Building muscle and getting stronger are often portrayed as complicated processes. According to some experts, you must do a specific number of repetitions with a precisely calculated weight and at a carefully controlled speed to get the results you want.
And while such an approach can work, it may also be unnecessary. After all, humans have been training for strength and muscle mass successfully for hundreds of years, and without the benefit of complex training methods or special machines.
Your body is made up of over 200 bones, 600 muscles of nerves, and blood vessels. But, despite this apparent complexity, it has a hard time differentiating between a state-of-the-art workout using complicated training methods and picking up and putting down something heavy, such as a rock, log, or barrel.
Ultimately, your body responds to stress, and providing you work hard enough, it doesn’t really matter how, where, or when you work out. Train hard enough, and you’ll get results.
Of all the exercises you can do, the deadlift is arguably one of the simplest, and yet it’s also one of the most effective. In this article, we investigate this classic muscle builder and reveal the main benefits of deadlifts.
The Many Benefits of Deadlifts
What Is a Deadlift?
The deadlift is mostly a barbell exercise that can also be done using dumbbells, kettlebells, or a special apparatus called a trap or hex bar. There are also machines that replicate the deadlift.
Deadlifts are so-called because they involve lifting a dead or stationary weight off the floor in front of you.
As well as being a superb exercise for strength and muscle mass, the deadlift is the last event contested in powerlifting competitions. It’s a favorite exercise of bodybuilders and athletes and often features in strongman events too.
In Victorian times, the deadlift was often called the health lift, which is a good indicator of just how beneficial this exercise can be. As well as providing a great workout, the deadlift teaches you how to lift heavy objects safely by using legs and while maintaining an arched and never-rounded lower back.
How to Deadlift
- Place your barbell on the floor in front of you. Stand with your toes under the bar, feet about hip-width apart. The weight should be about nine inches off the floor.
- Lean forward and hold the bar using a shoulder-width, overhand or mixed grip, where one hand faces forward, and one faces backward.
- Straighten your arms and drop your hips, so they are below the level of your shoulders. Brace your abs and arch your lower back slightly. Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Keeping your heels down, drive your feet into the floor, and stand up, pulling the bar up the front of your legs. Do not round your lower back or bend your arms.
- Stand up straight but don’t lean back. Pause for 1-2 seconds.
- Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower the bar down your legs to the floor.
- Let the weight settle briefly, reset your grip and core, and repeat.
What Muscles Benefit from Deadlifts?
Deadlifts are a compound exercise, and that means they work lots of muscles and joints simultaneously. Deadlifts work so many muscles that they’re virtually a full-body exercise. The main muscles involved in deadlifts are:
Known as the quads for short, these are the muscles on the front of your thighs. The quads extend your knees. Squats give your quads a better workout, but they’re still strongly involved in deadlifts, especially at the start of each rep.
Located on the back of your thigh, the hamstrings extend your hips and flex your knees. Deadlifts work your hamstrings just as effectively as leg curls.
Better known as your butt, the glutes are the largest muscle in the human body. The glutes work with your hamstrings to extend your hips. Deadlifts are an awesome glute builder!
These are the muscles of your lower back. During deadlifts, the erector spinae works isometrically to stop your back rounding. If you have a weak lower back, deadlifts may help.
Known as your lats for short, these muscles are on the side of your upper back. During deadlifts, the lats keep the bar close to your legs. Deadlifts are an excellent back builder.
Trapezius and Rhomboids
The trapezius or traps are the large diamond-shaped muscle of your upper back. The rhomboids lie beneath the traps between your shoulder blades. The trapezius and rhomboids work together to stabilize your shoulder girdle and stop your shoulders from hunching over.
The biceps are located on the front of your upper arm. During deadlifts, they stop your elbows from hyperextending. They do this by contracting isometrically, which means statically. Your arms should not bend during deadlifts!
Deadlifts require and develop a strong grip, which is affected by the muscles in your forearms. Strong forearms and a firm grip are useful for many reasons, including sports and day-to-day activities, such as carrying grocery bags or opening jars.
Do Deadlifts Burn Belly Fat?
Deadlifts can help you burn fat and lose weight, but they don’t preferentially target belly fat. That’s not a criticism or drawback of deadlifts; no exercise burns belly fat.
Body fat is unused calories. When you eat too much, your body converts the surplus energy from your diet into fat and stores it all over your body. Fat deposition sites are determined by things like gender, hormones, age, and genetics.
When you eat less and exercise more, your body is forced to start using that stored fat for fuel. Burn enough fat, and your weight will decrease.
Fat is used globally and not locally, which means you’ll lose fat from all over your body, including your belly. Keep at it long enough, and, eventually, you’ll lose your abdominal fat, but there is nothing you can do that will force your body to burn belly fat first.
Rather than trying to lose belly fat, focusing on losing fat from all over your body. You WILL lose your belly fat, but it’ll happen alongside the fat from the rest of your body.
Is It OK to Deadlift Every Day?
While you could deadlift every day, it’s not a good idea. That’s because your muscles grow and get stronger between workouts while you rest. It usually takes about 72 hours for your muscles to recover from a workout (unless you are taking supplements like creatine), and training before you are fully recovered could impede your progress.
Most people should deadlift two or three times per week, which allows adequate recovery time.
That said, the stronger you get, the less often you should do deadlifts. That’s because lifting heavy weights takes a lot out of your body, and you may need more than the usual 72 hours to recover from your deadlift workout.
One way around this is to do different types of deadlifts on different days. For example:
- Monday – regular deadlifts (heavy weights, low reps)
- Wednesday – kettlebell deadlifts (light weights, high reps)
- Friday – trap bar deadlifts (moderate weights, medium reps)
Such a varied approach will prevent overtraining and allow you to deadlift more often.
Why Do Deadlifts Feel So Good?
For a beginner, deadlifts can be a little daunting. But, once mastered, they’re one of the most satisfying exercises you can do. Why deadlifts feel so good is up for debate, but reasons include:
Lifting heavy weights triggers the release of feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins raise your mood and are also natural painkillers. The chemicals in endorphins are closely related to morphine.
A Sense of Satisfaction
Deadlifts are challenging, and after doing them, you’re going to feel very pleased with yourself. Doing something that you find hard can create intense feelings of self-satisfaction. You nailed it; well done!
Progress is Easy to Measure
As you get stronger, you’ll quickly progress to using heavier and heavier weights. You’ll be able to see how far you’ve come simply by looking at the bar you’re about to lift. Success and progress are very gratifying to see.
Doing the Unusual
There is a reason you won’t see many people doing deadlifts; they’re hard work! Doing what other people are unable or unprepared to do will boost your confidence, both in the gym and out of it.
Deadlifts are such a productive and beneficial exercise that they should be compulsory! Whether you want to build a bigger back, firmer glutes, or just learn how to lift heavy objects off the floor safely, deadlifts can help.
Unlike squats, where you need a squat rack or power cage to do them safely, you just need a barbell for deadlifts, making them ideal for home exercisers. Also, if you are unable to complete a repetition, you can just put the bar back on the floor; you won’t get pinned under a heavy weight like you can with squats.
Deadlifts aren’t easy, but that’s part of what makes them such a beneficial exercise. The Victorians were right; deadlifts really are a health lift!