An exercise so brutal it has the word “DEAD” in its name. Deadlifts are one-third of the unholy powerlifting trinity which includes the Squat and Bench Press as ultimate tests of overall strength and power. With the exception of the Squat, you just won’t find another single exercise that works more muscles in your body than the Deadlift. The Deadlift is a whole body power-exercise that strengthens the lower back, mid & upper back, traps, butt, legs and forearms while developing insane grip strength, improved balance, coordination and core strength. Deads are so awesome they even have a cardio-respiratory benefit when done with appropriate intensity. With no risk of getting pinned under a weight you cannot lift, Deads pose less risk of injury when compared to other major lifts provided you observe good form, not rounding your back during the lift or attempting too much weight too soon.
Deadlifts are a complicated exercise to master. My own Deads are far from perfect but over the years and with lots of reading, watching videos and working with more experienced lifters, I have developed a technique that works, staying free from injury and making steady progress in strength, speed and overall intensity. So I’m going to keep this as simple as I can and encourage you to get in the gym and start your own journey of mastering the Deadlift.
Start with the loaded barbell on the floor in front of you. Stand with a medium-wide stance, about shoulder width with toes pointed out slightly. Bend over the bar leaning forward, knees bent and back straight. Grip the bar so that the insides of your forearms are touching your outter thighs and your shins are lightly touching the bar. Use an over/under grip (your dominant hand grips over the top of the bar, the other hand grips under). As you lift the bar keep your back straight with your butt low to the ground and your head up. Keep your weight back on your heels and drive up with your legs and back to a full upright position. At the top of the lift, stand with your chest out and shoulders back, as if standing at attention. Hold the weight under full control before lowering back down. Let the weight descend quickly but under enough control so that it does not drop.
Deadlifts are intense but they can be added to almost any workout routine. They are a great addition to a full body workout, starting off a back day routine or part of a chest/back split. For an all-out brutal day at the gym you can do heavy Squats followed by Deadlifts. I’ve done all of the above, but these days I prefer to dedicate an entire day at the gym to my Deadlifts, doing lots of sets starting with light weight/high reps, warming up slowly to heavy weight/low rep sets and a 1RM attempt with plenty of rest between sets so that I can give each set everything I’ve got. I will usually follow up my Deads with either a few upper back exercises or some heavy benching. I have found that my bench press is super strong after heavy Deads. With my nervous system all fired up from the full body exertion that comes from doing Deads, I have a lot of power that helps me bench strong.
Some METALBOB tips on doing DEADS:
- NO STRAPS – Use Chalk instead. Grip strength is an important part of Deadlifting. Straps may seem to help but they are really just slowing you down. The amount of time you spend bent over the bar adjusting the straps places unneeded stress on your back and restricts your airways. It is best to spend as little time as possible bent over the bar before Deadlifting. An over/under grip with plenty of chalk will be all the help your grip needs, and your grip strength will quickly improve, making straps unnecessary.
- SPEED & EXPLOSIVENESS – A key element to learning how to do heavy Deadlifts is explosive power. How fast you can apply all your strength to getting the bar moving up off the ground will be crucial to whether or not you will be able to pull the weight. In the above video demonstration you will see that I bounce slightly before lifting, bending my knees and getting my ass down for a couple of quick pumps before I pull. This motion gives me the explosiveness that helps me get the bar moving those first few inches, the hardest part. Once the bar is moving, my back and legs take over, forcing the weight up. To learn how to Deadlift with explosive speed and power, spend lots of time practicing with lighter weights, always pulling the bar from a dead stop off the floor.
- BIG AIR – Having lots of air in your lungs is important for explosive power and core strength. This is the main reason you don’t want to spend a lot of time bent over the bar setting up. Stand straight up and get some deep breaths in your lungs before bending over. Take your grip, get set, and pull. Extended time bent over will sap your air and energy, making your Deads less powerful and explosive.
- GET CLOSE TO THE BAR – When you bend over to pull the weight, your shins should be close to or touching the bar. If they are not, the bar is too far out in front of you. When you pull, the bar will come in toward you instead of going straight up. This will throw off your leverage and have you off balance during the key part of the lift. Being close to the bar ensures your arms and shoulders are straight over the bar, letting you pull straight up with balance and a strong core.
- VIDEO – Take videos of yourself Deadlifting. Sure, you look hot pulling massive weights, but by watching videos of yourself you will learn to evaluate your own form and technique. Video taken from a side angle will give you the best vantage point for evaluating your Deads. Watch these videos over and over again, compare your Deads to videos from professional bodybuilding and powerlifting websites. Share the video with experienced lifters and ask them for feedback. This is a great way to learn and builds confidence.
Entire books have been written about the Deadlift. This article is just a scratching of the surface. I hope that if nothing else, this article gets you pumped for your next visit to the gym to do some Deadlifting. I’d love to hear from anyone out there that wants to talk more about Powerlifting. Questions, comments, feedback… leave it in the comments section or contact me directly.