What is a Deadlift and How Does it Work?
The deadlift is a staple in any good CrossFit gym and for good reasons. It is a great way to build strength and is a foundation for other lifting movements, such as the Squat Clean and other WODs. When you have this deadlift exercise figured out it becomes easier to master other weightlifting workouts. As long as you perform the deadlift correctly you can achieve a lot of work on some of the major muscle groups. But the key to enjoying the benefits of a deadlift workout is getting that movement right.
A deadlift workout strengthens several muscle groups and does more for you than a lot of other exercises. Done correctly it is great for your core stability and it does not cause a lot of stress on your main joints. It is also a functional exercise, those who deadlift are more capable to lift heavier objects in their daily lives and have better strength in their grip.
The tricky part, especially with deadlift for beginners, is getting the movement pattern and technique right. That is why it is important to have experts like our CrossFit coaches who show you and instruct you until they are sure you have the right technique before they would leave you alone to your workout.
In this ultimate deadlift guide, we take a closer look at how to deadlift, but first things first.
The deadlift is the gold standard of all lifts and one of the top regarded weightlifting exercises in the lifting and fitness world. It works more muscles than other weightlifting exercises and once you have learned the correct way to do it will be as simple as a walk in the park. Essentially when looking at what is a deadlift you have a workout that involves lifting a barbell or bar from the floor to your hips and then it goes back down. Often that barbell is loaded with weights. The movement and technique allow you to lift very heavy weights once you become more experienced and stronger.
There are a few types of deadlifts that we will explore later to give beginners the full picture of what a deadlift workout involves.
For a deadlift you will use the strength of your butt, thighs, core and back muscles. There are two other powerlifting exercises, the bench press and the squat.
Deadlift Benefits – What Are Deadlifts Good For?
As mentioned there are several deadlift exercise benefits. A lot of people who begin a fitness regime focus heavily on cardio work and not so much on strength work, but there is actually a lot to gain from including some strength work, such as the deadlift in discussion. Studies have shown that athletes who deadlift can jump higher and run faster. You can build up muscle quickly with the right form and it is a good way to stabilise your core as well as working the more obvious glutes, quads and hamstrings.
When considering what are deadlifts good for, it is worth noting that not just bodybuilders can benefit from this exercise.
As your body ages and you become older, lower back pain is a big problem for many people. Over three-quarters of people suffer from it and in some cases it can be quite debilitating. Having stronger muscles in the hips and back from doing deadlifts means you are far less likely to have that problem. Choosing the right type of gym wear can also help overcome some of these issues. You are also less likely to injure yourself when lifting heavy items in your daily life. It teaches you the stable movement that you can apply and reduces the risk of joint problems and other bodily complications.
Other deadlift exercise benefits include the improvement of your metabolic and hormonal health. It boosts your body’s ability to burn fat and therefore is helpful as a part of your exercise routine and CrossFit diet goals when you are looking to lose weight. It might even help you live longer!
How to Deadlift Properly – Beginners Guide
Knowing how to deadlift correctly is essential to avoid injury and to perform it successfully. It is advisable to do the deadlift at the beginning of your workout when you are fresh and not worn out yet, but obviously after a solid warm up session of course! Doing a proper deadlift is best learned with a trainer but it follows the following general steps.
- Place your feet flat under the barbell, they should be inside where you place your hands.
- Squat down and grasp the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your shoulders back, look straight ahead and push your chest out. Do not curve the back or look down.
- You then lift the bar but keep it close to your legs and hold the weight onto your heels, not your toes.
- Lift to the thighs pulling the weight towards you.
- Pause then return the barbell to the starting position in a controlled manner.
- Between each rep, you should make sure you take a couple of seconds to get your body in the proper position for each lift.
- For a beginner’s deadlift session you would aim for 4 sets with about 6 reps per set. Use the same weight in each 4 sets. In how to deadlift for beginners it is important to increase the weight when ready at the start of the next workout. Between sets rest for two to three minutes each time.
- For intermediate lifters who know how to do a proper deadlift, you would aim for 3 sets of 5 reps with the same weight for each set and taking a couple of minutes to rest between each one.
- For advanced people doing deadlifts correctly, you would aim for 5 sets of 5 reps and you can move from lighter weight to a heavier weight through the sets. Between each set take the time you need before the next set.
Why Deadlift Form is Important
A lot of people avoid doing deadlifts because they are concerned about not getting the proper deadlift form. For beginners, it’s a good idea to practice the deadlift with an experienced coach who can show you exactly how it’s done otherwise there is a risk of injury. The key is to keep your lower back neutral and not rounded. Lifting heavy weights with a rounded back can put pressure on the discs in the spine and can cause serious injuries.
Following the correct deadlift form is the best way to gradually increase what you can lift. The form makes your pull more efficient and leads to muscle grain. It improves your strength and allows you to lift more weight. Your trainer might recommend you practice the proper deadlift form by starting with a kettlebell first. It is a good way to practice without having the extra weight.
If you are not able to hold the correct deadlift form then you should not be lifting. If you are in your senior years, have weak muscles or if you have issues with your knees, then you should probably refrain from the deadlift, well, at least until you have developed enough progression to achieve the right form.
The Lowdown on Deadlift Technique
Here is a closer look at the deadlift technique.
- When you grip the bar your hands should be overhand, referred to as the pronated position. They should be just a little wider than shoulder-width.
- The bar should be over your midfoot not too far forwards, and your feet should be just at shoulder width, so a little in from the hands.
- The correct deadlift technique has you squatting down with your chest up and head up so your eyes are looking straight ahead. Your shoulder should end up over the bar. Do not round your lower back or look down.
- The arms need to stay straight as you brace stabilizing your trunk. Do not bend your arms as you pick up the bar.
- Then carry out the lift as you push through the bar through the floor with your legs, and let your hips and knees come up at the same time, making sure the bar stays close to your shins.
- As it clears your knees, keep extending the legs and back so your body is completely upright. This is the deadlift technique for back free injuries!
- Now lower the bar back down staying in control and keeping it close to the body until you lower it to the ground.
- For a look at what to do check out a proper deadlift technique video.
How to Grip the Right Way
When you are exploring how to grip for a deadlift there are some tips or rules to follow that give you the best grip. When you are more experienced you might try mixing grips but not as a beginner.
- Grip the bar with each palm of the hand facing you. Make sure your thumbs are wrapped too, not using your thumbs makes the bar more difficult to hold.
- Avoid having the bar in the middle of your hands, the bar should be closer to your fingers. It avoids pressure on skin folds and hand pain.
- Your deadlift grip is going to feel odd if you haven’t used it before but just practice and it will stop feeling odd.
- When you start lifting and you use the deadlift grip you might have pain in your hand at first but this is because you have not developed the deadlift calluses yet. Stick with it, after two or three sessions it should feel better.
Types of Deadlift Explained
There are some different ways to deadlift so here is a look at some of the more popular barbell lifts and what they look like. It is worth noting that when you do deadlifts you can use just about any weights, such as the traditional bar, a kettlebell, medicine ball, a dumbbell deadlift and a trap bar.
- Conventional Deadlift – The conventional deadlift is where you should start when you are a beginner to the barbell deadlift or dumbbell lift.
- Sumo Deadlift – Similar to the squat the sumo deadlift is one of the barbell lifts that use more of the hips and quads in the motion used. You have your feet wider apart and your hands inside the feet. You should start with lighter weights.
- Hex/Trap Bar Deadlift – Uses a special bar, the hex bar, to change how the mechanics work and helps distribute your weight evenly.
- Romanian Deadlift, Stiff-Legged Deadlift, Straight Leg Deadlift – The legs stay straight with the knees bent just ever so slightly and you start from shin height. As you lower the hips move back and with this deadlift, dropping the bar in a controlled manner is still important.
- Snatch Grip Deadlift – The grip you use here is different, it is wider and works out the hamstrings really well. You will see this in Olympic lifting events. It strengthens the CrossFit snatch pull.
- Deficit Deadlift / Rack Pulls – You use the rack to shorten the lift so that your movement is upper, not lower. It uses your back extension more than drive from your legs. The deficit deadlift bar skill is for the experienced.
- The Hack Lift – As mentioned there are different barbell types and the hack lift is one of them. It works your quadriceps but is one of the more risky types of lifts as it puts more strain on your knees.
- Kettlebell Deadlift – If you are worried about how long a deadlift bar is, or that your barbell deadlift technique is not right, you can try a kettlebell deadlift weight. The kettlebell goes between your feet and you get in a squat position bending the knees and using both hands on the kettlebell. Again, your spine should be neutral, not curved and you need to get your core ready and tighten your glutes as you raise your body, keeping your arms stretched out and lifting the kettlebell as you rise. From the standing position bend your knees and go back down in a controlled manner. That is how to do a kettlebell deadlift.
Take a look at some useful videos online for things like a barbell deadlift video or dumbbell deadlift tutorial to see how they are done.
What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?
Are you wondering what does deadlift work? The answer to that depends on what type of deadlifts you do. But with conventional lifting, you have all the main muscles in your lower body really! Your glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower, middle and upper back muscles, and your core too! You get a lot of deadlift muscles worked when you include regular lifts in your training and workout sessions! The deadlift is an excellent exercise to achieve muscle hypertrophy, a state induced in muscle cells wherein they reproduce rapidly.
Heaviest Weight Ever Deadlifted
For men the heaviest weight ever deadlifted is Eddie Hall in 2016. He was the first man to lift 500 kg and still holds the record.
For women, Becca Swanson holds that record, currently having deadlifted 309.98 kg.
Beginners Guide on How much Weight to Deadlift
How much weight to deadlift beginner 101 is to make sure you start light. You need to practice your form anyway so work with a lighter weight and establish your movement and your position. When you are thinking about how much should I deadlift, what you can manage is different from someone else, so have a trainer help you. There is also the guide below that helps you work out what to lift. This is your 1RM.
- A beginner deadlift weight guide is to find the heaviest weight you can lift doing it 4 to 6 times. Then put it in the equation (weight lifted x 1.1307) + 0.6998.
- If you can do 4 reps of 50 kg then the equations would be (50 x 1.1307) + 0.6998 and that gives you your 1RM. In this example, it would be 57.24 kg.
- From there with your trainer, you can decide when you deadlift how much weight to lift depending on what your goals are, for endurance you would lift a higher percentage of the 1RM, for explosive training you would drop to 50% of it.
Your deadlift weight changes as you build up the reps and sets. But keep in mind that you should keep the deadlift to once or twice a week. Your average deadlift will increase as you grow stronger and you can move to things like doing a heavy dumbbell deadlift.
How to Deadlift Safely to Avoid Injuries
It is important to stress that you need to learn proper form and use an expert trainer to avoid a serious deadlift injury. Why a deadlift is dangerous is when the proper form is not learned and filled for every single set and rep. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of getting stronger and lifting more but focus on what is important first.
The key to how to deadlift safely is to have support from an expert and to learn the right technique. Deadlifting can help with back pain and improve your strength and health. But they have to be done in the right way. Make sure you include stretching and avoid rounding your back, hyperextension and twisting. That is how not to deadlift!