What Happens if I Do a Deadlift Wrong?

"The deadlift is a very productive exercise. One of two or three core exercises that a routine should be built around," according to personal trainer Scott Carrell, wrtiting for the University of Washington. However, If you do a deadlift wrong, you won't get the full benefit of the exercise and you increase the risk of injury. Deadlifts are demanding, requiring the coordination of several muscle groups, total focus and proper technique.

A man is doing a deadlift. (Image: Djordje Rusic/iStock/Getty Images)

Target Muscles

The deadlift mainly works the spinal erectors of your lower back. These are the bands of muscles that run down either side of your spine. Deadlifts also have a secondary effect on your butt, hips, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. Your upper-back muscles, such as the upper and middle trapezius and rhomboids, kick in as stabilizers, while your abs and obliques contract to protect your spine.

Getting It Wrong

The deadlift places significant stress on your back. If you perform the exercise wrong or use a weight that is too heavy and compromises your technique, you increase the risk of hurting your lower back. Don't shrug your shoulders at the top of the movement when you perform deadlifts. According to physical therapist and strength coach Gray Cook, this inhibits the ability of your rotator cuffs to stabilize your shoulders and may cause injury.

Getting It Right

To perform deadlifts, stand in front of the barbell, hinge forward at your hips, bend your knees and grasp the barbell with a mixed grip. Keep your head up and your shoulders back. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to see the front of your chest in the mirror. Keep your back straight and tighten your abs to protect your spine as you lift the barbell from the floor by straightening your knees and hips. Hold the barbell in front of your thighs. Cook emphasizes the importance of using a heavy, but not excessive, weight. This prevents you from shrugging your shoulders or retracting your scapula. With your arms dangling down, keep your shoulders tight as your rotator cuffs automatically contract to stabilize your shoulders. Warm up with a light weight for six reps, then do three heavy sets of three to five reps.

Getting Stronger

Because the deadlift simultaneously activates a range of upper- and lower-body muscles, and engages your core, the exercise makes you stronger. It is useful for athletes and jocks who want to increase explosive strength to improve sports performance. Deadlifts are not the preserve of jocks. Writing for The Athletic Build, fitness trainer Allison Moyer notes that the exercise also improves your posture, and your ability to perform mundane tasks such as lifting objects from the floor.

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