Dare to Deadlift

By Lior Barlev

In my experience, facing the deadlift is a daunting task for someone who has never done it before. I’m here to dare you to deadlift, to face your fears, and explain why deadlifting is such a great fitness exercise.

Why Deadlifting:

Let’s start with the basics. What is a deadlift? A deadlift is one of the main lifts where you pull a weighted bar off of the ground to a full extension of your back and then place it back down on the ground again. Deadlifting is truly a very important exercise to do for multiple reasons. First, if you perform a deadlift with the proper technique, it works wonders to increase your core stability by strengthening all of the muscles that support your posture. This is caused in part by the fact that during the deadlift, you are required to keep a straight back. Second, deadlift is the exercise that engages the most muscle groups at the same time. Not even the famous squat can hold this title. Third, from a powerlifting perspective, a deadlift is the true measure of how strong you are, based on the fact that you cannot use any lifting aids (i.e. knee sleeves, wraps, etc..). Deadlifts are only you vs. the bar.  Lastly, when a deadlift is executed correctly and in a safe manner, it mimics a movement that we all use in our daily lives every time we pick something up off of the ground.

Deadlifting Variety

The Conventional Deadlift

Step One: Set-Up.

  • With the bar centered in front of you, stand feet facing forward, hip-width apart.
You should be standing so close to the bar that your shins should be barely touching.image-8

Step Two: The Lifting Posture

  • Place your hands on the bar directly outside of your shins.
  • Bend your knees and lower your hips until you are almost parallel to the floor.
  • Keep in mind you are not doing a squat. You do not want your hips completely parallel to the floor, you want them just above parallel.
  • Make sure your back stays flat and straight by tightening your lumbar spine.
  • Stick out your butt, and tighten your glutes to keep your back from rounding.
  • Keep your chest high and your head looking forward, not looking down.
image-15

Step Three: The Lift.

Grasp the bar tightly, and make sure to push up with your legs. Imagine you are performing a vertical jump without having your feet leave the floor. Your hips and shoulders should be raising simultaneously, as you push down with the balls of your feet. As the bar passes your knees, you begin the lock out where you shift the weight from the balls of your feet to the heels, bring your butt in, keep your spine straight and raise to a standing position.

image-10

The Sumo-Deadlift

The reason this lift is called the Sumo-Deadlift is because it is representative of how a Sumo Wrestler stands as he faces off his opponent just before a fight.

Step One: Set-Up

  • With the bar centered in front of you, stand feet outward 30 degrees, hands-width apart.
  • You should be standing so close to the bar that your shins should be barely be touching the bar.image-11

Step Two: The Lifting Posture

  • Place your hands on the bar directly inside of your shins. Your hands should not be touching.
  • Bend your knees and lower your hips until you are almost parallel to the floor.
  • Keep in mind you are not doing a squat. You do not want your hips completely parallel to the floor, you want them just above parallel.
  • Make sure your back stays flat and straight by tightening your lumbar spine.
  • Stick out your butt, and tighten your glutes to keep your back from rounding.
  • Keep your chest high and your head looking forward, not looking down.
image-12

Step Three: The Lift

Grasp the bar tightly, and make sure to push up with your legs. Imagine you are performing a vertical jump without having your feet leave the floor. Your hips and shoulders should be raising simultaneously, as you push down with the balls of your feet. As the bar passes your knees, you begin the lock out where you shift the weight from the balls of your feet to the heels, bring your butt in, keep your spine straight and raise to a standing position.

image-13

Common Mistakes

  • Arching the back
    • When you arch your back, you shift the load of the weight from your legs to your lower back, which can cause injury.
  • Rounding the shoulders
    • Rounding your shoulders takes the muscle function away from the back muscles, which are supposed to stabilize your spine.
  • Shrugging the bar
    • Shrugging the bar means that you shrug your shoulders upward with the bar in hand. When performing this motion you are engaging the shoulder and trapezius muscles. During a deadlift you should be performing a smooth motion that occurs by squeezing our leg and back muscles, not our shoulder and trapezius muscles.
  • “This is not a squat!”
    • The motion of a deadlift is a hinge motion. A hinge motion is a movement from our hips. During a squat the motion comes from our knees. During the deadlift, we will still be slightly bending the knee, but not as deep as a squat. Imagine you are getting punched in the gut, and your natural reaction is to bring your hips back, that is the backwards motion you are looking for in the beginning of a hinge motion.
  • Lifting too far away from the bar
    • When standing too far away from the bar, the only way to lift the bar is if you are not using a correct and safe posture.

Working Muscles

As mentioned previously, a deadlift is the exercise that engages the most muscle groups at the same time. Those muscles include: back muscles, glutes, legs (hamstring and quads), hip and pelvic muscles, biceps, forearms, and shoulder and trapezius muscles. The back muscles, especially the lower back, supports the majority of the stress and weight during the bottom part of the lift. During the top part of the lift the majority of the weight shifts from the lower back muscles to the lats in the upper back. The glutes come into play at the top end of the exercise (aka the lockout) when you squeeze the glutes for maximum contraction. Most of the deadlift movement engages the legs with the back muscles holding everything in place and during the lift of the weight off of the floor the forearms especially carry a large load of the weight. During the top part of the lift, the shoulders are slightly pulled back, which also uses the trapezius muscles. Deadlifts work the same leg muscles as the squat; however, the deadlift is not a premier leg exercise. The deadlift involves many more muscles than the legs.

Which lift to choose

As a beginning lifter, who is trying to build a strong base without getting hurt there are benefits to using one lift over the other. The Sumo-Deadlift is more back friendly because the wide footed stance itself puts you at a lower risk of rounding your back. On the other hand the Conventional Deadlift is great if you have weaker leg muscles because the straight footed stance allows for decreased pressure on the legs. Find which lift is your best fit based upon where you would rather carry the increased intensity.

If the main purpose of your workout is to develop strong glutes, thighs, and quads, the Sumo-Deadlift will be more beneficial due to the wider foot stance. The wider foot stance engages those muscles more aggressively than in the Conventional Deadlift. If you are a powerlifter, or just like to lift and are trying to put as much weight as your body can safely handle on the bar, then decreased range of motion in the Sumo-Deadlift will help in accomplishing this goal.

Over the next few months, I dare you to deadlift. Try both lifts and see which one is your best fit.

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