The deadlift results in stronger muscles and hypertrophy. When used as part of a consistent training program, this exercise can strengthen your core, decreasing the risk of injury. In the long run, it may improve your sports performance and make you a better athlete.
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How to Do a Deadlift
Deadlifts work multiple muscles in the body, especially the muscles of your legs, back and core. Begin the exercise by placing the barbell on the floor and standing behind it with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, advises the American Council on Exercise. Next, follow these steps:
- Squat down and grasp the bar slightly outside of your thigh position. Be sure to keep your spine in a neutral position.
- Prepare to lift the bar by bringing your shoulders down and back and your head lifted and in alignment with your spine. Activate your core muscles to protect your back during the movement.
- Keeping your shoulders back and your core engaged, begin to lift the bar by pushing through your heels to rise to a standing position. As you stand, your hips and bar should come up at the same time.
- At the top of the movement, you should be standing with your glutes contracted and the barbell at your hips.
- Lower the barbell to the ground. Push your hips back and bend your knees lowering the barbell at the same rate as your hips. Keep your core engaged and shoulders pulled back.
Correct form is critical when doing deadlifts to avoid injury to your lower back.
To practice hinging your hips while keeping your spine in a neutral position, take a dowel or broomstick and hold it against your back. The dowel should be touching the back of your head, your upper back and your sacrum. Maintaining these contact points, practice hinging your hips in the deadlift motion.
If you lack the strength or flexibility to perform this exercise, do not attempt deadlifts as you may be more prone to injury from improper form.
Deadlift Muscle Growth and Strength
The deadlift works multiple muscles in your lower body and core. The primary muscle targeted is the gluteus maximus. Additionally, several other muscles work as synergists to assist in the movement. These include the quadriceps and hamstrings, the soleus in the calf and the adductor magnus in the hip. A small study of 24 participants in the July 2017 issue of BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation showed that muscle loading in the quads is greater when doing deadlifts compared to side squats and goodmornings.
This compound exercise also activates several stabilizing muscles that help support the joints and body through the movement. These include the lower half of the hamstrings, the gastrocnemius in the calf and the rectus abdominis and obliques in your core. The trapezius, erector spinae, rhomboids and levator scapulae also work as stabilizers in your back to keep you balanced as you lift the barbell.
Deadlifts are beneficial as they not only help build lean mass but also increase your strength in a functional way that helps you avoid injury and makes it easier to perform daily tasks. They also strengthen your core, leading to improved balance.
When done right, this movement will enhance your ability to lift weights, boxes and other items with proper form. The increased strength you'll gain from this exercise may lower the odds of lower back pain and injury.
Read more: What Muscles Does a Deadlift Work Out?
Deadlift Weight Training
To get the best deadlift results without overdoing it and causing injury, make sure you lift the correct amount of weight. If you're new to this exercise, use the ExRx.net Deadlift Standards to see the standard one-repetition maximum weight. This will give you an idea of what weight you can start with.
For example, a man who weighs 165 pounds should aim for the following one-rep max based on his overall fitness and experience level:
- 135 pounds if he is untrained or just starting out
- 255 pounds if he is a novice and has been doing deadlifts for several months
- 295 pounds if he is at the intermediate level and has been training for a couple of years
- 410 pounds if he is at the advanced level and has been training for many years
- 520 pounds if he is at the elite level (such as a competitive athlete in sports that require a lot of strength)
For a woman who weighs 132 pounds, the one-rep max based on fitness and experience level is:
75 pounds if she is untrained or just starting out
135 pounds if she is a novice and has been doing deadlifts for several months
160 pounds if she is at the intermediate level and has been training for a couple of years
if she is
at the advanced level and has been training for many years
if she is
at the elite level ( such as a competitive athlete in strength sports)
These numbers are based on performance data that ExRx.net has collected over 70 years. While they can help give you an idea of where to start, they are not firm recommendations. Be sure to listen to your body. Don't attempt to lift more than your current fitness level allows. Start with a lower weight and increase it over time.
Muscle Size and Strength
The deadlift can boost both your muscle size and strength. Muscle size increases over time as the muscle fibers adapt and grow in response to the stress of the strength training. Increased muscle size contributes to strength, but the main factor is the nervous system adapting and being better able to communicate with the muscle cells, states the American Fitness Magazine.
While training recommendations have some overlap, the American Fitness Magazine recommends training for hypertrophy and strength separately.
A recommended workout with deadlifts for hypertrophy, or muscle growth, involves four sets of eight repetitions lifting 80 percent of your one-rep maximum. Rest for no more than 60 seconds between sets. When doing the deadlift for hypertrophy, you should aim to lift the weight in two seconds and lower the weight in two seconds.
If you're training for muscular strength, do four sets of only two repetitions lifting 90 percent of your one-rep maximum. Rest for four minutes between sets. Greater muscular strength requires you to overwork the muscles more and at a greater intensity than when training for muscle size, which requires you to work until fatigued.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?
Deadlift Considerations and Precautions
While the deadlift strengthens your muscles, which can ultimately help you reduce your risk for injury, it is a challenging exercise. Be sure to use correct form and take precautions to avoid deadlift side effects, such as hurting your back during your workout.
While deadlifts aren't designed to work your grip strength, you will find that your grip will become stronger. As you begin to lift heavier weights, you will need a strong grip to hold the barbell. Consider using gym chalk on your hands to keep them from slipping on the barbell. A mixed grip, with one hand grasping the bar overhand and the other grasping the bar underhand, may also help.
If needed, wear braces to protect your body during the lift. A wrist brace can help your grip and protect your wrist joints during the lift. Also, consider wearing a weightlifting belt to support your lower back and reduce stress on your spine. Don't use a weightlifting belt to make up for insufficient strength in your lower back.
Always consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. If you are unsure about the proper form or what weight you should be lifting, ask a personal trainer to help you get started.
Deadlift Variations and Alternatives
To perform this exercise, start standing on a small platform with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping spine neutral and shoulders back, bend your knees and lower your body to grasp the barbell with an overhand or mixed grip with hands approximately shoulder-width apart. Lift the weight to a standing position to begin the exercise.
- Keeping your knees straight, hinge at the hips and allow the barbell to lower.
- When the hips are fully flexed, bend at the waist to continue to lower the barbell toward the top of your feet. Keep the bar close to your body throughout the exercise.
- Return to the starting position by extending the waist and hips. Pull your shoulders back.
Your arms and knees should remain straight throughout the exercise. Start with a light weight due to the pressure this exercise places on your lower back. When you feel a mild stretch in your hamstrings and back when lowering the weight, this is the bottom of your range of motion. Stop and return to the starting position.
Another variation is the sumo deadlift, which targets the glutes. The synergistic muscles for this exercise are the quads, while the hamstrings act as stabilizers.
According to a small study of 47 "deadlift naive" males and females published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine in August 2019, sumo deadlifts are a better fit for individuals with longer torsos. The standard deadlift, on the hand, works better for those with a shorter torso.
To perform the sumo deadlift, start with a wide stance and follow these steps:
- Squat down and with your chest up and hips low, use a mixed grip to grasp the bar between your legs.
- Keeping your arms straight and back straight, pull the weight up by driving fee outward and pulling your chest up.
- Once the barbell passes your knees, extend the knees to complete the lift. Pull your shoulders back at the top of the lift.
- Lower the weight by sending the hips back and bending the knees and pushing them outward. Keep the chest up.
Be sure that the weight fully rests on the ground at the end of each repetition. This ensures you are getting a full range of motion on each deadlift.
If you are unable to perform a standard deadlift because of lower back pain, or your lower back is not yet strong enough to perform the lift with proper form, try some alternative exercises to build up your strength. For example, perform a cable seated row or use the lever back extension machine.
- American Council on Exercise: "Mastering the Deadlift"
- ExRx.net: "Deadlift Standards"
- ExRx.net: "Weightlifting Performance Standards"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Deadlift"
- American Fitness Magazine: "Built to Order: Strength and Size Require Different Approaches"
- ExRx.net: "Dangerous Exercises"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Straight Leg Deadlift"
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Sumo Deadlift"
- Journal of Sports Science & Medicine: "Anthropometrical Determinants of Deadlift Variant Performance"
- BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation: "Towards Evidence Based Strength Training: A Comparison of Muscle Forces During Deadlifts, Goodmornings and Split Squats"