Originally published 27 Feb 16 | Updated: 26 Apr 18
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 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.
regularly performing deadlifts will also encourage you to pick up heavy objects using a straight back.
Common back injuries such as hernia, 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 touching or sitting very close to your shins, 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. Lower the bar onto the floor. That’s one rep.
The Deadlift In Action
Here’s a great video showing you exactly how the deadlift should be executed:
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. This 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. Regular or Alternate Grip
If possible keep your grip the same on both sides. This ensures your muscles are working in balance.
Use an alternative underhand and overhand grip only if your normal overhand grip is weak. This type of grip will boost your grip-strength and increase your ability to lift more weight.
Wearing gloves is another option.
If you’re not a hard-core lifter, then a good pair of weight lifting gloves will give you a lot more grip, and therefore you’ll be able to lift heavier.
I always use gloves for this exercise. They help with my grip, and stop my soft hands from being covered in calluses.!
Using a Power Ball has also helped my overall grip strength, allowing me to lift heavier.
The next step up from regular weight lifting gloves is to invest in a pair of heavy duty straps.
Straps provide your hand and wrist with much more stability and support.
They also prevent any scraping of the bar over your wrists.
The best straps on the market to use for deadlifting are Cobra Grips.
These bad boys get nearly five stars out of five on Amazon, and over 1,000 positive reviews.
I’ve not tried them myself, but they look the business!
3. Don’t Hyper-extend Your Lower Back
Exaggerating the top of the move by leaning back too far 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.
It is inevitable that you’ll scrape your shins with the bar. Get used to it!
If it’s causing you a problem, invest in some shin guards.
Using shin guards while dead-lifting removes the problem of scraping your shins, and so one less thing to think about whilst performing the exercise.
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.