It's no accident that the deadlift is a strength-training staple. Deadlift benefits abound, and trainers often program the move into workouts because it not only hones in on the glutes and hamstrings — muscles that power athletic performance and daily activities — but it actually works the entire body.
And while it builds total-body strength, it gets you working on a foundational movement pattern that you'll need the rest of your life: bending over and picking something up. (Think: Lift with your legs and not your back.)
Here, we asked top trainers to break down the incredible benefits of deadlifts, what you need to know to do them safely and exactly how to get started.
7 Greatest Benefits of Deadlifting
1. Stronger Glutes and Hamstrings
If you want hearty glutes and hammies, the deadlift should definitely be a regular part of your lifting routine. Of all of the benefits of deadlifts, the one trainers most often talk about is how it works your backside.
"The deadlift works muscles starting in your feet and upward through the kinetic chain," says Erin Kloosterman, a certified athletic trainer at Sports Performance Lab.
In fact, a May 2021 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the deadlift with the back squat and found that the deadlift is likely a better option for targeting the hip extensor muscles, aka your glutes. If you're doing a deadlift properly, you should feel the majority of the work in your glutes and hamstrings.
2. A Protected Lower Back
One of the biggest benefits of deadlifts is that they train your body to hinge from the hips, which is one of the major movements people do every day, says Sarah Polacco, CPT, a certified personal trainer, online strength coach and founder of Between 2 Kettlebells.
After all, in its simplest sense, deadlifting helps you get better at picking something up from the ground and putting it back down again with control, says Matt Kite, CSCS, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and director of education at D1 Training.
When lifting something heavy from the ground, hinging your hips back while bracing your core enlists your glutes and hamstrings — versus your lower back.
"Many people fail to hinge properly and injure their low backs when bending," Kloosterman says. So, it's important to learn how to do it right.
3. Total-Body Muscle
Because so many muscles have to fire when you lift things and put them back down, the deadlift is great for building overall strength.
In addition to working your glutes and hamstrings, deadlifts also strengthen your core and back, Polacco says. Your back and core muscles are needed to stabilize your body as you lift the weight up. After a heavy set of deadlifts, your lats will burn.
4. More Mobility
Another deadlift benefit that isn't as obvious: It gets you moving your joints through a full range of motion.
"Being able to perform a proper deadlift expresses a healthy range of motion of the ankles, knees, hips, lower back and spine," Kite says.
Deadlifting can help you learn where tightness is holding you back so that you can work on building mobility in these areas and ultimately, lift more effectively and get stronger over time.
5. Greater Grip Strength
Another bonus benefit of deadlifts is that they build quite a bit of grip strength, Polacco says, "which helps in overall strength especially with movements like pull-ups, rows, farmer's walks, kettlebell swings and snatches — and anything else that requires grip strength."
While deadlifts aren't specifically designed to work your grip strength, you will find that your grip will become stronger over time. And that's important because as you begin to lift heavier weights, you will need a strong grip to hold the barbell.
6. Better Performance
Athletes and weekend warriors alike can benefit from the deadlift. Because it strengthens so many muscles, particularly in the hips and legs, it's useful for things like jumping. Even though jumping is an explosive movement and the deadlift is a slower weightlifting movement, you can use it to build quick-acting power.
Although many people use barbells to do the deadlift, you can get the same deadlift benefits using kettlebells or dumbbells. You can even use a resistance band if you're still trying to get comfortable with hip hinging before adding weights.
If you're new to deadlifts, Polacco recommends using a kettlebell. The shape of the weight makes it easier to reach when you bend down.
Once you've mastered deadlifting with a kettlebell or dumbbell, you can use a trap bar. The trap bar, also known as a hex bar, allows your shins and knees to travel in more of a squat pattern, Kite says.
"Many people find this a bit easier than a barbell deadlift as the weight is around you rather than in front of you; so you can lift quite a bit of weight while feeling more secure and safe in the lift," Kite says.
A September 2017 study in Sports found that most people could lift heavier weights with the hex bar deadlift. The reps were also faster than when using the barbell deadlift, which might bode well for athletes who are trying to build power.
How to Do a Deadlift
Not sure if you're doing a deadlift correctly? Here are the basics of the conventional barbell deadlift.
- Walk up to the bar so your shins are touching or just about touching the bar, feet about hip-width apart.
- Before bending down to pick up the weight, start by standing tall with your hands hanging down by your sides. Think about creating a solid connection between your core and hips so that your ribs are not in a flared position and your back is not arched or curved.
- Next, hinge forward and push your hips back toward the wall behind you. At the bottom position, your hips should be above your knees and your shoulders above your hips. Your shins should be fairly vertical.
- Grip the bar with both hands and pack your shoulders back and down.
- Bracing your core and maintaining a neutral spine, lift the weight off the ground. Think about pushing the floor away from you. Squeeze your glutes at the top.
- Pause, then lower the bar back to the floor using the same hip-hinge motion, pushing your hips back and keeping your back flat.
Want to master the deadlift? Here's everything you need to know:
- Sports: "Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Hip and Knee Kinetics During a Back Squat and Deadlift"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Barbell Deadlift Training Increases the Rate of Torque Development and Vertical Jump Performance in Novices"