The number of individuals who have started incorporating deadlifts in their workout routines has increased exponentially in the last couple of years. These individuals range in all sizes, shapes and strengths.
So the questions people are asking are: why is everyone doing it? How do I do it correctly? How can I vary my deadlift to target different muscles?
This article will address these questions and will give you the knowledge and confidence to utilise deadlifts in your workouts!
Understanding the deadlift
The deadlift is a compound exercise, meaning that it engages a number of large muscle groups. For example, a squat is a compound exercise as it engages 4 large muscle groups. The thing that makes this exercise different is that the deadlift engages over triple the amount of muscles of a squat, ranging from your gastrocnemius (calves) to your trapezius (upper back).
Below is a list of the muscle groups engaged during a standard deadlift:
- Gluteus Maximus
- Adductor Magnus
- Rectus Abdominis
- Erector Spinae
- Trapezius, upper
- Trapezius, middle
- Levator Scapulae
So clearly a lot of stress is being put on a large range of muscles, which is why so many people are doing deadlifts, it’s literally a whole body exercise!
How do I perform a deadlift?
A classic google search will provide you with a huge library of pictures/videos with visuals of the deadlift. But we will now mention some key tips to bare in mind when performing the exercise to ensure maximal engagement and minimise the risk of injury.
Place one hand on the bar pronated (facing down) and place the other hand on the underside of the bar so that it is supinated (facing up). This is called a mix grip and will prevent the bar from slipping out of your hands. Over time, as you become stronger you can always return to the conventional two hands facing down method. But this grip is a strong starter.
When you are holding the bar whilst it is on the floor, you need to focus on how much you bend at the knees. You want some flexion to ensure you can reach the bar and have some force provided with your quadriceps to drive up.
However, you do not want a too large or too small level of flexion at the knee. Every time you go down to pick up the bar from the floor, there should be a slight stretching sensation in your hamstrings. If this is present, it’s likely you have your knees bent at a perfect position. Knee flexion can change based on what type of deadlift you are doing, but for beginners this is a perfect place to start.
Novices can often get this wrong, which can lead to serious injury. When performing the deadlift, try to keep the bar as close to your body as possible. This reduces disk compression on your lumbar spine (Cholewicki et al, 1991) meaning your chance of injury is significantly reduced.
Use your glutes
Beginners can often face this problem. They pick up the barbell and their back is arched over and they engage muscles that shouldn’t be used for a deadlift- as it is likely to cause them injury. The best thing to do is focus the movement from your gluteal muscles. When driving upwards with the barbell, imagine you’re are squeezing your gluteal muscles together. This will help ensure proper form and will help you get the greatest benefits from your deadlift!
Pull your shoulders back
It is very easy to slump your shoulders to reach over and grab the barbell. Keep those shoulders back to improve your form going into your deadlift!
There are many variations of the deadlift, some more advanced than others. But if you are a beginner dead lifter, then these are some of the types of deadlifts that you could progressively move forward to.
This involves a wide stance position with your hands positioned inside your legs, relative to the bar. This provides a greater emphasis on your quadriceps, so a great exercise to incorporate on any leg day!
Again, this one has an emphasis on the legs, but this time it’s your hamstrings. Everything in this deadlift is identical to a standard deadlift, however the flexion at your knee is a lot smaller. This means the stretch and activation of your hamstrings is far greater. These can leave your hamstrings sore for days if performed correctly!
The benefits of the deadlift exercise are massive.
Firstly, as it activates so many different muscles, it has been found that it can actually help fat burning. You don’t have to do deadlifts just to become stronger!
Secondly, it improves posture. By engaging and strengthening the majority of the postural muscles, you may soon look in the mirror and notice you’re standing a little straighter.
And then finally, the main reason. It strengthens so many muscles. If you perform this exercise correctly and effectively in your workout routines over a set time period, you will see and reap the benefits.
The deadlift is a key compound exercise that can be incorporated for anyone who is looking to become strong and healthy. You can vary the type of deadlift to target muscles you want to work and prevent yourself getting bored. It is a perfect whole body exercise that shouldn’t be feared by those new to the gym or exercise. Give it a try and you’ll realise why everyone is doing it!
Cholewicki, J., S. M. McGill, and R. W. Norman. “Lumbar spine loads during the lifting of extremely heavy weights.” Medicine and science in sports and exercise 23.10 (1991): 1179-1186.
About the Author
Connor Stead and Andrew Triggs are Sport and Exercise Science students who write about training, nutrition and supplementation in exercise. Their background in sport comes mainly from football where they coach and compete at university level. More recently, they have started giving training and nutritional advice through Instagram (@trainingwithscience).