The Benefits of The Almighty Deadlift
The deadlift is one of the best exercises on the planet. Bold? Yeah. Hyperbolic? Sure. Accurate? You betcha. When we make that assessment we do so under the lens of the following questions:
- Does it work? You’d be surprised how many movements group fitness studios use that straight up do absolutely nothing other than the mirage of fatigue. After all, gotta fill up 45 straight minutes somehow.
- Does it do more than one thing? A curl is great (biceps). A row is better (biceps, back, hamstrings).
- Can it be learned? Deeply uninterested in spending eight weeks getting you ready to do something with a PVC pipe. Not our lane. Not our jam.
Furthermore, it’s much safer than you think. After all, there is a reason a majority of physical therapists will use it to rehab someone’s back. The “deadlift is dangerous talk” is a total Karen crowd, and like saying that too much protein is dangerous because it destroys your kidneys. Sure, at levels you will literally never even fathom eating but that doesn’t mean you should avoid chicken.
I blame the name. If the ‘deadlift’ was called the ‘booty shaper’ then there’d be no talk of danger or scary stuff.
We’re gonna talk some deadlift ‘why’ and then briefly touch on the ‘how.’
Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy benefits of the deadlift:
Big, compound movements are much better for building muscle than isolation movements. Not only are we working more muscles in a total body lift like the deadlift, but we’re releasing more beneficial anabolic hormones like growth hormone and testosterone. (Ladies, don’t fear this.) We would argue that along with the back squat, an 8-10 rep set of deadlifts is the single best muscle building work set that we can offer you.
The posterior chain is essentially made up of the hamstrings, glutes, and low back (and the lats depending on which crowd you run in). Specifically, the deadlift builds the posterior chain better than any movement we do, including the squat. Since the squat is knee dominant it’s going to have some of that training benefit go to the quads. Because the deadlift is hinge based and more hip than knee, it’s a little bit more hammy. Over-simplification, but helpful point. A strong posterior chain is indicative of a healthy, athletic person who is generally more capable.
If you respect yourself as a member of the human race, you should care about grip strength. Aside from the fact having a miserable handshake informs the world of your weakness, a weak grip means you’ll be able to do far less in the gym as a strong grip essentially opens up your central nervous system to be stronger globally. It also provides us with probably the biggest functional benefit training can provide: carrying the groceries in the house. And we all know that the #OneTripClub is the most exclusive club to be in.
While most think of the deadlift as a lower body movement it is just as much upper body as it is lower half. After all, what other movement are you holding hundreds of pounds in your arms? The lats are the glutes of the upper body, meaning they are a huge muscle that if you train it, you will see results in literally everything else. Strong lats and glutes are basically a hack to better fitness, and the deadlift happens to train both very well.
Now that we know all about why we need it, let’s talk about how we can perform it to get the most out of it.
First things first, you have to find your correct set-up and I will let you know straight up that I am a massive, massive advocate for the sumo position if you feel like you have been deadlifting forever and you always seem to tweak your low back. For a complete review on which set-up is best for you, go here.
Once you have your stance down, there are a few universal points of performance regardless of how you pull.
Get close to the bar. The number one way to hurt your back is to have a heavy ass bar that’s way the fuck out away from your body. A general rule of thumb is that the further the bar off your body then the more harmful shear forces will act against your lumbar spine. Get that bar in tight. One thing that powerlifting meatheads have absolutely correct is bloody shins. Not to say you need to seek this out but there is a reason that they do. They keep it in toight.
Tighten your lats and upper back. A sloppy upper back leads to a sloppy lower back. Most people think all about the low back with the deadlift but they neglect the bigger upper part of it. Pull your shoulders down, create tension in your lats and shoulder blades.
Drive the floor away. When you start to think of a deadlift as a vertical leg press, not a yank of weight off the floor, it gets a lot easier. Drive your feet into the ground and actively push against the floor as you lift off.
They should really be called Earth Pushes, not deadlifts.
Squeeze the glutes but don’t overdo it. You don’t need to excessively lean back at the top of a deadlift. This creates lumbar hyperextension and undue stress on the low back. Stand tall at the top, don’t lean back. Big difference.
Feel your hamstrings. Always, always, always. Understand that the deadlift is designed to train your low back, but not overload it. The minute you start feeling this movement more in your lower back than your hamstrings, it’s time to take the following steps until you don’t any longer:
- STEP 1: Grab your coach, get eyes on your lift
- STEP 2: Reduce weight
- STEP 3: Switch stances
Respect the process of building up to appropriate weight on the deadlift, always prioritize technique over ego and enjoy the many wondrous fruits the deadlift will bestow upon thee.