Why the deadlift? - The benefits.
The deadlift is one of the most fundamental movements that can be implemented into a training programme, whether that be for the beginner or advanced lifter, athletes and younger or older generations. The deadlift is a multi-joint, compound movement meaning it recruits a huge amount of muscle fibres from a range of different muscles. Most activation is from the prime movers in the deadlift, which are the gluteal muscles, back muscles (mainly spinal erectors, latissimus dorsi, thoracic erectors and the entire trapezius region) and also hamstrings; these muscles make up the posterior chain which is the biggest group of muscles of the body and also some of the most important due to their influence on strength, posture and movement.
Leading on from this, we can break the many benefits of deadlifts down into easier to digest pointers:
- More demand = greater gains and more calories burnt - since the movement uses multiple joints and a large variety of muscles in order to be performed this places greater stress on the body and therefore a bigger demand on muscles and energy systems. This leads to more muscular gains in size and strength overall as well as more calories burnt.
- It is a "bang for your buck" movement - leading on from the first point, since the deadlift stimulates the body to such a high degree (muscles/energy systems) it can be considered a very effective exercise. It can be the sole focus of a session and still provide a lot of benefit; this also means it can be placed as the priority of most training programmes as it is a better use of time and more optimal for progress.
- Easy to regress, progress and adapt (due to variations) - even though the deadlift can be a complex movement it is also adaptable as it can be made accessible to everyone. This is why it is so key to include; beginners can start with variations such as block pulls, athletes and people with limited mobility can use the hex/trap bar in order to learn the movement and prevent injury. Progress can be made in the deadlift very easily through different variables such as weight, bar speed and number of reps. There are also many variations of the lift to use as accessory movements or change the stimulus. More on this topic in this article!
- It is the common "strength lift" making it a staple in strength training programmes - a big deadlift is always associated with a strong person, as it requires the entire posterior chain, which takes a lot of work and effort to develop. The deadlift is a staple in strength training programmes for a reason: it gets you stronger and works the body as one unit.
The deadlift has a decent carryover to real life situations - deadlifting improves back, leg, core and grip strength therefore is a very practical lift when it comes to carryover to real life tasks such as picking boxes up or moving things. Furthermore, due to the muscle the deadlift builds, it can aid posture and also improve health and longevity (promotes muscular and joint integrity amongst other things).
- There is significant benefit to athlete development - deadlifts can provide huge benefit to athletic performance and can be implemented into almost any sport to develop a stronger, more explosive athlete. The synergistic actions of the posterior chain in the movement are important for athletes for both strength and performance.
Postural benefits - the need for back tightness in the deadlift as well as the recruitment of the entire posterior chain has benefits for posture. In addition there is the need to keep the core well braced and rigid which helps with postural integrity. Due to the muscle gained on the posterior chain, people may find their posture improves significantly.
- Core training - when deadlifting there is a need for bracing to maintain a rigid core and strong posture and this provides a lot of stimulus for the core (which encompasses the abdominal region, lower back and muscles inside running alongside the spine) meaning it can be an effective way to strengthen and build the core from the inside out. It will have a far larger benefit than endless ab crunches.
- Highly important for any style of training - the deadlift is a movement that can and should be implemented into almost any training programme; it is highly effective for building muscle, losing fat and gaining strength. More importantly, the deadlift or its derivatives are necessary across many sports including bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, Crossfit, Strongman and have uses in different sports too for athletic development.
- Simple, easy and convenient (regarding space, equipment and the movement itself) - despite being a technical movement, the deadlift is an overall simple and convenient lift in that it requires only a barbell and some weights, very little space and does not require a spotter. This makes it a more accessible and preferable movement but unfortunately this does mean it has more potential to go wrong... which is why we have the next section!
Basics and form advice.
- The deadlift should be treated as a MOVEMENT, not just an exercise used to target specific muscles or thrown into "back day", it is an important compound movement and should be treated as such, with full focus and as a priority in training.
- There are some absolutes in the deadlift and then many individual differences, which is key to understand for a better deadlift. You will not lift the same way as another person; you have to be able to adopt your own style as long as it considers the basics of deadlift technique.
- Leading on from that point, some basics are (for both sumo and conventional styles): keeping feet flat on the floor, keeping arms fully locked, aiming for neutrality in the lower back, bracing before the lift, staying tight within the movement, locking out with emphasis. This is minimal detail but this article would be a book if I went into everything!
- Because the deadlift is a compound movement, it should be treated that way in the way it is programmed into sessions. There should be adequate recovery time between deadlifting because the posterior chain takes a lot longer to recover than say the upper body.
- The deadlift should be the first movement of the session it is included in to give it full attention and focus.
- Rest times should be enough so that the net set can be performed to the highest level, this isn't a circuits exercise, or a cardiovascular workout, it is a heavy primary movement with serious potential to injure if done/treated wrong (I'm not trying to scare you off deadlifting I am just reinforcing the importance to treat it as a proper movement!).
- Rep and set scheme depends on people's goals however doing "burnout" sets with deadlift, or lifting to maximal effort every workout is reckless and will not provide benefit. In fact, testing your max more often will hold you back more than anything, and reinforce bad habits. BUILD your deadlift, IMPROVE your deadlift, don't get caught up on trying to test it every session.
A vital aspect in lifting heavy and safely is bracing, and it is something I will always emphasise because it is commonly overlooked and also done wrong.
It is very common to see people knocking out deadlift reps with no care for proper breathing patterns and this is one of the reasons why we see these horrendous deadlifts featured on "gym fail" compilations. Not only will disregarding bracing hinder performance, it can also cause injury.
Tips for bracing:
TIPS for bracing properly that I have found to be effective (and easy to cue) are to act as if you are about to be punched in the stomach: “push out” your stomach (even more effective with a belt which will “push back” into you leading to a greater degree of tightness and core activation) and draw your ribcage down – this will happen naturally provided air is being taken into the stomach – after inhaling a large breath of air. However, whilst doing this, be sure to not let the air only come into the thoracic region (upper back) but instead take the air deep into the stomach so that you can “inflate” your core 360 degrees (abs, obliques, lower back) as this will create the most amount of pressure, leading to enhanced tightness, a better movement pattern and probably better bar speed too (not to mention less chance of an injury). Another tip is to put the tongue to the roof of the mouth after inhaling air as it can aid the brace.
Hopefully you can take away something from this article, I aimed to stress the importance of including such a beneficial movement into your training. The deadlift is a safe movement overall when it is performed correctly and treated with respect, and should be a fundamental part of (pretty much) any training programme! Feel free to contact me with any feedback, questions or enquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org or interact me on Instagram where I post pretty much every day: @blgfitness. Coaching is available at very reasonable rates too, get in contact via email and/or Instagram, I'd love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading!
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