the joy of strength training


November 2nd, 2007 at 1:14 am

Deadlift – the complete exercise

Deadlift is my favourite lift at the moment and I am aiming really to increase it over the next few months.

Here’s a clip of me doing some light deadlifts, trying to maintain good form throughout.
The deadlift is probably the simplest concept there is: pick a big weight up off the floor. I don’t need to tell you what functional uses that might have! It is also generally your heaviest lift, so it is a good way of expressing how strong you are. The kind of people who like to ask ‘how much do you bench?’ probably wouldn’t know a deadlift if it came up and hit them in the chin!

Deadlift works the whole body, particularly the back and the legs – the biggest muscle groups in the body. For guys who are bulking it is a superb exercise for stimulating muscle growth all over. And for anybody who wants to be strong, deadlifting is the way to do it. I love watching my deadlift figures go up.

If you could only do one exercise in your workout, deadlift would be a great choice as it hits the highest number of major muscles. Moreover, because it’s an intense whole body exercise, it is also an effective CV workout. My heartrate shoots up when deadlifting.

For me, the technique for deadlifting is a bit harder to master than the technique for the other two power lifts: squat and bench press. It is necessary to use both legs and back together to perform the lift, which I find requires concentration and good control of the central nervous system – i.e. the signals which your brain sends to your limbs and vice versa, to get them to do what you want. I like the fact that the technique is more challenging, it makes life interesting!

When I first started deadlifting I had a habit of bending a little at the elbows in the initial pull, but I’ve managed to get rid of that. It is important to keep your arms straight in the deadlift. But I still seem to have an issue with back flexibility in the deadlift. I don’t think it’s serious because I don’t feel any pain or excessive stiffness in the days after deadlifting, but I would like to get it spot on. It seems that rack pulls or partial deadlifts are a good exercise to do if you are having flexibility issues.

The deadlift is also useful for training grip at the same time. I always start with a pronated (overhand) grip and use this for as long as possible, until I can feel my grip starting to go. Then I switch to an alternate grip (one overhand and one underhand). Today, for example, I managed a pronated grip for all except my heaviest set.

No power lift seems to be without controversy but I venture to add for futher reading:

The Deadlift – Greg Glassman

Mastering the Deadlift – Eric Cressey (Part III with links to Part I and Part II)

The Top 10 Deadlifting Mistakes and How to Fix Them – Dave Tate

Mark Rippetoe of Crossfit – A Rather Long Analysis of the Deadlift – he slightly disagrees with Dave Tate on the position of the shoulders at the start of the lift.

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  • 1

    Just to follow up, I have been advised to start with my hips a bit higher (because they come up before I start to lift the bar) and squeeze the bar off the floor rather than yank it. These things should help me not to round my back. Greater hamstring flexibility should also help straighten the body.

    gubernatrix on November 4th, 2007
  • 2

    Great site Gubes!
    I’m a relative newcomer to deadlifting, and think it’s a fantastic lift. Nothing like putting a load of plates on a bar and hefting it up. I’m just wondering if the clean & press doesn’t hit more muscles though, due to the overhead portion. Just a thought…

    Mister C on November 7th, 2007
  • 3

    The clean and press would indeed hit more muscles. However, the lift would have to be a lot lighter in order for you to get it over your head. So your legs and back would not get as good a workout, as they would be making allowances for your shoulders.

    The heaviest lifts have a positive effect on the whole body, even if particular muscles are not recruited. So if, for example, I was to give up a 95kg deadlift for a 40kg clean and press, I would lose that kind of ‘brute force’ strength.

    Clean and press is also a much more technical move, especially if you are going to do a heavy one. I’ve never attempted a heavy clean and press. My gym just isn’t set up for proper olympic lifting. So again, I’d have to compromise on weight lifted.

    I like doing clean and press as a warm up for deadlifts though. I think both moves have their place but I wouldn’t necessarily substitute one for the other.

    gubernatrix on November 7th, 2007
  • 4

    Totally agree. I like to use them both in the same workout – they complement each other nicely. Finish with some pullups and dips, and job done! 😀

    Mister C on November 7th, 2007
  • 5

    I am actually rediscovering the deadlift after
    a time away from it. I think of all
    exercises, it’s definitely my favorite!

    MonkeyMan on November 10th, 2007
  • 6

    Yeah, squats used to be my favourite but the deadlift has taken over!

    gubernatrix on November 10th, 2007
  • 7

    I’ve always preferred the deadlift over squats.
    I just seem to be more in tune with that movement
    for some reason.

    MonkeyMan on November 10th, 2007
  • 8

    […] is what I was telling myself in the gym today as I worked on my deadlift. Last time I deadlifted, I filmed it to check my form. There were some problems, the main one being that my back was […]

  • 9

    […] Deadlift – the complete exercise Stumble it! […]

  • 10

    much prefer deadlifts to squats (as awesome as they are). can’t be scared of them, gotta attack those deadlifts cause they’re so prehistoric, haha

    theoddbody on December 14th, 2008
  • 11

    Indeed! I waver between squat and deadlift as a favourite but there are times when the simplicity of the deadlift just beats everything else.

    gubernatrix on December 16th, 2008


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