Deadlifts: The Ultimate Exercise For Lower Body Strength

By Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

Though it is often categorized as a lower back exercise, the deadlift recruits your quads, hamstrings, and glutes as well. You also need to have strong abdominal muscles, traps, and good upper back support to perform a deadlift properly. So, why is the total upper body lift designated solely to power lifters and athletes? It shouldn’t be. In fact, deadlifts should be part of anyone’s workout program that is looking to build superior upper body strength and function.

Why athletes use deadlifts
Deadlifts are a multi-functioning exercise that allows you to completely overload your muscles.  This single move expends a tremendous amount of energy, leaving you laid out on the floor if performed correctly. Deadlifts are important to athletes, power lifters, and bodybuilders alike because they recruit several large muscles groups working in a coordinated effort. Deadlifts also allow athletes to develop explosive strength through the legs, hip joints, and lower back. This benefits athletes in sports that require jumping, moving quickly from a stationary position, running, or lifting heavy objects or opponents.

Why deadlifts aren’t just for athletes
In your everyday life, you are constantly squatting and deadlifting. Deadlifts are a functional exercise being that they carry over into everyday activity. How many times have you heard of someone who injured his or her back by bending and lifting? Performing deadlifts will increases your strength, muscle mass, and mobility, while preventing serious injury. Whether you are picking up and moving boxes, or hauling laundry baskets up and down the stairs, deadlifts come into play in your daily life.

Why technique is crucial
Quality over quantity is an understatement when referring to deadlift technique. How you lift the weight off the floor is far more important that how much weight you lift. Trying to pull up heavy amounts of weight anyway possible is the quickest way to end your deadlifting career.

The largest mistake made by dead lifters is performing the lift with a rounded spine. Rounding your back shifts the weight from your hips, glutes, and legs to your lower back alone. This weakens the position of the weight, placing heavy stress on the ligaments and the intervertebral discs. To avoid serious injury, it is best to practice your deadlift technique with little to no weight for some time before adding heavy loads.

How to begin deadlifting
If you are new to training, or the deadlift move, you are best to start with dumbbells. Use lighter weights until you master proper technique. Once you understand how the deadlift function, you can move onto heavier weight, and eventually use a barbell.

When performing deadlifts, follow these training techniques:

  • Move your hips and shoulders up together, rather than kicking your hips forward before your shoulders come up.
  • Maintain your shoulder position in front of the barbell throughout your lift
  • Keep your arms straight throughout the lift
  • Lower the bar with a flat, stable back; never rounded
  • Rely on strong core muscles rather than wearing a lifting belt
  • Perform pull ups and other grip exercises to build grip strength rather than using grip straps


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