When it comes to us humans, strength is a pretty big deal. It’s what allows you to hoist that bag of groceries off the floor without blowing your back out; it’s what keeps you from suffering fractures and injuries while you’re playing sports, and it’s what will ultimately keep you looking and feeling good even when you’ve reached your prime.
And yet, much to our frustration, it can also seem like the most elusive goal to achieve, especially after all those long hours of busting ourselves at the gym.
Enter the deadlift.
We know, we know; it doesn’t look like the best thing for your back. But learn to get over your fear of the bar and do it right – and you’re on the quickest, safest route to staying on top of the strength game.
Here are 14 reasons why the deadlift has been crowned the “King of Lifts.”
As with every exercise, you’re bound to ask what muscles benefit the most from doing the deadlift. The answer to that question would be – pretty much all of them!
Each time you perform the deadlift, you’re engaging entire sets of your most essential muscles all the way from your arms, traps, and shoulders through the lower, middle, and upper back to your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings. A Comparison Of Muscular Activation During The Back Squat And Deadlift to the Countermovement Jump. Sacred Heart University. The deadlift is a mix of pushing and pulling simultaneously, and this is why you get such fantastic muscle gains on your entire body as compared to those during any other exercise, including squats.
Working so many muscles at a single time pushes your entire body to grow to build a layer of tough muscle around your body – which is exactly what you want!
There are very few fitness-junkies who aren’t obsessed with developing their ab muscles. But the truth is – no matter how hard you work your abdominal muscles, that 6-pack will remain super-elusive unless you engage your core.
And leaving the aesthetic benefits aside, a strong core is key to staying fit and healthy. By holding up your spine and keeping it steady, your core muscles ensure easy, seamless movement as you transition from one task to another. Plus they also keep you safe from the potential spine-damaging impact of motions like rotation, extension, and flexion. So every time you stand, sit, carry your grocery bags, mow the lawn, or even walk, you owe these muscles big time.
A systematic review involving 16 studies found that exercises with a vertical starting position, such as the deadlift activated far more core muscles as compared to exercises in the horizontal initial position. Rogan, S., J. Riesen, and J. Taeymans. "Core muscle chains activation during core exercises determined by EMG-a systematic review." Praxis103, no. 21 (2014): 1263-1270. Doing the deadlift will push all your core stabilizing muscles (such as the transverse abdominis (TVA), the erector spinae, the obliques and the lower lats to name a few) into overdrive. Thus, by training these muscles to hold your spine stable and still, the deadlift helps you build a super strong and sturdy core while giving you the abs you’ve been chasing after!
This isn’t too much rocket science.
You’re only using your fingers to lift that massive bar. This means your forearms will have to pitch in significantly to keep the bar from falling out of your grasp as the weight keeps progressing. Over time, you’re bound to get a really firm grip that will not only prevent you from missing heavier lifts in the future but will also come in handy when opening that tough can of tomato puree.
A big, sturdy back usually doesn’t feature on the list of bar-star-approved body parts. And yet, when you see someone with a back that’s similar to that of your favorite comic superhero character, you’re bound to give them a little respect.
Even you’re not too big on entering a bodybuilding contest, a strong back can still be just as functional for any physical activity or sport that requires running, climbing, jumping, pushing, and pulling. Not to mention that in the real world, it’s your back that does the majority of the work when it comes to lifting something heavy.
How the deadlift works to make your back stronger is pretty straightforward. You bend over and slowly lift the weight off the ground, gradually transferring the heaviness onto your back. The nature of the deadlift is such that it allows you to pull more weight than any other exercise. It also trains both the lower and the upper back at the same time. This way, the deadlift not only boosts your back strength and size but also ups the function of your entire posterior chain by a couple of notches.
Most people stay away from deadlifts because they think they might end up doing some permanent damage to their backs. We’re not going to lie to you; they’re not completely wrong.
As pointed out earlier, the deadlift really engages your back muscles while you’re lifting and lowering that barbell. If your form is not absolutely perfect, it is very easy to slip one of those delicate discs or blow your back out. But do this lift right and you’ll be rewarded with stronger paraspinal muscles, the ones that run down the sides of your spine and play a huge role in keeping back injuries at bay. Colado, Juan C., Carlos Pablos, Ivan Chulvi-Medrano, Xavier Garcia-Masso, Jorgez Flandez, and David G. Behm. "The progression of paraspinal muscle recruitment intensity in localized and global strength training exercises is not based on instability alone." Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation 92, no. 11 (2011): 1875-1883.
The adage “out of sight, out of mind” seems to be very true when it comes to working out; what we don’t get to see, we don’t pay much attention to. This is why, if you look around your gym, you’ll see most people focusing on their chest, biceps, and abs. Even those people who decide to extend their workout to train their legs end up focusing on the quadriceps, that are larger and so much more visible than our hamstrings.
As you start the deadlift, you bend down to pick up the barbell. This thrusts your hips backward while loading the weight onto your hamstrings. As you slowly lift the weight higher beyond your knees, you will need to bring your hips forward explosively, and then push them back once more while you bring the weight down. This repeated motion is what corrects your posterior chain and gives you iron-strong hamstrings that are not just key to developing impressive legs, but also help you prevent knee injuries as your weights keep progressing.
Tight hamstrings and a weak spine are the main offenders when it comes to bad posture – which can, in turn, put a strain on the soft tissue structures of spinal region. This prevents the spine from distributing shock evenly and can eventually lead to a series of complications like injuries, rib and breathing abnormalities, osteoarthritic and neurological changes.
We’ve already talked about how deadlifts work to stabilize your spine and your core muscles, while making your hamstrings stronger and more flexible. Both these factors come together to give you the benefit of a healthy posture. Practice the deadlift regularly and you’ll find it much easier to keep your back straight while carrying out your day-to-day chores.
In the medical world, the basis of bone health is diagnosed through bone density (more specifically, “bone mineral density) in the spine and hip. The higher the reading of bone density, the stronger your bones are.
There is plenty of research that backs the fact that any form of resistance or weight training (which includes deadlifting) can help increase bone mineral density. One study declared that engaging in weight-bearing exercise before puberty offered significant protection against osteoporosis later on by boosting bone mineral density. Bass, S., G. Pearce, M. Bradney, E. Hendrich, Pierre D. Delmas, A. Harding, and Ego Seeman. "Exercise before puberty may confer residual benefits in bone density in adulthood: studies in active prepubertal and retired female gymnasts." Journal of Bone and Mineral Research 13, no. 3 (1998): 500-507. According to scientists from Tufts University, there are nearly two dozen cross-sectional and longitudinal studies that prove a direct positive relationship between the effects of resistance training (another term for weightlifting) and bone mineral density. Layne, Jennifer E., and Miriam E. Nelson. "The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review." Medicine and science in sports and exercise 31, no. 1 (1999): 25-30. However, they also acknowledged the existence of a few studies that disagree with this relationship, though it was likely that the study design and the specifics of the exercise may have influenced the results.
The weightlifting vs cardio debate has been going on for a long time and since everyone’s body type and composition is different, there’s no clear-cut answer. But let’s remember that when people talk about cardio, they usually want to lose weight – and by losing weight, they really mean fat loss. In other words, they want the lean muscle mass, without the flab.
When such is the case, it’s always best to make sure that the maintenance of lean muscle mass takes precedence over losing body fat. Therefore, any training program to help you lose body fat should be designed such that it maintains your lean muscle mass.
A cardio session will burn more calories than a weight training exercise of the same duration but it’s only for a short while. Not to mention how difficult it is for unfit people to keep up with; most likely, they will only stick to low-intensity cardio which won’t help them lose much weight.
Weight training, on the other hand, is more effective than cardio at upping the number of calories you can burn even after a workout. A correctly executed deadlift puts your entire body under active load. Even the muscles that aren’t actually involved in moving the weight will be busy stabilizing the rest of your body. This is why, a smartly designed deadlift circuit sets you up for some serious “afterburn” that keeps melting away those calories by elevating your heart rate, boosting your muscle growth, and making you sweat bucketloads.
Yes, cardio does burn calories and there’s no denying that it does have great benefits for your heart and lungs. But cardio does nothing to boost your metabolism over the long haul. With cardio, you only burn a limited number of calories in short bursts while you’re hitting the road or the machine.
But with deadlifts, the story is different.
With a deadlift, you’re working multiple muscle sets at one time while increasing your endurance power. This increases your lean muscle mass, which, over time, will boost your metabolic rate, push your fat-burning hormones into action, and make your body much more efficient at burning calories.
Hence proved: if you want to stay slim and trim, you need to start lifting that barbell pronto.
As an exercise that engages multiple, large sets of muscles, the deadlift increases the level of metabolic stress on your body. The end result? A massive boost in your testosterone and growth hormones that contribute to all that impressive muscle meat while healing and repairing the worn out ones. In other words, the more deadlifts you do, the more bragging rights you’ll have!
It’s a widely acknowledged fact that exercise releases “feel-good” hormones called endorphins that regulate your mood in addition to promoting pain relief and inducing euphoric feelings. This is why research believes that exercising is one of the best ways to beat stress and depression.
Many health and fitness experts are of the opinion that the more you exert yourself, the more dramatic the release of endorphins although this fact hasn’t been researched properly yet. Since weightlifting demands you to push your limits far more than any other activity, it is believed that deadlifting can have a tremendous positive impact on your mood.
Plus, deadlifting also triggers the release of massive levels of testosterone over time, as mentioned earlier, and according to research, this hormone too has potent mood-stimulating properties. Bain, Jerald. "The many faces of testosterone." Clinical interventions in aging 2, no. 4 (2007): 567.
For every deadlift you do, your entire body gets a little bit stronger. This benefit, coupled with a healthy release of testosterone and a faster burning of calories promotes heart health, revs up your immunity, and makes it easier to maintain weight. All of these reasons make the deadlift a great exercise to help you stay fit, healthy, and happy in the long run.
You’d think that an exercise as effective as the deadlift would need expensive gym equipment straight off a fitness catalog. Wrong.
All you need is a bar with some weights. Free weights are available for a very low price either online or at thrift stores.
Don’t have a bar with weights? Use some sandbags secured tightly with ropes!
If you’re new to deadlifts, we recommend starting with the basic version first before upgrading your workout to more complex variations.
Keep in mind that maintaining a correct form and posture is absolutely essential while performing the deadlift; this will minimize the incidence of injuries and damage while helping you get the best out of your strength-training routine. Therefore, avoid going heavy on the weights in the beginning; instead, pay maximum attention to your posture.
We also advise against using additional equipment like gloves and weightlifting belts if you’re a beginner. Many fitness experts, in fact, believe that these can often reinforce bad form which defeats the entire purpose of performing the deadlift.
Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way, let’s begin with the steps to performing a basic deadlift.
Use a weight that will let you do at least three sets of 12 to 15 reps before your muscles get tired. However, remember to keep your form right all throughout, right until the very last rep.
Once you’ve mastered the deadlift, you can mix things up a bit to enjoy more variety. From sumo and Romanian deadlifts to rack pulls and trap bar deadlifts, each deadlift comes with a wide range of benefits that can be included in your strength-training program.
Take ample warning though, the deadlift is not as easy as the pictures make it look. There may be times you will want to give up out of sheer exhaustion, or because you’re fed up of keeping track of all the minute details in movement. But keep on at it, and one day you will begin reaping both the health and the aesthetic benefits of this fantastic strength training exercise.