for the amount of muscles they can work at one time.
This exercise mainly targets the glutes. But calls upon a whole host of additional muscles to support the movement. In lifting language a synergist is a muscle that helps another muscle complete a movement. In the case of the deadlift, that’s the quads and hamstrings, as well as muscles in the inner thigh and calves.
On top of this, you’ve also got the stabilisers: muscles that are still contracting without any major movement to help stabilise your body. This includes muscles in your lower back like the spinal erectors, as well as muscles in your upper back, your core, and your shoulders. The list goes on.
As you can already tell, the deadlift muscles engaged are extensive. Lifting in this way lets you maximise your training efforts and helps you to increase muscle strength across your entire body at an even and efficient rate.
How do deadlifts change your body?
So let’s get down to how deadlifts change your body. What are the physical deadlift benefits and what effects can they have on the way you look.
Your posture. By engaging your core and using the muscles in your back, the deadlift can help to improve your posture. This in turn can help to reduce lower back pain. Strength training increases muscle in particular areas which can help reduce injury caused by weaknesses in that area. The lower back is a great example of this.
Total body tone. We know how many muscles the deadlift can work, so repeatedly practising this movement will help you to build and grow these muscle groups leading to greater muscle mass and definition. A well sought after benefit of strength training.
But it’s not all about the aesthetics. It’s easy to get tangled up in appearance focused motivations, and whilst it’s okay to strive for something like that, lifting offers so much more. The deadlift, in particular, will also help you lift heavier in real-life scenarios, which other exercises such as the chest press might not. And strength training helps you to reduce your risk of injury, as well as providing a whole host of general and mental health benefits.
How do you get started with the deadlift?
As with any lift, if it’s your first go, then start lifting light.
If you don’t quite feel comfortable walking over to the racks, you can get started with a set of dumbbells. The same logic applies, just hold and lift the same weight in each hand and stay balanced.
Start with a weight you can do 4 sets of 10 reps with. Test out the motion, making sure you can feel the muscles working in the right places and there’s no pain in your back. A mirror can help make sure you’re not hunched over.
When your confidence begins to grow, add a final set of a heavier weight. This is a good way to track your improvement and make continual jumps to the next weight up. Be patient with your progress.
The same principle applies when you’re hitting the barbells. When comfortable with the movement, you might prefer to work on your muscular strength and power by hitting fewer reps but at more weight. Lots of people like to test their one-rep max with exercises like the deadlift.
Just remember, form always comes first.
What variations of the deadlift are there?
As with most exercises, there are lots of variations of the deadlift that you can try in your training. Each one will have a slight impact on the muscles targeted and engaged, letting you incorporate them into your workout in different ways.
The sumo deadlift uses an extra wide stance and switches the focus from the glutes, to the hips and the hamstrings.
The Romanian deadlift or stiff-legged deadlift also increases the targeting of the hamstrings and requires you to keep your legs straight during both the lifting and lowering of the movement.
There are plenty more variations you can have a go with too. Explore a couple more here.
So now you know the muscles that deadlifts work, the way they increase your strength, the reasons that they’re hailed as a fantastic compound exercise, and the ways you can incorporate them into your training. The only thing left to do is to get going.
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