The simplest of all gym moves – it’s literally just picking the weight up and putting it down again – the deadlift is also one of the best. Done properly, a deadlift will strengthen basically every muscle in your body, from your posterior chain (all the ones running down your back) to your forearms, biceps and, yes, abs. It’ll also prompt your body to release growth hormone and testosterone, increase your bone density, and make you better at everything from lifting a couch to running a marathon.
Almost any training plan will benefit from the inclusion of deadlifts, and you’ll find that the weight you can lift increases surprisingly fast – intramuscular coordination (or how many muscle fibres ‘fire’ during the move) is more important than how big your muscles are. Your target? Lifting double your bodyweight, including the bar. Here’s how to get there.
How to Deadlift
With feet flat, squat down and grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart.
Keeping your back straight and your head facing forward throughout, lift the bar using your legs and driving your hips forward.
Pull your shoulders back at the top of the move and carefully lower the bar to the ground.
3 Ways to Dominate Deadlifts
With advice from former world record holder Andy Bolton
1. Set up for success
“Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and the bar touching your shins. Begin with a double-overhand grip with your hands slightly wider apart than your feet, but switch to a reverse grip for when the weights get heavier.”
2. Lift in harmony
“Take the tension of the bar. You need to pull it hard and fast but never snatch it or you’ll risk injury. Looking straight ahead, exhale, then take a deep breath and drive your heels into the floor, and push up using the muscles of both your lower back and legs so that the bar reaches your knees.”
3. Drive and lock
“Ensure that your legs lock and your back straightens at the same time. Once you’re straight, retract your shoulder blades and hold your head high, keeping the bar under full control. Then reverse every part of the move to lower the bar back to the ground.”
More Deadlift Tips
Most lower-body moves will benefit from lifting shoes, but in deadlifts they’re counter-productive – not only will they give you more height to lift, but they’ll tilt you slightly forward, throwing your movement pattern off. For best results, lift in flat shoes – think Converse – or in socks or barefoot. It’ll give you a stable platform to lift from.
Scrape your shins
The further the bar strays from your body, the harder to lift it will be – there’s a reason world champ Eddie Hall ends every record attempt with bleeding shins. Start your lift with your toes under the bar and your shins against it, then pull straight up. You might want to invest in a long pair of socks.
You can instantly add around 12kg to your deadlift simply by wearing a weight lifting belt. Breathing into your stomach and pushing against the belt with your abdominal muscles will increase intra-abdominal pressure, creating a more stable core, a necessity when lifting heavier weights.
Get a grip
It won’t matter how much you strengthen your back and your legs, you won’t be able to deadlift heavy weights if your hands can’t hold the barbell. To develop a strong grip, try using chalk and practice white knuckling (gripping any bar that you encounter as hard as you can) to tighten that grasp.
Do assistance exercises
There are additional exercises that you can do to help give you more power in your deadlift. Give some of these a try:
- Farmer’s walks: These help to strengthen your grip and build overall athleticism.
- Plank: Helps to train you at keeping your core nice and tight. Integral for deadlifting heavy.
- Kettlebell swing: Helps to strengthen your glutes, lower back and hamstrings, while training you to be more efficient with explosive movements.
- Rows of all kinds: Important for a strong lockout when deadlifting, helping to build your upper back and your lats.
Hold the bar with a wider grip to place greater emphasis on your upper back (trapezius) muscles. Lift the bar up slowly to avoid jarring your back
Rack pull deadlift
If you find the range of motion of normal deadlifts too strenuous, start with the weights raised on blocks or a rack. This is a good variation to start with until you are more confident with the movement required because it places less strain on your lower back.
To increase your range of motion and improve your ability to lift the bar off the floor, try an exaggerated deadlift by standing on a block close to the bar. Rise to standing slow and steady to maintain balance and avoid injury. Only progress to this variation once you have the standard deadlift form down pat.