What Muscles Does a Deadlift Work Out?

The deadlift is a strength exercise that works several muscle groups, including your back, glutes and legs. It is one of only a handful of exercises that target muscles in the upper and lower body. Performing a deadlift with good form is imperative to reduce the risk of injury, particularly to the low back.

The deadlift is an essential lower-body exercise. (Image: LIVESTRONG.COM)

The Movement

The deadlift is typically done with a barbell, but can also be done with dumbbells. Set a barbell on the floor about 1 inch in front of your shins, your feet about hip-width apart. Squat down by bending your knees and grab the bar with an overhand grip just outside your legs. Do not round out your back at any point during the exercise; keep it straight. Push through your heels, extend your legs and move into a fully upright standing position, with the bar hanging in front of your thighs. Keep the bar close to your body throughout the movement.

Back Muscles

The erector spinae, the muscles of your low back, are some of the main movers during the deadlift exercise. These three muscles — the iliocastalis, the longissimus and the spinalis — run from near the base of your skull, down your back and attach to the lower vertebrae. The erector spinae muscles perform several movements related to the torso and neck. During the deadlift, these muscles help extend the torso, pulling the spine back as you stand up.

Glute Muscles

The deadlift also targets your butt muscles, the gluteus maximus. This is the large muscle that runs diagonally down from the middle of your body to the outside of your thigh. It attaches to your pelvic bone and sacrum on one end and your femur, the thigh bone, on the other end. The gluteus maximus muscle is responsible for hip extension, moving the top of your pelvic bone back as you stand up during the deadlift exercise.

Leg Muscles

The deadlift targets both the quadriceps on the front of your thigh and the hamstrings on the back of your thigh. However, the hamstrings only act as stabilizers during this exercise; the quadriceps muscles are the primary movers. They are four muscles that run from the top of your thigh, down the front of your leg and attach to your tibia, one of the bones of your lower leg. These muscles are responsible for knee extension, straightening the knee joint as you stand up during the deadlift.

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