The deadlift is one of the single best exercises that you can do for your fitness and health. In addition to offering myriad benefits, it’s just a beast of an exercise. While it may take some time to master, the results you’ll get are well worth the effort.
Want to get stronger? Deadlift. Want great legs? Deadlift.
10 Benefits of Deadlifts
If you aren’t currently deadlifting then you may want to start. Even just practicing getting your technique right can lend itself to tons of benefits in the long run.
1. Improves grip strength
One of the most significant things a deadlift can do for you is to increase your grip strength. Sure, if you’re using super light weight then it may not be that big of a deal.
However, as the weight you lift increases, you may notice that the way you grip the bar becomes that much more important.
There are a few grips that you can use when deadlifting and they all have their advantages and disadvantages.
In any case, when you’re gripping a bar with your full hand, as tightly as possible, and exerting force to lift it off of the ground like dead weight, it takes some strong forearms supporting a strong grip to do it well.
As your deadlift performance increases, so will your grip strength which has been found to be an indicator of overall health and longevity.
2. Prevents injuries
Have you or has someone you know ever tried to pick something up and ended up getting hurt? Picking something up off of the floor or ground is a movement pattern that we use almost every day. This is kind of what makes the deadlift functional, in that it helps us to “function”.
The reason you or someone you know has hurt themselves bending over to pick something up is that there’s probably a weak link somewhere along the chain of muscles used to do this action.
There’s a popular myth that deadlifts aren’t good for your back, when the opposite is actually true.
Deadlifts strengthen your back and core and encourage better stability and muscular control. When done properly, with correct form, deadlifts are a very safe exercise.
Just like when you bend over to pick something up, as long as you’re using proper form and have the mobility to perform that movement, it’s similarly safe.
The mechanism of injury was likely due to a lack of mobility, improper form or poor posture, and not necessarily the movement of bending over and picking something up.
3. Glute growth
If you want to grow your glutes and build a butt, then the deadlift is the way to go. When performed properly, it’s one of the best glute-builders out there.
In addition to so many other muscles in your body, one of the main muscles targeted by the deadlift is your gluteus maximus. Your other less superficial glute muscles also play a role, namely in stabilizing your hips and aiding in hip extension.
But the big player in this exercise is the glutes.
The main movement used in the deadlift is the hip-hinge which requires you to have good muscular control throughout that movement pattern. Being able to squeeze your glutes and control them through a good mind-muscle connection will immensely aid in this movement.
So ladies, don’t skip on deadlifts!
4. Reduce back pain
Yes, you read that right. Practicing great deadlift form and enhancing your performance while executing deadlifts can actually help you to reduce your back pain. The myth that deadlifts cause back pain comes from people doing them incorrectly.
When done correctly, the deadlift exercises your spinal erectors or the muscles that extend your spine. The stronger these muscles are, the more improved your posture will be.
Plus, doing a good deadlift requires joint mobility, especially in your hips. Many people have achy lower backs and even chronic lower back pain that’s only perpetuated by lots of sitting and reinforcing unhealthy movement patterns.
A lot of lower back pain can be attributed to muscular imbalances, a lack of hip mobility and therefore a lack of hip stability, weak glutes, a weak core, and the reinforcement of bad posture over time.
By increasing your hip stability, and strengthening your core, back, and glutes, you may find some lower back pain relief and potentially even eliminate it.
5. Full-fody strength
If you did a Google search for “king of all exercises” you’d at least see the deadlift very near to the top of some list. The deadlift is touted as the “king of all exercises” because it works so many muscles at the same time.
It doesn’t just work any muscles, it primarily works your large muscle groups.
Yes, you’re also getting assistance from smaller muscle groups and stabilizers, but when you work multiple large muscle groups simultaneously it creates a signal for your body to increase the production of anabolic hormones which make you stronger.
So, not only are you working and strengthening most of your big muscle groups, but your brain will send a message to your whole body to increase your strength. When you improve your deadlift, you’re improving total body strength that will carry over to other big lifts as well.
6. Smaller waist
Deadlifts activate your back muscles, specifically your lats, which are the muscles that run alongside your upper body and insert along your spine. As you build this muscle and your other back muscles, this will give the illusion of a smaller waist.
Aside from increasing your muscular definition, deadlifts use your whole body which creates a higher calorie-burning effect than exercises that only work one muscle group. Over time this will positively contribute to fat loss, which actually does give you a smaller waist.
Combined, these two side-effects of working on your deadlifts will help you to achieve a more aesthetic body.
7. Stronger core
Your core muscles make up your torso. Everything from your lats, spinal erectors, abs, obliques, upper back muscles and even your glutes contribute to your core strength. All of these muscles are required to do a deadlift. Which means, the more you deadlift, the stronger they’ll get.
A strong core has many benefits. Aside from stabilizing your spine and other joints, having a strong core will also encourage better posture, decrease your potential for injury, reduce and maybe even eliminate lower back pain, and help you to have more endurance.
8. “Holy Hamstrings, Batman!”
Remember how I mentioned that deadlifting will help you to grow your glutes? Well, if you’ve ever seen someone who deadlifts regularly, and well, then you may have noticed that they probably had a serious set of hamstrings to match their glutes.
This is because the deadlift is a posterior chain exercise that hits your back, glutes, and hamstrings to a very large extent.
It takes a significant amount of hamstring strength to work with your glutes to extend your hips into a hip-hinge and then stand up straight while holding weight in your hands.
Even just practicing the deadlift will help your hamstring development. Whenever you stretch a muscle before exerting force, it allows more muscle fibers to be recruited, which leads to more hypertrophy or muscle building.
9. Better posture
It’s difficult to have crappy posture if you’re deadlifting.
You’ve got to learn how to pull your shoulders back and retract your shoulder blades, squeeze your glutes, engage your core, and keep your chest up. Remove the barbell from this image and stand up straight, and you’ve got a picture of some really nice posture.
In addition to waking up the glutes and strengthening your core, which will do wonders for poor posture, the deadlift also teaches you how to hold your chest up and keep your shoulders back and down.
A lot of the time, sloppy or slouchy posture comes from rounded shoulders and a rounded upper back.
The deadlift encourages the external rotation of the shoulders, which helps you to keep your chest up and your back straight.
After sitting at a desk, working on a computer, or even just hunching over your cell phone, this extended time in an internally-rotated position will weaken and tighten muscles causing imbalances that lead to poor posture.
Deadlifts help to reverse that by training the muscles on the back of your body that tend to get neglected.
10. Enhance athletic performance
Deadlifting can enhance athletic performance by helping you to sprint and run faster, jump higher, change positions quickly and exert force against your opponent. The stronger your posterior chain is, the stronger you’ll be in everything you do.
This is especially true for sports or athletic performance where power often plays a large role. Learning to deadlift and adding deadlifts to your routine can reap big rewards.
What muscles do deadlifts work?
Deadlifts work most of the muscles in your body, with an emphasis on the muscles that run along the back of your body in particular.
Main muscles targeted
- Rhomboids (upper back)
- Traps (upper/middle back/neck)
- Erectors (spine)
- Quadriceps (front of thigh)
- Hamstrings (back of thigh)
- Abductors (outer thigh)
- Adductors (inner thigh)
- Posterior delts (back of shoulders)
- Hip flexors (front of hip)
This version of the deadlift is differentiated from the others by your foot position. During the sumo deadlift, your feet are a lot wider than shoulder-width, with your toes pointing out. Your hands are inside of your legs and you’ll be executing a shorter range of motion. This variation puts more emphasis on the quads and glutes.
Romanian deadlift (RDL)
One of the main differences between the RDL and other deadlift variations is that you start with the bar in front of your hips, rather than on the floor. Your shins will also stay vertical as you lower the weight toward the floor, push your hips back and lower your torso.
Once the bar passes your knees, reverse the movement and stand back up straight. You should really feel a stretch in your hamstrings at the bottom of this movement. The RDL places a huge emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes.
This is a good way to work on your range of motion (ROM) during the deadlift. You can stand on a platform, short box or even stack plates in order to give the barbell more room to travel downward past your feet.
During the block deadlift, you’ll want to set the bar a little higher than the floor by placing it onto blocks or boxes. It shortens your range of motion a bit so you can lift more weight, and overload your muscles.
A good portion of doing the deadlift consists of gripping the bar. After all, if you can’t hold the bar, you really can’t deadlift. There are pros and cons for each deadlift grip.
However, it’s generally recommended that you start with the most natural feeling one, which is generally the double overhand grip, and then as you reach form breakdown due to the bar slipping with heavier weight then it’s time to try the next step up.
Double overhand grip
- Both palms facing you.
- More forearm activation, builds a ton of grip strength.
- Natural position, comfortable.
- Sometimes your lower body will outlast your grip strength, so when you start lifting really heavy weight and the bar starts to slip then it may be time to switch to the mixed grip or try using straps.
- Great for your shoulder and back position, easy to keep the bar close to your body.
- Alternating hands, one overhand and one underhand.
- Allows for greater grip strength, can lift heavier loads because if the bar starts slipping from one hand the other one can make sure you’re still pulling the bar in toward your body and maintaining a better grip.
- Can open you up to more injuries (biceps tears, muscle imbalances).
- Overhand grip with pointer and index fingers wrapped around thumbs, so that your thumb is between the bar and your fingers.
- Preferred by powerlifters and Olympic lifters because it’s a really strong grip and safer than the mixed grip.
- Great for muscular symmetry.
- Fantastic for grip strength.
- Avoids biceps tears.
- Can be a bit awkward for some people.
Deadlift grip widths
Grip width will be different depending on the type of deadlift you’ll be performing. Here are some common ones:
Traditional deadlift – Grip bar with hands outside of knees.
Sumo deadlift – Hands inside of knees, with arms extending straight down from shoulders.
Romanian deadlift – hands about shoulder-width, just outside of the hips.
What are some of the alternatives to deadlifts?
Rack pulls are a way to work your way up to deadlifting by strengthening the muscles in your posterior chain, or the muscles on the backside of your body including your back, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
With the barbell at about knee height in a rack, you’ll pull the barbell up with a shorter range of motion. This can build strength and help to train your muscles to get ready to pull the weight from the floor.
It’s a shortened range of motion, however, so it’s important to note that only doing rack pulls can create injuries if not balanced by training a full range of motion.
Kettlebell swings are a full-body movement that trains your posterior chain, including your core. It is a hip-hinge movement, like the deadlift, so it targets your glutes, back, hamstrings and core. Getting good and doing kettlebell swings will ultimately improve your deadlift.
They involve picking up a kettlebell from the floor as you hip hinge and then swinging it up into the air while maintaining control.
How to avoid lower back pain when deadlifting?
The majority of people in the United States will experience back pain at some point in their lives. This is generally due to pore posture, improper form, and just all-around bad habits that have lead to muscular atrophy, imbalances, poor mobility, and ultimately injuries.
The deadlift is a phenomenal exercise however a lot of people tend to say that they get back pain after performing this lift. Since deadlifts are supposed to strengthen your back and increase your overall strength, the factors contributing to this back pain are not necessarily the exercise.
Potential causes of back pain during and after deadlifting:
- Poor form
- Rounded back
- Weak glutes
- Improper posture
- No mind-muscle connection
Here are a few ways you can try to reduce and eliminate lower back pain altogether:
- Learn proper technique, start with light weight and gradually work your way up
- Shorten your range of motion with rack pulls as you work your way up to full range of motion deadlifts
- Improve your ankle, hip, and thoracic mobility
- Use a hex/trap bar to give yourself a more vertical position, neutral spine