When I mention deadlifts to someone his or her first reaction is fear. It has the word dead in it! Most people have no clue what a deadlift is. Those that do often say they avoid the lift because it will hurt their back. But what do you do if you drop your keys on the ground? You pick them up of course and that’s all a deadlift is. When programmed correctly and with proper form, deadlifts aren’t dangerous. Deadlifts done with poor form are.
I have every one of my clients do this lift. A deadlift is simply picking something up correctly by learning how to “hinge” at the hips, brace the core and keep the item close to your midline. I’ve got a 3 and 1 year old, and with toys always strewn from one room to the next, I know a lot about picking things up. Bending over to pick something up is one of the most natural daily movements we do. Strengthening your hips, legs and back with the deadlift makes this everyday movement safer, helping you have a healthy and active life. Annapolis-based orthopedic surgeon and hip specialist Dr. Benjamin Petre agrees, “Strong hips are one of the keys to both movement and injury prevention. All limb control, positioning and performance begins at the origin of the limb, and for the leg this is the hips and core. Without good hip strength and stability, it won’t matter how good the remainder of the leg strength and stability is. Much of the power in the legs and even the arms comes from the hips and the core. Strong, healthy hips lead the way in an active lifestyle.”
As with every lift it’s best to work with a qualified coach to learn the movement. Proper technique is absolutely critical to ensure safety and effectiveness. I love the deadlift because it uses a ton of muscle, it’s relatively easy to learn, and because of how important strong hips, strong legs and a strong back are to all of life’s movements.
TONS OF MUSCLE: Only the squat requires more muscle activation than the deadlift. It uses the muscles of the legs, hips, buttocks, lower back, abdomen, upper back and chest. This leads to major muscular and neuromuscular adaptations, increased insulin sensitivity, and healthy cardiovascular and metabolic changes. So if you want to lose fat, get lean and get strong, the deadlift is a great lift for you.
IT’S EASY TO LEARN: The deadlift is not a complicated lift and with a good coach can usually be taught in less than hour. Few things are as natural as bending over and picking something up. Here is a very brief overview of the basics of a deadlift as taught by Mark Rippetoe in his seminal book Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training:
• Stand facing the bar, with feet hip width and barbell an inch or two away from shins over the middle of your feet (the top
of your laces).
• Bend over at the hips, keeping knees straight and grab the bar just outside the feet.
• Without moving the bar or lowering your hips, bring your knees forward until shins touch the bar, then raise your chest and tighten your entire body locking your spine into
• This is your setup. The deadlift starts at the point of maximum tension—tension in the back, hamstrings, butt, arms, everything.
• Once the setup is done you’ll take a deep breath and drag the bar up your legs as you stand up. At the top of the movement squeeze your glutes and fully extend the knees and hips.
• Set the bar back down by reversing the movement without losing contact with the legs. The bar should end exactly where it started.
That’s a deadlift. Anyone can do this lift at a level appropriate for his or her body. A lot of people who suffer from a sore back also spend hours in poor positions (think sitting). When this becomes a daily routine the muscles in the back and hips get tight and weak. This is a perfect example of someone who should do the deadlift, not avoid it. The deadlift will strengthen the bones of your spine, hips and legs as well as all the muscles involved including the spinal erectors, hip extensors, glutes and hamstrings to name a few. It will increase your mobility and balance. Strong bones, strong muscles and our ability to produce and withstand force, like falling, will determine how we spend the last years of our lives. With my clients, my goal is to help them enjoy life right up until the end and to have the strength and mobility to do so.