The deadlift or ‘bent-knee deadlift’ is arguably the most effective, resistance exercise you can perform.
It requires the use of almost every muscle in the body, with particular emphasis on your back, core, quads, glutes, hamstrings and shoulders.
Unfortunately it is an exercise very few people perform through fear of hurting their back or aggravating a pre-existing injury.
However it is for these reasons the deadlift is so important and why you should incorporate it into your workouts.
Here’s a great video from Mehdi over at stronglifts.com performing the deadlift at well over twice his body-weight. Watch it then read the benefits and form guide below:
The deadlift is a compound exercise, which means it requires several muscle groups to work together at once.
The benefits of compound exercises include; increased strength, muscle mass, testosterone levels, lower body fat, improved cardiovascular performance, and a shorter workout.
The deadlift encapsulates all of these benefits with just one exercise!
I particularly enjoy this exercise due to the positive effect it has on strengthening my lower back and building muscle.
The move engages the core muscles and all those minor muscles surrounding the back area, which all help to strengthen the back and protect it from injury.
Deadlifts will also teach you the correct way to pick up objects using a straight back. Common back injuries such as hernias often occur when rounding your back.
How To Perform The Deadlift Correctly
Since researching and performing this exceptional exercise, I’ve read quite a lot of conflicting advice as to the best way to do it.
I’m going to show you the most effective method and explain why there are slight variations.
When you see a diagram or picture of someone deadlifting you assume it’s a fairly straightforward exercise. You pick up the bar with straight arms and a straight back and stand upright – right? Well, yes and no!
There are many subtle techniques you need to be aware of in order to get the most from the exercise and prevent injury.
Here’s a step by step guide to explain how it’s done:
1. If it’s the first exercise you’re going to perform when you get into the gym, make sure you warm up properly.
Do some light cardio to get the blood pumping (approx 5 to 10 mins) and then perform a couple of deadlifts; one using just the bar and then one with around 70% of the total weight of your first set.
2. Stand upright with your feet hip width apart or slightly wider. Your feet should be facing forward or very slightly turned out.
3. With the barbell sitting very close to your shins, (just an inch or two away) bend at your hips and knees and grab the bar just outside your shins with an overhand grip.
4. Look forward, lift your chest, arms straight and shoulders directly over the bar. Without letting your back round, simply stand up.
5. Pause for a second at the top of the move and then lower the bar to the floor in a controlled manner. When you lower, push your hips back first, and then as the bar reaches knee level, bend your knees. That’s one rep.
7 Do’s and Don’ts To Improve Your Deadlift Effectiveness
1. It’s Not A Squat Exercise
Probably the biggest mistake I see people doing when performing the deadlift is overly using their legs to drive the bar up.
The deadlift should focus more on your back, not your quads. The secret is to keep your hips higher than your knees.
If you squat down too far when you pick the bar up, you are likely to scrape the bar against your shins. So keep your butt higher-up, which places less emphasis on your quads and more on your back and core muscles.
Don’t go too high, just high enough that you don’t turn the exercise into a variation of a squat.
2. Alternate Grip
Use an alternative underhand and overhand grip. This type of grip will instantly boost your grip-strength and increase your ability to lift more weight.
I use gloves for this exercise as I find they help with my grip. Using a Power Ball has also helped my overall grip strength, allowing me to lift heavier.
3. Don’t Hyper-extend Your Lower Back
Exaggerating the top of the move by leaning back will place undue pressure on your lower back.
Just as you shouldn’t round your back on the lift, neither should you hyper-extend it at the lock-out point.
The lower spine is particularly vulnerable to injury when the back is severely arched or rounded whilst supporting a heavy load. If you repeatedly hyper-extend your back at the top of the move you could cause a hernia.
All you need to do is stand up straight, lock your knees out and push your hips slightly forward. Don’t lean back!
4. Keep The Bar Close To Your Body
Keeping the bar as close to the body as you can during the entire move will help protect your lower back and increase the weight you can lift.
5. Ensure The Bar Touches The Floor
This is another common mistake beginners (including myself when I started) make. The deadlift requires you to lift the weight from a ‘dead’ position each rep. That means the bar must start from the floor every time.
If you only lower the bar three quarters of the way down you are performing a ‘partial exercise’ and not fully engaging the whole muscle range.
6. Think About Your Muscles
Studies have shown that muscles grow more when you focus your mind on the muscles being used in the exercise.
The deadlift requires good form and a lot of focus and mental energy. Concentrate on the major muscles being used during the lift.
7. Psych Yourself Up!
You’re not bashing out 25 bicep curls here, you’re preparing to lift a very heavy weight over a small distance.
Power lifters often go through a sequence of deep breathing and self encouragement before performing a lift. It helps send adrenaline round your body to give you an extra energy boost.
I’m not advocating you stand in the middle of your local gym screaming “come on, you mother fu**er!” before your deadlift, but a little ‘internal’ aggression goes a long way!
Don’t be afraid of the deadlift. It is an awesome exercise, that when performed with correct technique, will benefit you in so many ways – particularly your lower back.
Start off with a low weight and work on your form until you’re completely happy. Then start adding more weight.
Your grip is usually the one thing that will fail you first, so incorporate some grip strengthening exercises at home. Enjoy!