The deadlift is a basic total-body exercise that involves nearly all muscles. Athletes from plenty of sports know and use this movement in their training routine in order to develop their muscles and maximize their overall strength.
This exercise is nearly the first movement that athletes learn at the gym and continue using throughout the whole sport path. It can be found in almost every training plan or seen at the beginning of most workouts at the gym.
The deadlift originally comes from powerlifting as one of the three competition exercises. Nevertheless, it is also used in weightlifting, crossfit, fitness, strongman, and many other sports that have a strength component.
What muscles are involved in the deadlift?
The deadlift involves almost all muscles. It is one of the most basic exercises to train the whole body at once and develop peak power and strength.
The main emphasis is put on the biggest groups – legs and back muscles. Hips, hamstrings, glutes, and lats also work well for the deadlift. Finally, traps, abs, forearms, delts, triceps, etc. take their part of the load, too.
Technique and phases
As to the technique, the deadlift can be divided into 4 main phases.
First of all - approach the bar. Set your legs at shoulder width and put a barbell right above the middle of the feet, almost touching the shin.
As to the grip, it should be slightly wider than your legs to let your knees out during the lift. There are three grip options: the double overhand grip, mixed grip, and hook grip.
The first one is the most basic but has a significant disadvantage – it often lets the bar roll out of your palms. However, you may use some tools to control it. For example, weightlifters fasten the bar with lifting straps, some athletes may use grips, gloves, and other accessories to cope with the grip issue.
The mixed grip is mainly used in powerlifting and fitness. In this case, one palm holds the bar underneath and the other is put over the bar. It provides a reliable firm grip but may cause muscle imbalances like a different trap, delt, or lat size.
The hook grip is a good option for weightlifters and other advanced athletes. It means putting your fingers over the thumb while grabbing the bar. At first, it may cause some discomfort but then you will benefit from the grip strength and keep your muscles balanced as well.
After checking your feet and hand positions, you should set your legs and torso properly. The back should be flat and tense. Legs must be bent so that the hips are approximately in line between your knees and head. The shoulders should be over the bar. Look forward, keeping your neck straight but not up.
As you have set up properly, you are ready to lift the bar off the platform. First, make sure to tense your lower back and lats while opening your chest up. Initiate the movement with your legs. Do not just lift the bar off but rather push your feet against the platform powerfully.
Keep your shoulders still over the bar and extent the legs and back simultaneously. The lower back should always be flat and tense. In the second pull above your knees, involve your glutes by squeezing them.
Keep the bar as close to the body as you can. It should slightly touch the shins and legs throughout the path. Don’t let it drift away or your back will go round.
Straighten your knees and back simultaneously to finish the lift. Don’t overextend your spine in order not to get injured, just make sure it is straight. Hold the bar for around a second to fix it and go down.
While lowering the bar, always control it. Try to copy the path that a barbell has traveled up. Don’t relax your muscles at once and don’t let the bar fall on its own.
If you go on with more reps, maintain the muscle tension throughout the whole set and start another rep after approaching the platform or slightly touching it.
Though the deadlift may seem to be a simple exercise, it is not that easy to learn the proper movement. Many novice athletes tend to make the same mistakes which can be especially dangerous.
- Back rounding
It is definitely the most common mistake not only among newbies but also experienced athletes.
Back rounding may happen if the bar drives away from the body and the center of gravity shifts forward. It can also be caused by an improper set-up if your hips are too high and all the load is put on the back.
Also, you can’t avoid this mistake if your back isn’t fixed but rather relaxed. Enough tension is crucial to keep it flat throughout the whole movement.
Lastly, never put too much weight on the bar if you can’t stick to the proper technique while lifting it. It isn't worth the risk you are causing for your spine, especially if you are into weightlifting, fitness, or crossfit where you generally don’t need those extremely heavy deadlifts.
- Overextension in the lock-out
Another mistake that may cause spine injuries is driving your upper body too far backward and your hips forward in the lock-out.
In order to fix it, just remember that this phase finishes when your back and knees are straight but not overextended.
- Letting the bar away
When the bar drifts away, it causes many unnecessary and even dangerous levers in the body. Your spine gets too much load and your lumbar disks are very likely to be dislocated in this way.
In order to avoid this mistake, always keep the bar as close to the body as you can. Also, make sure that you extend your back and legs simultaneously.
- Keeping the bar too far at the set-up
The bar should be just above the middle of the foot in the set-up. If it drifts farther forward or backward, the whole mechanics change. In this case, you are most likely to round the back after the lift-off.
- Narrow grip width
Don’t put your hands too close while grabbing the bar. They should be a little wider than the leg stance so you let your knees out during the movement. If you use a too narrow grip, you may bend your elbows to create some room for the knees and put too much tension on your limb muscles. Therefore, the risk of tearing your biceps goes up drastically.
Every deadlift variation serves to reach a slightly different result. Find the most common variation below.
- Sumo deadlift
This variation is mainly used by powerlifters. Its technique is more complex than the classic deadlift. The main difference is that you put your legs far apart and grab the bar between them using a narrow grip.
Such a technique shortens the range of movements and involves leg muscles more actively.
This variation is a perfect option for Olympic weightlifters. The grip is the same as in the snatch, i.e. a wide one. Therefore, it develops strength and power right within the angles that are essential for snatching heavy weights.
This variation is performed from an elevated platform, a plate, or a couple of them. You can vary the height to make the exercise more challenging.
The deficit deadlift aims to improve the lift-off. It teaches to involve all crucial muscles and distribute the load between them properly.
Weightlifters may perform the snatch-grip deficit deadlift.
- Trap-bar deadlift
This option is performed with a special trap bar. It helps to distribute the load more evenly between your legs and back and, therefore, is more comfortable and safe for the lower back which makes it a good option for amateur athletes.
Another popular variation is performed with your legs almost straight. It helps to train your hamstrings, glutes, and spine erectors more effectively.
The Olympic deadlift for weightlifters
Weightlifters usually perform the snatch and clean & jerk pulls but sometimes go for the conventional deadlift, too. They mainly do it during the transition period to add some variety or within the preparatory period. But it shouldn’t be used too often or too close to a competition because the after-deadlift recovery takes pretty long.
The deadlift helps to develop large muscle groups and enhance their power and strength. However, it doesn’t make much sense for this kind of sport on its own. It is better to perform the Olympic weightlifting deadlift imitating thesnatch or clean & jerk angles. It lets you develop power and strength particularly in the most essential positions for your main lifts.