Everyone should deadlift. If you’re a strength athlete, deadlifts (and their many variations) are non-negotiable. Bodybuilders who train to gain muscle and improve the quality of their physiques can also use the deadlift to develop their posterior chains.
You don’t have to be a devoted weightlifter to benefit from deadlifts, though. After all, the motion itself is as close to universal as it comes: Bend down, grab the object, and stand up with it. In fact, even if you don’t lift weights, you probably “deadlift” on a regular basis either around the house or at your job.
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So, whether you already pull for athletic reasons or are dipping your toes into the gym for the first time, you should know what you stand to gain from mastering the deadlift. Here are a dozen of the most significant benefits of the deadlift, plus some fun training tips to help you get started.
Benefits of Deadlifts
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
A 2018 review published in MOJ Yoga & Physical Therapy explored the benefits of performing squats, deadlifts, and bench press had on strength and overall health. It concluded that a physiological response of the deadlift was whole-body strength, power, and sports performance. (1)
The deadlift has a much higher potential “ceiling” for strength gain than most other full-body exercises. You’ll get stronger in a hip hinge position but also make neurological strength adaptations that carry over to other compound movements such as the bench press and barbell squats.
It’s a Full-Body Workout
Although many people know that deadlifts work out your lower body, they also work out your upper body — albeit isometrically. Deadlifts engage your lower back, and upper back since those muscles support your torso as you pull weight from the floor. Your biceps will also be strained as they support your arms during the pull, and your shoulders will work hard to keep your arms locked into place.
The Deadlift Builds Stronger Legs
Deadlifts place a big emphasis on your lower body, including your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, resulting in strong and dense legs. Adding deadlifts to your training plan will take your leg strength to another level. One study found that subjects who did deadlifts twice per week for 10 weeks increased their rapid torque capacities in their knee extensors and flexors (aka quads and hamstrings), increasing their vertical jump. (2)
A Stronger, Healthier Lower Back
A strong, rock-solid lower back is important both in the weight room and everyday life. Your erector spinae muscles literally hold you upright when you walk and bear tremendous weight during rows, carrying movements, the deadlift, and much more.
Lower back pain also afflicts plenty of folks with sedentary lifestyles or chronic conditions. Fortunately, the deadlift may be a boon to your back. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research indicated that deadlift training might help reduce pain and disability in some patients with low back pain. (3)
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Deadlifts are a very functional movement, meaning they help out with a lot of everyday tasks. This will reduce the chances of you injuring yourself whenever your carrying groceries, changing a tire, moving home furniture, and so on.
Also, since you’re getting a full-body workout in, you’re strengthening your muscles and preventing muscular imbalances since you’re making sure you work out both your upper and lower body.
You’ll Burn More Calories
The deadlift works a lot of muscles in your body, which burns more calories during your workout. And the more calories you burn, the more fat you lose. Moreover, deadlifts help build muscle, increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR) — the number of calories you burn at rest. A 2014 study performed by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an average of a five percent increase in subject’s metabolism after nine months of resistance training. (4)
They Release Anabolic Hormones
Since deadlifts recruit and stress many muscles, it causes the release of key anabolic hormones, such as testosterone and HGH. Having higher testosterone levels and HGH comes with a host of benefits, including more strength, muscle, energy, and improved libido. (5)
You’ll Have Better Core Strength
When you do deadlifts, you rely a lot on your core’s stability to lift the weight from the ground. Your core is also bracing hard to keep your spine rigid.
Actively bracing your core will make your core stronger for other exercises, including the bench press, overhead press, and single-leg deadlifts. Your core is responsible for facilitating movement, so having a strong core will carry over to everything you do.
Deadlifts Improve Athleticism
A 2011 study showed a link between core strength — which is bolstered by the deadlift —and improved athletic performance on a series of athletic tests, including the 40-yard dash, the T-test, vertical jump, and medicine ball throw. (6)
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Another 2018 study by the Journal of Yoga and Physiotherapy reported that deadlifts might be more beneficial for horizontal-based sports movements that involve sprinting and jumping since a deadlift is applied to a perpendicular plane to the body but loaded in a horizontal plane. (7)
Although deadlifts are associated more with strength than conditioning, you can increase your muscular and cardiovascular endurance by increasing the number of reps and sets you do and decreasing the amount of rest in between sets.
Since deadlifts tax so many muscles, you’ll quickly find yourself keeled over after a few high-rep sets. The journal Sports Medicine found that deadlifts actually benefit the performance of endurance athletes. (8)
Deadlifts improve your posture by keeping your shoulders, spine, and hips in alignment. Since deadlifts require proper form, you’ll have to keep your shoulders squeezed back, spine straight, and hips mobile. Combined, these factors result in better posture. Improving your posture is vital as research shows that it can lead to back pain if left unfixed. (9)
You’ll Develop a Stronger Grip
Deadlifts require immense amounts of grip strength to hold onto the weight during the movement. Since you’re gripping heavy weights for a given rep range, you quickly increase your grip strength, which carries over into every exercise. Research indicates that grip strength is a solid biomarker for identifying older adults at risk of health problems. (10)
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If you’re not doing deadlifts to enhance your grip, you can use a pair of lifting straps to take your grip out of the equation.
You Can Deadlift (Almost) Anywhere
If you’re not already sold on the deadlift’s physiological benefits, take a moment to consider the logistics of your workout routine. If you like to work out at home, you need an exercise that stimulates many different athletic qualities without requiring large, complex equipment. The deadlift checks that box.
If you train in a commercial gym, on the other hand, you know just how frustrating it can be to navigate a crowded weight room. A rude patron can derail your entire session by hogging a valuable piece of equipment.
Luckily, all you need to deadlift is a barbell and some open space. Heck, if you don’t have a barbell at your disposal, you can deadlift with heavy dumbbells, a trap bar, or even a kettlebell. No matter where — or why — you train, you can probably bang out some deadlifts.
How to Do the Deadlift
The deadlift is both simple and complex. At a glance, all you’re doing is picking up a barbell from the floor. Easy enough. However, there’s much more to the deadlift than meets the eye. A picture-perfect pull will enhance the benefits of the exercise and limit your risk of injury.
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Here’s how to properly perform the barbell conventional deadlift. You’ll need a barbell, some full-sized weight plates, and some free space to work.
Step 1 — Address the Bar
Step up to the barbell. Place your feet underneath it such that the bar is directly above the middle of your feet. There should be about an inch of space between the bar and your shins. Start with a hip-width stance; your toes should point mostly forward.
Coach’s Tip: You can turn your toes outward slightly if it’s more comfortable as you get into your starting position.
Step 2 — Find Your Strong Start
Hinge at the hips and bend over. Reach down until you can grab the bar with a narrow, overhand grip. Once you get ahold of the bar, flatten your spine and pull your chest up. In the starting position of the deadlift, your shoulders should be directly over the bar and you should feel tension throughout your posterior chain.
Coach’s Tip: Your start position is uniquely yours. Find the posture that allows you to maintain a flat spine and balanced pressure in your feet; don’t sit back on your heels or rock forward onto your toes.
Step 3 — Brace and Push
Once you’re set up in your starting position, take a small belly breath in and contract your core. Relax your arms and initiate the deadlift by pushing down into the floor with your legs. As the bar passes your knees, drive your hips forward and squeeze your glutes.
Come to a standing position with your knees and hips locked. Allow your arms to hang down; don’t shrug your shoulders at the top. Return the barbell to the floor by slowly reversing the motion and guiding the bar back to the ground.
Coach’s Tip: Your hips and shoulders should rise at the same rate during the first half of the deadlift. Don’t let your behind shoot up as the bar comes off the floor.
Deadlift Tips & Tricks
Keep these three crucial tips in mind to maximize your performance and help prevent accidents from occurring when you deadlift.
Protect Your Back
Make no mistake: Deadlifts are not (inherently) bad for your back. Deadlifting more weight than you can handle, or with poor technique, or both, though, is never a wise decision. Your spine bears the most weight when you deadlift. Maintaining a neutral spinal posture and properly bracing your core are great ways to ensure your body properly manages the load of the deadlift.
Performing accessory exercises that strengthen your back — like Pendlay rows and dumbbell rows — can help as well. Wearing a weightlifting belt will allow you to brace more effectively, too, for a more rigid torso.
Keep the Barbell Close to Your Body
When you deadlift, you should strive to keep the barbell as close to your body as possible. Even small amounts of “drift” — the bar floating off of your body — can make the exercise much more difficult and potentially put you at risk of injury.
You may experience forward drift if your hips are too high when you pull. This posture pitches your shoulders forward. The bar will always want to be directly under your shoulders, so make sure you’re properly aligned when you pull.
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The bar should gently glide up and down your legs when you perform deadlifts. You don’t need to literally drag the bar up your shins or thighs, but it should gently touch your legs the entire time.
Fully Extend at the Top of the Movement
Many gym-goers forgo extending their torso, legs, and hips at the end of this exercise. Instead, they stop just shy of lockout. You’re cutting yourself short if you don’t fully extend at the top of deadlifts because you aren’t fully engaging your quadriceps, hamstring, glutes, and back.
Of course, fully engaging these muscles means more muscle mass and strength for your upper and lower body. If you compete in powerlifting, you need to extend your hips fully at the top of the rep for the lift to count.
There are many deadlift variations that you can add to your training plan, depending on your goal. All deadlift variations will engage the same muscle groups in your posterior chain — back, arms, quads, glutes, and hamstrings — however, some target one muscle group more than the others.
Below are a variety of different deadlift options to try out next time you’re in the gym.
This is the “default” version of the deadlift. Conventional barbell deadlifts work your entire body from head to toe, teach you how to properly perform a hip hinge, and much more. The strength you build and technique you hone from the conventional deadlift should carry over nicely to any other deadlift variation.
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Think of the conventional pull as your starting point. Once you’ve mastered this movement, any version of the deadlift that you try out later should come easily. Conventional deadlifts are also the go-to for most powerlifters who want to train and test their maximal strength.
Although you won’t be able to lift as much weight on single-leg deadlifts, you’ll be able to improve your athletic performances since relying on one leg to pull the weight from the ground challenges your knee stability, core stability, hip stability, and balance.
You have the option of using either a dumbbell, barbell, or kettlebell for this exercise. However, it’s typically best to start with a kettlebell or dumbbell with this movement, especially for beginners.
Sumo deadlifts have you widen your stance and lift with your arms inside your legs (compared to outside of your legs for conventional deadlifts). The advantage of this stance is that it develops your legs — quads, hamstrings, glutes, adductors — more than conventional deadlifts.
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Also, since the wider stance allows you to stay more upright, you won’t place as much stress on your back with sumo deadlifts as you will with conventional deadlifts. Many lifters find they can lift a little more weight in this position than the conventional deadlift due to the shortened range of motion.
Trap Bar Deadlift
If you have any back issues or have poor hip mobility, you’ll want to try deadlifts on a trap bar. This bar’s hexagon shape allows you to better center your body and align your hips instead of having the barbell in front of you, which puts you at risk of hyperextending your hips.
Also, the trap bar deadlifts place more emphasis on your anterior chain — quadriceps — than conventional deadlifts. Note: There are many great exercises you can do with the trap bar beyond just deadlifts.
The Romanian deadlift is similar to the conventional deadlift, save for one key difference: The movement begins at a standing position, bar in-hand, rather than on the floor.
[Read More: Romanian Deadlift vs. Deadlift — Which Is Best for Your Goals?]
Romanian deadlifts are a great option for training the hip hinge specifically, or if you’re aiming for muscle size more than muscular strength. They also make for a stellar accessory exercise to the deadlift itself. Simply stand with the barbell (or dumbbells) in-hand, hinge over until the weights reach about knee height, and stand back up.
As the name suggests, stiff-leg deadlifts have you keep your legs as straight as possible when performing a pull from the floor. By deliberately lifting your hips and straightening your legs, you can shift more of the weight onto your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back.
Stiff-legged pulls are a great way to bring up a weakness in your posterior chain without having to pull ultra-heavy weights. You can also use them for muscular hypertrophy, but beware — don’t expect to be able to lift nearly as much as you can with your regular deadlift technique.
Also known as partial deadlifts, rack pulls are similar to traditional deadlifts, except you lift the weight with the barbell starting around knee height. The benefit of this is that the range of motion is shorter from a rack pull than other deadlifts, which focuses more on your upper back and traps, places less stress on your lumbar spine.
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Generally speaking, powerlifters use it to increase the lockout phase of the deadlift. As an additional benefit, since the range of motion is shorter, you’ll be able to use more weight to build more strength.
The Big Picture
Do you have to deadlift? No — of course not. But, deadlifts can help you build more muscle, increase strength, enhance your posture, and even improve athleticism. Before you do the movement, though, ensure that you perfect your deadlift form and take the necessary safety precautions.
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