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Adding Deadlifts to Your Workout Routine

Updated on September 25, 2012

What is a Deadlift?

Chatting with a friend one day I asked him if he knew what a deadlift was. With his quick and dry humor he said it was what pallbearers do at a funeral.

With joking aside, the deadlift is probably an exercise you might recognize but have been too intimidated to try yourself or just not interested. There is also the technique factor, in which you probably just don't know how to deadlift.

The exercise is essentially the motion of lifting a heavy object off the ground. Imagine if you were to pick up a milk crate filled with bricks. You should* squat, grasp the handles and the push yourself up with your legs, keeping your back straight and your chest out.

*I say 'should' because many people would imagine simply bending over with their legs fairly straight, grasping the crate and then straightening their arched back. This is considered poor lifting form in most any situation and can often lead to back pain and possible something more serious.

Take that image, surround yourself with a gym and replace the crate with a barbell. You have the idea of what a deadlift is. But don't run out there yet! Let's talk about form and technique.

For more healthy and life-extending advice, please see this article.

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How to Deadlift

Squatting Properly

Consider the gym scenario in your mind. (Unfortunately this is as far as many of us get in real life.) Remember there is a barbell laying in front of you and you are about to pick it up. Before you squat down to grab it, place your feet shoulder width apart. Also, the barbell should be about 2" to 3" from the front of your shins, the center of the bar aligned with the center of your body.

Do you have the image? Now squat, but lower yourself as if you are attempting to sit on a very short stool. The purpose of being intentional about how you squat is very important in protecting your back and getting the most out of your deadlift. Hopefully when you mimick this motion, sitting on a short stool, you keep your shins perpendicular to the ground and you keep your back straight. This also helps your thighs possible reach a point where they are parallel to the ground, another good indicator that you are squatting properly.

A good idea might be to practice this now and pay attention to your body.

  • Is your back straight?
  • Are your shins (mostly) perpendicular to the ground?
  • Is your butt lowered so your thighs begin to parallel with the floor?

Don't expect geometrical perfection, but strive to do this when squatting in any capacity. Do this when picking up boxes or babies. Even the light stuff. It will save your back!

Grasping the Barbell

For now you should use light weight; perhaps 10lb or 25lb plates.

Now that you are squatting in from of the barbell, reach down and forward and grip so your hands are slightly spaced outside your legs. Remember that your back is straight!

Another note, when you are gripping the bar, let the bar sit in the curl of your fingers rather than the pads of your upper palm. This is hard to imagine, but by doing this you will avoid pinching the fleshy padding you have on the palm of your hand and thus creating calluses.

It isn't detrimental to the lift and experience will be a great teach for this one.

Standing Up - Lifting

Now you are ready to rise!

  • Keep your back straight
  • Look directly forward (Try not to lift your face up)
  • Simply push up with your legs

That's right. Change the way you think of lifting and consider it all pushing up with your legs. The only work your back does is keeping straight. Your arms are there to hold the weight.

When you are lifting, or pushing up to be consistent, the barbell should float up in front of your shins, glide past the knee and rest on your upper thigh. This should be done in one motion and after you clear your knees it should feel like you are thrusting your hips. Keep chest out, shoulders back and you should lock the knees at the pinnacle of your lift.

My personal opinion: Practicing with too light of a weight can keep you from developing the good form you will eventually need to lift heavier weights. Find a weight for you that is not over-taxing but also keeps you from lifting the barbell with your arms.

Lowering and Finishing the Repetition

Now you are ready to lower the barbell to the starting position. In one motion:

  • Push your hips back
  • Lower weight to knees
  • Unlock knees (Waiting until the barbell reaches and passes knees before unlocking them keeps you from scraping them and your shins.)

Let the weight touch the floor and repeat!

Why Should I Deadlift?

As you can see you use a lot of your body to lift that one barbell. With exercises such as deadlifts, squats, burpees and power cleans, you engage a large number of muscle groups!

Here is a small list of non-technical muscle terms you use during a deadlift:

  1. Abdominal Muscles
  2. Obliques
  3. Back Muscles
  4. Forearms
  5. Shoulders
  6. Butt Muscles
  7. Leg Muscles

The deadlift won't necessarily give you the muscle tone many are looking for now days, but it will definitely set a solid foundation towards a solid muscular build.

Other Benefits

  • You can save time in the gym. (By working several muscle groups at once.)
  • The nature of the lift increases stability and body control
  • Once you master technique, the lift becomes a cardio workout as well


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