When the word deadlift comes to mind, we may think of heavy weights, chalked-up hands, strained faces, and high fives.
The deadlift is an exercise for only the veteran gym-goer or exercise enthusiast… right?
What about the soccer dad picking up cones after his daughter’s practice or the grandma reaching for her bag of potting mix in the garage?
Moving a couch, vacuuming, or lifting a grocery bag are real-world situations that present terrific opportunities for EVERYONE to learn how to deadlift.
Why Perform Deadlifts?
A proper deadlift will protect your back and can make you more efficient.
Though it may sound intimidating, the deadlift is just a name for a movement that aligns your joints, from ankle to hip to wrist, in optimal positions for lifting an object in front of you.
Think for a second about how many times a day you reach for something on the floor. Maybe once? Twice? Dozens of times?
One bad lift could cost you days of pain, or worse; a trip to your doctor or Physical Therapist.
Often, the deadlift is considered a back exercise.
While this exercise does indirectly target muscles in your back, when performed properly it’s primarily a hip and knee exercise. The aim is to strengthen the famous glutes (butt), quads (front of the thigh), and hamstrings (back of thigh).
The band of muscles around our midsection, aptly named “the core,” also benefit from a well-executed deadlift. It’s a movement that develops the synergy of important muscle groups rather than an isolated exercise to train one muscle.
Let’s think of muscles as instruments in an orchestra and our brain is the conductor.
A properly trained conductor is able to create a well-organized program that is activated smoothly in order. A poorly trained conductor cannot efficiently control the group; leading to jumbled, erratic results.
Therefore, training our brains to properly understand and control this movement is important.
Let’s learn to lift like Beethoven!
How Do You Deadlift?
Whether you’re recovering from a low back injury, trying to improve your mile time, or contemplating exercises for a brand new routine, there’s a version of the deadlift that’s safe for you.
There are many ways to deadlift, but the best approach is to consult with a Physical Therapist or experienced trainer who can break down the movement and lend an eye to perfect form.
However, let’s review one of the simpler variations that can help you get started.
The Romanian Deadlift
To begin, let’s use a broomstick or light bar. Eventually, resistance can be used in the form of a barbell, kettlebell, or dumbbell.
1. Grasp the stick in an overhand grip, arms fully extended, back straight and hips pushed forward.
2. Artificially create tension through your core by picturing someone poking your abdomen. Tighten the muscles but do not “suck in.” It is essential to maintain this tension throughout the exercise.
3. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips backward while maintaining a neutral spine; this is called a “hip hinge.”
4. As your upper body moves forward, your bottom moves backward. It’s important to become comfortable keeping your back straight while inclining your torso.
5. Keep the stick close to your thighs. It should slide down your thigh to just above or below your knees depending on your hamstring tightness.
6. Prevent your knees from moving forward – think “rotating about the knees” rather than moving your knees forward
7. Lower the stick to about knee level, then squeeze your buttock and reverse the movement — being sure to keep the stick as close to your body as possible.
8. Return to the upright posturing in step one, ensuring your hips are fully forward without increasing the curve in your lower back.
As you become more proficient in the Romanian Deadlift, these steps should blend together into a smooth, coordinated movement.
Just like any version of the deadlift, this movement requires practice.
There are numerous deadlift patterns with a variety of more specific applications. Once you’ve mastered the Romanian style you may decide to progress to a conventional, sumo, single-leg, single-arm, or band-resisted style.
The deadlift is a staple of any well-rounded exercise routine.
Add them to your current regimen or advance your style for a continued challenge!
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- Stock, M. S., and B. J. Thompson. “Sex comparisons of strength and coactivation following ten weeks of deadlift training.” Journal of musculoskeletal & neuronal interactions 14.3 (2014): 387-397.
- Frounfelter, Greg. “Teaching the Romanian Deadlift.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 22.2 (2000): 55.
- Piper, Timothy J., and Michael A. Waller. “Variations of the Deadlift.” Strength & Conditioning Journal 23.3 (2001): 66.
- Willardson, Jeffrey M. “Core stability training: applications to sports conditioning programs.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research21.3 (2007): 979-985.
- Berglund, Lars, et al. “Which Patients With Low Back Pain Benefit From Deadlift Training?.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 29.7 (2015): 1803-1811.