The Power of the Deadlift
Once upon a time humans across the board had to rely on lifting heavy things off the ground. Harvested animals, heavy manual equipment, rocks to build with, etc. Today most of us don’t have to lift too many things off the ground that weigh more than 20 pounds on any given day, which might include tantruming children, backpacks, and very occasionally furniture. The act of squatting down to pick things up is called a deadlift.
Why would we want to deadlift anything heavier? For lots of reasons, honestly. Stronger legs and low back mean less low back pain, more efficient movement, more stability, and generally increased quality of life. You also feel like an absolute monster when you are able to lift heavy things for no other reason than you want to.
Deadlifts are a necessary addition to any workout routine. Not only do they work a bunch of different muscles, but picking up a lot of weight will inflate your confidence like (almost) nothing else and make you feel like you own every room you walk into.
The secret ingredient in any quality deadlift lies in the hips! Deadlifting is a hip-dominant movement. This means that how you use the big muscles in your legs and hips will play a huge role in helping you to lift heavier and heavier weights with relative ease and efficiency.
Performing Deadlifts Safely
Deadlifts recruit a LOT of muscles and involves a lot of joints to some degree, but that also means there is a lot of room for error and injury. Knowing how to do deadlifts safely is your key to staying injury free. Here’s a quick run down.
Three-Phases of a Good Deadlift
Before you pick up the bar you need to get in the right position which will set you up for success. Here’s how to do a standard deadlift:
- Stand in front of a barbell.
- Keep your feet hip-width apart.
- Bend your knees slightly, hinging at the hips and leaning your body forward.
Grasp and Pull
The movement stage is the hard part:
- Hold the barbell with both hands, spaced just wider than your knees. Usually one hand is overhand and the other is underhand for standard deadlifts, although there are different grips for different purposes.
- Take a deep breath in, engage your core, keep your back as straight, and sink into your hips.
- While engaging your core, stand up, keeping your back straight and pushing your hips forward until you’re completely upright.
No deadlift is complete with only partial reps. The lockout is important. Here’s how:
- Once you are upright stand tall, with the barbell close to your body.
- Engage your core and squeeze those glutes!
- Hold the position for a second or two before descending the bar back to the ground.
After the lockout some people drop the weight, which is completely fine in many really heavy cases where it is safer to drop the weight rather than descending in a controlled manner.
However, when you are deadlifting for reps you will want to descend back to the starting position so you can quickly do another rep.
When descending do pretty much the same thing you did during the upward motion, but in reverse. The important thing to remember is to ALWAYS keep the core engaged and work in controlled movements. Doing so will save you a LOT of issues later.
Abilities and Efforts
Everyone is unique and our body types and abilities vary. So, deadlifts could look a little different for each person. Don’t worry if your form seems slightly different from other people. Each of us have different variations of how our femur/hip socket insertion look, arm and leg length, overall mobility, and everything in between.
For example, a shorter person will most likely be able to get into a deeper squat at the bottom of a deadlift than a taller person. Short kings and queens have an advantage when it comes to deadlifting in perfect form, but that doesn’t mean taller people cannot do it. It just means that it will look different for tall people than it will for shorter people.
What’s important is that you understand your own body, how it moves, previous injuries, and you keep in line with all that you know about yourself.
The Value of a Good Lifting Technique
Safety + Effectiveness = Better results. Proper lifting technique ensures you’re safe and getting the most from your workouts, whether that is deadlifting or any other movement. Your muscles will thank you for it, both in the short term and when you are 100. By keeping your back straight, engaging your core, and using your hips effectively, you can avoid injuries and smash your personal fitness goals.
How you perform each phase of a deadlift is crucial. Be deliberate in your movements, adjust for your body type, and strive for proper technique. Learning how to do deadlifts with the right form keeps you, happy, healthy, and living a stronger, more confident life.
Key Muscle Groups Targeted by Deadlifts
When you do a deadlift, what muscle gets a workout? A whole bunch of them.
Meet the trapezius, or traps. They’re the muscles that stretch down the back of your neck and shoulders and part of your upper spine. They help you move your head and shrug your shoulders.
When you perform a deadlift, the traps are used to stabilize and support the weight being lifted.
Next up is your glutes. The muscles that make up your bum. Glutes are the body’s largest muscle group and are heavily featured in deadlifts of any variety.
Deadlifts stimulate your glutes, helping them grow strong and firm. Everyone wants that because strong glutes mean less back pain.
The hamstrings are your leg’s biceps, running along the back of your thighs. They work hard during deadlifts, helping you bend your knees and lift the weight.
During a deadlift, your hamstrings get stronger and more flexible, meaning you build strength and reduce the overall risk of injury.
The core includes the muscles in your stomach and lower back. A strong core helps with balance, posture, power generation, and so much more.
In a deadlift, your core does a lot of work to stabilize your body and assist the lift.
The muscles in your hips are vital for moving around. They work like a hinge, allowing you to bend and straighten up.
When doing deadlifts, your hip muscles play a starring role. They hinge at your midsection and help extend your body when you lift.
Lastly, say hello to the lats, the large muscles in your upper back. They help you pull and lift things.
When you do a deadlift, the lats are engaged to hold and control the weight. Lats are what give you that awesome V-shape in your back.
Deadlifts are pretty much a full body exercise, so the muscles worked list is fairly extensive compared to something like a bicep curl.
Benefits of Deadlifting
Deadlifting can be a great time. Personally, I love picking ridiculously heavy things off the ground just to say I did, or moving heavy weights in any fashion. It strengthens the body, the mind, and the confidence. Here are some of the benefits that you can gain by deadlifting regularly.
Muscle Strength and Size
The thing most people think about when they exercise is strength and size. Being seen as a physically strong person, either by yourself or by others, has a lot of benefits. Since deadlifting recruits a lot of muscles there is a lot of room for growth in this arena. Plus:
- Strong muscles are more resilient muscles which are less prone to injury.
- Bigger muscles boost confidence and positively impact the way most people view you.
In a world where most people are either obese or frail, people with larger muscles generally stand out. You can tell when someone works out regularly.
Building Bone Density
Bones are structural framework of your body and your body needs them to be strong. Lifting heavy weights, like when you deadlift, can make your bones stronger. The increased resistance from lifting heavier weights grows your muscles, but your bones grow with them in order to support those larger muscles.
Stronger bones mean you are less likely to have bone issues, such as osteoporosis, bone loss, or to break any bones on almost any given timeline.
Good posture is noticeable. As someone who works in an office with a bunch of people who don’t necessarily work out regularly, posture isn’t something most people are good at. It just isn’t a priority these days, and slouching at a computer for hours on end staring at a computer screen can destroy posture even further.
Good posture has a ton of benefits, though. These include less stress on bones and joints, easier breathing, and it exudes confidence among other benefits.
By strengthening your back and core muscles, deadlifts support maintaining a proud, powerful posture that can change the mood of the room when you walk in for a meeting.
Happy Minds, Healthy Bodies
Lifting weights is relaxing. While our CNS (Central Nervous System) takes awhile to recover after a heavy session, our brain releases all sorts of chemicals that reduce stress and make us feel good.
Now, if your brain releases all sorts of feel good chemicals after doing some simple bicep curls, imagine what it can do here. Deadlifting can make you feel happy and relaxed, which seems counter intuitive considering the fatigue, but it’s true. It’s a natural mood booster.
Deadlifting is not just about a strong body, but also about a healthy, happy mind!
Accessible Anytime, Anywhere
Here’s the best part: you can do deadlifts pretty much anywhere. All you need is some space, a bar (maybe), and some weights.
These can be done the gym, in your living room, or even outside.
Do you think our ancestors had fancy bars and rocks to put on them inside dedicated rooms? Nope. They picked up what they needed to wherever they needed to.
So can you.
Got some dumbbells and some room? You can deadlift. Have a barbell, some weights, and a bit more room? You can deadlift. That rock outside your house? You can pick that up too. Your kid throwing a tantrum at the store because you told them they couldn’t have (insert current thing)? Pick them up, too (and walk right back to the car to take them home without whatever they are screaming for. Trust me, life will be easier that way. For everyone that child will ever encounter in life).
Tons of variety here and it can be done literally anywhere.
Importance of Proper Form when Deadlifting
When you do a deadlift workout, what muscles do you use? Lots! But it’s all for nothing if you don’t have the right form. Considering the amount of muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons plus the weight involved in a deadlift you can seriously injure yourself if you are not doing them correctly.
Every part has to do its job just right. If something is off, it can lead to pain or an actual injury. These can be anywhere from a slightly strained muscle to full muscular tears, dislocated joints, and slipped discs.
That’s why when you deadlift, using the correct form is key. It ensures all your muscles do their work without any unwanted injuries. Safety always comes first!
Safe and Effective Deadlifts
We’ve all cooked something without a recipe, and forgotten a key ingredient or step. How did it turn out? Probably pretty gross, right? Same goes for deadlifting! You have to follow the “recipe” for a safe and effective deadlift.
Here are some easy-peasy tips to keeps your deadlift form flawless:
- Keep your back straight,. A curved back can cause spinal disc issues, among other things.
- Make sure your arms are just outside your knees when you grip the bar.
- “Hinge” from your hips when lifting or lowering the bar.
- Squeeze those glutes while standing up straight.
- Do NOT attempt to lift the bar with your biceps. Your arms are just holding the bar, not moving it.
The best thing about deadlifts are the variety available. Do you have long arms and short legs? Short arms and long legs? Stiff hips? Previous injuries (Don’t we all)? Back issues?
One great thing about deadlifting is that it offers plenty of variety to keep your exercise routine fresh and challenging. You can customize this versatile exercise by altering grips, stance, starting position, weights, and repetition ranges to wherever you need.
You can tweak the normal deadlift and either target specific areas or adapt them for your specific body type. Here are some variations of the deadlift that you can pull in based on need or want.
The Romanian Deadlift is like the standard deadlift’s more focused sibling. Instead of a general focus, it works a lot on those hamstrings and glutes. Here’s how to do it:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
- Hold a barbell at hip level with your palms facing down. Make sure your grip is firm but not squeezing too hard.
- Keep your shoulders back and your back straight. Engage your core and maintain good posture throughout the movement.
- Softly bend your knees, hinge at the hips, and lower your torso – and the barbell – towards the ground. Maintain the slight bend in your knees throughout the movement; this isn’t a squat.
- Lower the barbell until you feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings (usually around mid-shin level), pause, and then lift your torso back up by pushing your hips forward.
- Once you’re standing upright again, that’s one rep complete. Reset your posture and go again!
Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
Get ready for some balancing tricks! One leg deadlifts not only works your muscles but tests your balance. Here’s how:
- Start with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Shift your weight onto one foot. Lift the other foot slightly off the ground.
- Bend at your hips, extending the free leg straight behind you for balance. Allow your arms to hang down towards the ground. Keep a slight bend in your standing leg.
- Keep your back straight and your core engaged during the descent. The dumbbells should remain close to your body.
- Using your glutes, abs, and the leg you’re standing on, stand back up straight.
- Perform the given number of reps on one side, then switch the other foot and repeat.
This version of the deadlift helps you work on balance and stability. It’s much different than most other varieties, but can be great for people with lower backs that aren’t strong or healthy enough for most other varieties.
- Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, positioning them so that they’re approximately at a 45-degree angle. Your toes should be pointing outwards just like a sumo wrestler.
- Lean forward without bending your knees too much and grip the barbell. Your hands should be placed inside of your legs and your arms should be straight.
- Drop your hips, pushing them back until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Your chest should be lifted so that your back is not rounded.
- Push down on your heels to lift the weight. Remember to engage your core and glutes as you rise to a standing position.
- Stand up straight, keeping your back flat and the barbell close to your body. Your hips and shoulders should rise together.
- Hinge at your hips and lower the barbell along your legs until it reaches the floor.
Trap Bar Deadlifts
Trap bar deadlifts are great for targeting quads.
- Step into the center of the trap bar. Your feet should be positioned shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the knees and hips to lower yourself down to the bar. Grip the handles of the trap bar so your palms are facing your body.
- Align your body so your chest is lifted, your back is flat and your eyes focused ahead. This position will protect your spine.
- Activate your core and push through your heels to stand up straight. Keep the trap bar close to your body as you lift.
- Ascend until you’re standing fully upright. Your shoulders should be slightly back, but not excessively squeezed together.
- To lower the bar, bend at your hips and your knees. Maintain control of the bar during the entire descent. The bar should touch the floor lightly.
Wrapping It All Up
Time for a quick recap of what everything.
Muscles, Benefits, and Variations
When you do a deadlift a lot of muscles are involved.
- Muscles: You can feel muscles like your glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, traps, and abs all engaging in a proper deadlift.
- Benefits: Deadlifting boosts your muscle strength and size, build bone density, improve posture, and even make you mentally happier.
- Variations: There are a lot of variations, including Romanian deadlifts, one-leg deadlifts, Sumo, and trap bar deadlifts.
Deadlifts are important and should be a part of everybody’s workout routine. Whether you’re a gym newbie or a seasoned pro, there’s a benefit to ensuring these are in your plans. With correct form and proper weight management, it’s a safe and super effective way to get stronger, more defined muscles.
It’s not always about how heavy you lift; it’s about how you lift it. Always start light until your form is spot on. As you grow stronger, gradually increase the weight.
Deadlifts are a powerful way to level-up your fitness game. Now you know how to do deadlifts, so do them.
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