If there was one single exercise to test pure brute strength it would be the Deadlift. The Deadlift is rivaled only by the squat in the multitude of muscles it activates and the magnitude of CNS stress it triggers. These factors in turn jump start growth and fat burning. I recommend the Deadlift to everyone but at the same time I think this is an exercise to be respected and approached intelligently. It’s not that it’s easier to injure yourself deadlifting, but it’s much easier to get carried away, load up too much weight and try to force it up one way or another.
The most common deadlift form begins with the feet about shoulder width apart. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. If you’re not starting off with 45 lb plates (or bumper plates), set up the bar on stacked plates in order to achieve the height of a loaded 135 lbs bar. Why? Well it’s impossible to do a deadlift with just the bar and doing it with smaller plates is going to mess up your form.
Begin by gripping the bar (read below about different grips), then bring the bar close to your shins. It should be right against your shins while the shins are perpendicular to the ground. Bring your hips a little bit down while your arms are fully extended; you don’t want any slack in them. At this point your back should be naturally arching a little bit. Now the back arch is really important as a lot of people hunch over which is an awesome way to destroy your back. (See the back arch section). You are ready in the starting position.
You can think of the deadlift in two stages. The first stage is similar to the lockout portion of the squat where the majority of the work is done by the legs. You start with with the weight on the heels, arms straight, shins straight, everything tight: abs tight, chest full, shoulders pushed back. A really good way to start the deadlift is to pull on the bar a bit not lifting it at all just to get a sense how it’s going to feel.
Come up, bar going up in a straight line, once the bar comes over your knees you enter stage two, where the back and hips do the brunt of the work. Here you want to focus on bringing the hips in (i.e. toward the bar). Lockout and you’re done.
The back arch is crucial in order to utilize the strength of the back muscles. The arch protects your back, if your back rounds out, your muscles cannot support it safely. In this case you must use a lighter weight. You should also be regularly performing exercises to strengthen the lower back such as stiff-legged deads, hyperextensions and reverse hyperextensions. Strong abs will also help the deadlift, so don’t forget to train your abs, and not with crunches or situps. Weighted crunches, leg raises, and the like will give you functional strength, not just endurance.
Grip is going to vary from person to person, generally a bit wider than shoulder width is the norm, this is something you want to experiment with to see what feels best. Something specific to the deadlift is that you can lift only as much as you can grip, think about that. If your hand can only grip 300lbs but your back can pull 700 you still are just going to pull 300. Often times when people feel the weight is heavy it’s because their grip is getting tired not their back, which is why I recommend using chalk and even straps (on some sets). Of course, the less you rely upon straps, the stronger your grip will become.
The two most common grip types:
Mixed Grip (stronger)
Double overhand (weaker)
Most use mixed grip, but you might be a freak of nature and find you do perfectly fine with double overhand so go with it.
In all cases, you can benefit from training your grip. This is probably one of the fastest ways to improve your dead. Do farmer walks, static holds with the barbell, rack lockouts and shrugs. if your grip is weak make sure to rest enough between sets, use chalk and straps on your heaviest lifts.
The deadlift is a mental lift as much as it is a physical one. Like other major lifts it requires focus and concentration as much as strength. Go in rested and properly fed, and don’t repeat until you reach that state again. Also, take enough of a break between sets to get in some recovery; we’re not doing cardio here. Both in the long term-between workouts-and the short term-between sets, your CNS takes more time to recover than your muscles. Staying in tune with your body and recognizing the need for recovery will go a long way to preventing injury.
You remember staring at that 315 or 225 or whatever plate jump you were aiming for and wondering how you will ever get it, and couple of weeks later you’re repping it like it’s nothing. I’m not saying you can will yourself to deadlift 600 pounds but pushing yourself to work hard and be determined on getting PRs and moving up the weights is going to be better than any other advice when it comes to the deadlift. Be stubborn, work hard at it, but at the same time work within your limits, put on a belt on heavy sets and learn to put your ego aside and focus on what will get you the results not what will make you look cool today. The more you deal with heavy weights the lighter those weights become, do heavy rack pulls etc and you will find it strange how last week’s super heavy dead feels light today.
As with every other lift, muscles that govern the deadlift do not operate in isolation. If you neglect your squats, your deadlift is going to suffer pretty badly. Train your quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, abs etc. Don’t be afraid to do volume even if you are just training for strength, you have different muscle fibres that get activated at certain rep ranges and they all can help you with your max.
This article has covered the basics, though there are a lot of the variations on the deadlift, for example Sumo deadlift (feet really wide, grip the bar between your legs) snatch grip deadlift (hands really wide, legs narrow). We’ll get to those soon
Main Movers: Lower back – Glutes – hamstrings – quad