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Deadlift 101

The deadlift is a compound movement that is one of the first exercises you should be mastering at the gym. It is personally one of my favorite exercises. It is a functional movement that we use everyday. Example - to pick up stuff from the floor.

You end up using every muscle from the neck to the toes. The more muscles involved, the more calories you burn and the more strength you build overall. The deadlift is usually done on a back workout day, but many people don't realize that the prime mover of the deadlift exercise is the legs(gluteus, hamstrings and quads). Yes the Lats do work to hold the bar and move it up and down. The use of hands is just as a hook. The key is the extension of the knee and the hips.

The key movement in the deadlift is the hip hinge. You change levels in both the squat and the deadlift. But the main difference comes in the initiation of the movement. For the squat, you lower yourself with the weight by initiating the bending first in the knees. Like sitting in a chair. In the deadlift, you initiate the lowering in the hips. This is the hip hinge.

Muscles involved

Gluteus - These are the muscles that help in hip extension. That is getting the hips to the bar at the top of the movement. Very important to squeeze the gluteus at the top of the movement when the body is upright. This will get the hips closer to the bar. The upper thigh should be in contact with the bar.

Hamstrings - They are synergists(helping muscles) to the hip extension and a stabilizer muscle for the knee during the knee extension. The stabilization is due to it being the antagonist to the quadriceps.

Quads - These muscles are used for the knee extension when the bar is lifted off the floor. If the quads are weak, the hips will rise first before the bar is lifted off the floor to compensate for the inability to use the quads and extend the knee. The shoulders and the hips should rise at the same time.

Erector Spinae - These are the muscles that run along the sides of the back that helps in back extension and stabilizing the spine. Helps prevent rounding of the back.

Forearms - Strong forearms are essential for a good deadlift. Grip strength is crucial to hold on to the bar. You can have strong gluteus, quads and back but you have to hold on the bar to make use of that strength.

Latissimus Dorsi -The Lats help hold the bar in a stable position and keep in close to the body. It helps maintain balance by keeping the bar closer to the body so that you don't fall forward.

Rhomboids & trapezius - These upper back muscles help maintain a neutral shoulder position throughout the deadlift and support the shoulder joint.

Abs - These muscles are crucial to maintain a stable spine position. The abs and oblique should be engaged throughout to prevent hyperextension of the back and

The key to a good deadlift

  • Feet about shoulder width apart.

  • Toes pointing slightly outward and knees following that line.

  • Bottom position level order- ankle knee, hip and shoulder.

  • Spine neutral. Hold the bar outside the legs and elbows locked and make sure the shoulders are right above the bar or just a tiny bit in front.

  • The bar should be close to the shins, almost touching.

  • Engage the quads and push the floor away from you so that hips and shoulders rise at the same time. Breathe in before lifting and exhale as you get close to the top

  • Keep the bar close to you always and at the top of the movement engage and squeeze the gluteus to get the hips in contact with the bar.

  • Keep the core tight and engaged.

  • Lower the bar by initiating the movement with a hip hinge - (push the bum back) then as you lower the bar to the ground, bend the knees as required to return to the starting position. This way will help make sure you don't squat down and get the hips in level with the knees.

Tips to become better

  • Work on grip strength by doing dead hangs on pull up bars, playing racquet sports and using farmers walks. Even racking dumbbells and plates help develop grip strength.

  • Do not skip leg days and especially back and front squats. Develop good quad strength. Leg extension, leg curls and leg press. Focus on both quads and hamstrings equally to improve stability at the knee joint and torque handling capacity.

  • Work on building thickness in the back using bent over rows and T bar rows which is a compound row movement engaging the gluteus and quads isometrically all the way. This also helps in getting used to the hip hinge position.

  • Hip thrusts for better gluteus strength and hip extension to finish off the deadlift.

  • Use shrugs to develop traps that will help in stabilizing the shoulder and helping support the weight

  • Do not use weight belts for anything where the rep max is higher than 6. This will hamper your abdominal and oblique strength development by over relying on the support provided by the belt.

  • Use high volume deadlift days where the reps are 15+ for all sets. This will put a lot of metabolic stress(lactate build up) and help improve the threshold.

  • Use 45 lbs. circumference plates. The height of the bar in the starting position with the 45 lbs. plates is the ideal height. CrossFit gym plates all have the same circumference for all weights.

  • Use shoes with hard soles like canvas on proper weight lifting shoes or I used to do it bare feet. Cushioning hampers force application and transfer on the ground

  • Use alternate grips only for really heavy weight.

  • Do not over rely on wrist wraps. You will lose the muscular endurance adaptations in the forearms.

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