What is a deadlift? (A useful guide to deadlifting)

What is a deadlift?

What is a Deadlift?

In this article, we will explore the muscles worked by the deadlift, how to perform a deadlift correctly, the advantages of adding them to your routine, and variations of the conventional deadlift. But first, what is a deadlift?

The deadlift is the ultimate resistance exercise for strength measurement and hypertrophy training. It is performed with a loaded barbell and, simply put, you are just lifting it from the floor to your thighs. Although the movement sounds simple, there is a lot of technique and strength required to pull a good deadlift. 

In this article, we will explore the muscles worked by the deadlift, how to perform a deadlift correctly, the advantages of adding them to your routine, and variations of the conventional deadlift. 

Which muscles are worked with a deadlift?

The deadlift is known as the king of lifts, as, when it is performed properly, it activates the entire posterior chain from your calves to your traps. It also engages your core muscles, quads and forearms, making it the ultimate compound movement. 

Muscles worked with deadlift

If you are looking to add mass to your physique or overall strength, the deadlift should be the movement that your program is built around. 

Primary muscles targeted.

There are a lot of primary movers with a deadlift compared to other resistance exercises. The hamstrings and quads start the movement by taking the initial tension, the glutes and spinal erectors then step in to straighten the back followed by the lats and traps that help to bring the bar to its final position. 

All of these are heavily activated during the deadlift. When you see the deadlift performed you may wonder where the upper back comes into it, but when you try the exercise, you can certainly feel it. 

Secondary muscles targeted.

There are just as many secondary movers as there are primary with the deadlift. Your forearms are put to the ultimate test as you have to keep a strong grip on a heavy bar. The calves stabilize the feet and the core muscles help stabilize the entire movement. 

On top of all of the muscles being activated, the knee joint and hips take a lot of strain, making this a very taxing exercise. This is why many trainers start their workout with a deadlift as it is hard to perform when already fatigued.  

Due to the sheer number of muscles and joints being activated, the body releases a lot of the growth hormone testosterone, making this a great movement for bodybuilders as well as strength trainers. 

The advantages of adding deadlifts to your routine

  1. The deadlift activates more muscles in one movement than any other resistance exercise making it great if you are restricted by time. 
  2. The body is put under so much strain that it releases growth hormones promoting muscle growth in all parts of the body. 
  3. The deadlift activates the knees, hips, and spine. Strengthening these joints is essential for injury prevention. 
  4. Developing the posterior chain has a lot of overall health benefits and also promotes good posture. 
  5. The deadlift is an ideal exercise to practice progressive overload on. Over time, increasing the weight on the bar will lead to increases in strength and size. 

How to perform a deadlift

The conventional deadlift is the traditional method used by many strength trainers and bodybuilders. 

how do i do a deadlift

  1. Load up a barbell bar with your desired weight. Start light and pyramid up to your working sets.
  2. Stand with your feet under the bar at shoulder width so that your shins are just touching it. 
  3. Hinge at the hips, push your butt backwards so that you are leaning over the bar and bend the legs.
  4. Grab the bar with an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width.
  5. Take a deep breath. Upon exhaling, flatten your back and drive your heels into the floor as you straighten the legs and pull the bar into an upright position. 
  6. Lower the bar in the same way as you breathe in. 
It is important to use proper technique for deadlifts to avoid hamstring and back injuries. Perform the exercise in front of a mirror or use your phone to record your lifts so that you can check for a straight back and strict form. 

It is advisable to use a belt for deadlifts as they add stability to the lower back and help to prevent injury. Lifting straps or chalk should also be used for heavy lifts to aid with grip. Having a strong grip means that you can focus on muscle connection rather than keeping hold of the bar. 

A lot of lifters will opt to perform deadlifts with bare feet or just socks so that they can drive the heels in to the ground. If you do wear shoes, use lifting shoes or trainers that are firmly secured with a thin, hard sole. 

Using a cushioned trainer makes it harder to drive the heels and also makes the movement less stable.  Long socks are also a good idea. You can buy dedicated deadlift socks to prevent shin scrapes, but any long, thick sock will do the same. 

Deadlift grips.

what are the deadlift grips

There are a few options when it comes to gripping the bar for all deadlift variations. The standard is to use an overhand grip just wider than shoulder-width, but you can use a mixed grip where one of the palms faces inwards and one outwards. These are the main two popular methods for a conventional deadlift. If performing a sumo deadlift, the narrow grip is used between the legs.

How to do Sumo deadlifts

how do i do a sumo deadlift

These are called sumo lifts because of the wide, sumo wrestler-style stance adopted. Some people find this an easier lift to perform. It targets all of the same muscles as the conventional deadlift and activates the quads to a higher degree. 

  1. Load up a barbell bar and stand with your shins touching it. The feet should be half a foot wider than shoulder-width with toes pointing outwards to around 45 degrees. 
  2. Push the butt back, bend the legs, and grab the bar with a narrow, overhand grip. 
  3. Straighten the back as you drive your heels into the ground and lift the bar until your back is in line with your legs. 
  4. Hold this position for a second before lowering the weight. 
  5. Breathe out as you pull the weight up and in as you lower it. 
Again, use a belt, knee supports, straps, or chalk if required. Try adding sumo deadlifts into your routine once in a while to keep the muscles guessing and growing. 

How to do a deficit deadlift

The deficit deadlift promotes a wider range of motion, giving more of a stretch to the hamstrings and spinal erectors. It is great if you have good mobility and flexibility. Do not try to chase personal bests with this movement; it should only be used with a light weight for higher reps or warm-ups. 

how do i do a deficit deadlift

The movement is the same as a conventional deadlift, but you will be standing on a sturdy platform, step, or weight plate. This means that the bar is right by your feet giving you a few more inches of motion at the lower end. 

This movement is much harder than a conventional deadlift and puts a lot of strain on the spinal erectors in the lower back.

Rack pulls

how do i do a rackpull

Rack pulls are a partial movement of the deadlift. Instead of placing the barbell on the floor as a starting position, it is placed on the safety pins of a squat rack or on blocks. 

This takes a lot of the strain away from the spinal erector and quads, making it a safer movement, but the lower range of motion means that it is not as effective. The benefit of using rack pulls is that you can really scale up the weight, which will in turn benefit your overall deadlift performance. 

Kettlebell deadlift

Another alternative to the conventional deadlift is the kettlebell deadlift. By using kettlebells instead of a barbell, you are drastically reducing the resistance available. 

This is a great way to warm up for heavier deadlifts or as an introduction to the mechanics of a deadlift for a beginner. 

beginner guide to deadlift

Alternatives to deadlifts

No other exercise will target the range of muscles that a deadlift does in one movement, but here are some other great options for developing some of the same muscles. 

Stiff leg deadlift
Bulgarian split squat

Deadlift FAQs

Q: What is the deadlift?

A: The deadlift is a weightlifting exercise that works the muscles in your back, legs, and arms. You can either do it with a barbell or dumbbells. To do the exercise, you will need to stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Then, bend down and grasp the barbell/dumbbells with an overhand grip (palms facing down). From there, lift the weight off the ground by extending your hips and knees until you are standing upright. Finally, lower the weight back to the starting position.

Q: Why should I add deadlifts to my workout routine?

A: Deadlifts are a great exercise for building strength and muscle mass. They also help to improve your posture and can help prevent injuries in the lower back and legs.

Q: How often should I deadlift?

A: This depends on your goals and how much weight you are lifting. If you are just starting out, you may want todeadlift once or twice per week. However, if you are trying to build muscle or increase your strength, you may need to deadlift more frequently. Check with a certified personal trainer or coach to see what frequency is right for you.

Q: What type of equipment do I need for deadlifts?

A: All you need for this exercise is a barbell or dumbbells. If you are using a barbell, you will also need a weight plate. You may also want to use a weightlifting belt for extra support.

Q: How much weight should I lift?

A: Again, this depends on your goals and level of experience. If you are just starting out, it is best to start with lighter weights and gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time. As you get stronger, you will be able to lifted heavier weights. However, if you are lifting too much weight and cannot maintain proper form, it is time to reduce the amount of weight you are lifting.

Q: What is the proper form for deadlifts?

A: Proper form is important for any exercise, but it is especially important for deadlifts. This is because the exercise puts a lot of stress on your lower back. To maintain proper form, start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Then, bend down and grasp the barbell/dumbbells with an overhand grip (palms facing down). From there, lift the weight off the ground by extending your hips and knees until you are standing upright. Finally, lower the weight back to the starting position. Remember to keep your back straight and avoid rounding your shoulders during the exercise.

Q: What is the heaviest deadlift on record?

A: The heaviest deadlift on record is 501 kg (1100 lb), which was done by Hafthor Bjornsson in 2020.

Q: What are some common mistakes people make when deadlifting?

A: Some common mistakes people make when deadlifting include rounding their shoulders, arching their back, and not keeping their feet planted firmly on the ground.

Q: How can I prevent injuries when deadlifting?

A: There are a few things you can do to prevent injuries when deadlifting. First, make sure you have proper form. Second, use a weightlifting belt for extra support. And finally, don't lift too much weight if you are just starting out. Gradually increase the amount of weight you lift over time as you get stronger.

Q: Do I need to warm up before deadlifting?

A: Yes, you should always warm up before any type of exercise. For deadlifts, you can do a few light sets of the exercise with no weight to get your muscles warmed up.

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