How to Do a Deadlift, the One Exercise Your Glutes and Hamstrings Will Love

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Deadlifts are a great way to strengthen the entire back of the body.
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Fact: If you want to feel like a superhero walking into the gym, learn how to deadlift. OK, that's not exactly a proven fact, but if you feel strong and secure in your movement, chances are, you'll get a bit of a confidence boost.

Deadlifts are certainly one way to get there. This exercise not only strengthens your entire body (the back of your body in particular), but it can also help you move more comfortably and confidently in your day-to-day activities.

That doesn't make the deadlift an easy exercise to master, though. Here, you'll learn how to do this compound movement properly to build strength as safely as possible.

How to Master Proper Deadlift Form

Before you start repping out your deadlifts, it's crucial that you practice your form. Many classes and instructors will have you practice with a PVC pipe or just your body weight to learn the movement pattern first before adding weight.

How to Do a Deadlift

Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Body Part Back, Butt, Abs and Legs
  1. Fix the weight plates on your barbell and position it on the floor in front of you. If needed, position it on an elevated platform to allow for a reduced range of motion.
  2. Step up to the bar, shins almost against it, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
  3. Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink low enough to let you grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open, shoulders back.
  5. Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
  6. Finish the motion by lifting your chest and engaging your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
  7. Return the bar to the ground by reversing the motion, pushing your weight back into your hips and softening your knees, letting the bar travel in a controlled path back down to the floor along your body.

How Much Weight to Use for a Deadlift

If you're new to deadlifts, before you jump to the barbell, start by learning the motion with no weight at all, says Tatiana Lampa, certified personal trainer. Focus on learning the hip hinge motion until you feel comfortable with the pattern.

Then, after you can perform the deadlift weight-free with good form, progress to a kettlebell, Lampa says. You may feel inclined to jump right to the barbell, but the kettlebell is the safest next step, as the weight can be easier to control but still mimics the bar pretty closely.

Knowing when to progress is personal, but Lampa instructs her clients to go by their rate of perceived exertion. In other words, judge your effort on a scale of one to 10, one being extremely easy and 10 being extremely difficult. If you feel like you're somewhere between one and six, "I'd highly suggest going heavier," Lampa says.

How Many Deadlifts Should You Do?

You should keep your deadlifts to one, maybe two days per week, Lampa suggests. Once you find a comfortably challenging weight, aim for 8 reps. Then, as you grow stronger, increase the amount of reps you perform.

You can also choose the reps and sets specific to your goals, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). If you're new to strength training, stick to 1 or 2 sets of 8 to 15 reps. Or, if your goal is to improve muscle strength, try 2 to 6 sets of 4 to 8 reps.

Benefits of Deadlifts

Like squats or push-ups, deadlifts are a compound exercise, which means they work multiple joints and muscles at the same time, according to the ACE. Unlike isolation movements, which target one muscle at a time, compound exercises will help you burn more calories, improve muscle coordination and improve exercise efficiency.

But more specifically, deadlifts are a great way to strengthen your posterior chain (back of the body), Lampa says. They target your hamstrings, glutes, back, hips and abdominals and improve your grip strength.

"Deadlifts are a part of our daily activity but some people don't recognize them," Lampa says. "When you're placing your baby in the crib or picking something up from the ground, you're performing a deadlift."

By targeting the posterior chain, deadlifts can help address some of the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time or staring down at your phone. Over time, these sedentary activities can lead to poor posture, muscle imbalances and even injury or pain.

"Today, we are spending much of our day working from home, which means we're sitting down, rounding our shoulders and decreasing our steps," Lampa says. "It's really important to focus on the posterior chain to build your strength and decrease risk of injuries."

Deadlift Mistakes to Avoid

Especially as you start to lift heavier weight, there are some common deadlift mistakes you'll want to avoid in order to stay injury-free. If you catch yourself making any of these errors, consider either dropping to a lower weight or eliminating the weight completely and brushing up on your form.

1. Rounding Your Back

As you lift the weight up or lower it back down, you want to keep your back flat and long. Often, though, Lampa spots exercisers rounding their back as if they were performing a stretch or roll down.

"I definitely don't want to see that in a deadlift," she says. "That's loading their low back and not activating their hamstring, glutes, lats and core."

Fix it: Brace your core and think about moving the top half of your body (head to hips) in one straight plane. And don't bend over too far. If you lean over too far, you're likely to see the shoulders and upper back start to round. Instead, once you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, squeeze your glutes and stand back up.

2. Letting the Weight Drift Forward

A big part of proper deadlift form involves keeping the weight close to your body as you lift and lower, Lampa says. If you see the weight drifting away from your body too far, your lats (side and mid-back muscles) probably aren't engaged.

Fix it: Think about pulling your shoulders back and down, locking the lats in place.

3. Squatting Instead of Hinging

Squats and deadlifts are similar, but they're far from the same. Lampa often sees people mistakenly turn their deadlift into a squat, forgetting the hip hinge motion (more on that below).

Fix it: Think about shooting your hips back and moving horizontally, rather than vertically.

Beginners Can Start With the Hip Hinge

Don't beat yourself up if your deadlift feels awkward or incorrect. If the deadlift doesn't come to you naturally or you catch yourself turning your deadlift into a squat, practice your hip hinge to properly engage your glutes, hamstrings and back, according to the ACE.

Hip Hinge

  1. Start standing a foot away from a wall, facing away from it.
  2. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with a soft bend in the knees.
  3. Move your hips back toward the wall.
  4. Lean your torso toward the floor with your back long.
  5. Once your torso is parallel to the ground, drive your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.

Level Up With These 3 Deadlift Variations

1. Romanian Deadlift

Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Body Part Abs, Back, Butt and Legs
  1. Fix the weight plates on your barbell (optional) and position it on the floor in front of you.
  2. Step up to the bar, shins almost against it, feet planted firmly hip-width apart. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
  3. Hinge from the hips and soften your knees as your hips sink low enough to let you grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
  5. Lift your chest and engage your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
  6. Pushing your hips as far back as possible, bend the knees slightly and lower the bar right below knee height.
  7. On an exhale, brace the core and push the hips forward to return to standing.

Tip

Unlike standard deadlifts, the Romanian deadlift requires less of a knee bend and more hinge from your hips. This helps you target the hamstrings more than the conventional deadlift (see above).

2. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Body Part Abs, Butt and Legs
  1. Start standing with a dumbbell in your right hand, feet planted at about hip-width apart.
  2. With your core engaged, begin to raise your left leg straight behind you, hip hinging on your right side and bending the right knee slightly.
  3. At the same time, lower the right dumbbell toward the ground, keeping the weight relatively close to the body, back flat.
  4. Once your torso is parallel to the ground, push your hips forward and reverse the motion to return to standing.
  5. Once you perform all your reps here, switch sides.

3. Sumo Deadlift

Skill Level Intermediate
Type Strength
Body Part Butt and Legs
  1. Fix the weight plates on your barbell (optional) and position it on the floor in front of you.
  2. Step up to the bar, calves almost against it, feet planted further than hip-width apart, toes pointed out at a 45-degree angle. Keep your spine straight, chest up and shoulders back and down.
  3. Hinge from the hips, softening your knees as your hips sink low enough to let you grasp the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  4. Check your posture: Your spine should be straight and long, chest up and open, shoulders back.
  5. Engage all the muscles of your core to maintain this position as you push your feet into the floor, as if you were trying to push the floor away from you, and lift the bar.
  6. Finish the motion by lifting your chest and engaging your lats to stabilize the bar in front of your hips.
  7. Return the bar by reversing the motion, pushing your weight back into your hips and softening your knees, letting the bar travel in a controlled path back down to the floor along your body.
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