measure of total body strength than
the other two lifts by nature of the sheer number of muscles that
are needed to perform the deadlift. The deadlift is a compound
exercise targeting several muscle groups in the lower and upper body
including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, gluteals, hamstrings,
quadriceps, and psoas (hip flexors). Your
forearm muscles, which are involved in gripping
the bar, are strongly involved, as are muscles
involved in trunk stabilization such as your
obliques and abdominals. In all, nearly three
quarters of your total muscle mass is involved
in performing this compound movement.
The deadlift also has many benefits. As a
compound exercise, the movement involves action
at almost all of your body is joints, including
ankles, knees, hips, the vertebrae, shoulders
When compared to isolation exercises, compound
movements that involve larger muscle groups
elicit a hormonal training response that result
in greater strength gains.1 The dynamics of
the lift itself may also lead to greater gains
In laymenıs terms, you will get stronger and
The deadlift also has possible rehabilitation
benefits. It has been hypothesized that the
moderate to high hamstring activity elicited
during the deadlift may help to protect the
Anterior Cruciate Ligament during rehab.2 The movement of
the deadlift translates well into real life as
it mimics bending and lifting. Anyone who has a
toddler is quite familiar with the motion of the
There are two basic styles of deadlifting; sumo
and conventional. The key difference between the
two styles is the placement of the feet and the
width of the grip. In the sumo style, you assume
a very wide stance and your arms hang down
between your legs as you grip the bar. In the
conventional style, your stance is relatively
narrow, and your arms hang outside your legs as
you grip the bar.
The sumo style has gained a reputation as
decreasing the stress placed on the lumbar
vertebrae by as much as 10% when compared to the
conventional deadlift.2 It also seems to
be favored among those who are leaner and have
longer than average torsos. Since the sumo style
requires less hip flexion and a more upright
trunk position in the starting position of the
lift, this may benefit lifters with a relatively
longer torso by reducing the shear forces on the
lumbar vertebrae. We also know that the sumo
style deadlift requires much larger knee and
ankle moments- these joints are at a more acute
angle at the start of the lift then when
compared to the conventional style.2 This implies
that the quadriceps may be more active in the
sumo style than in the conventional style.
Because of the wide stance utilized in the sumo
style, this method requires less mechanical work
than the conventional.2 The bar actually
moves less distance.
In comparison, a conventional grip will place
less stress on the knee and ankle joints and
more stress on the lower lumbar. The increased
angle of hip flexion at the start of the lift
will also require hamstring and gluteal movement
to overcome the angle. Though you may have to
move the bar farther, the amount of distance
would not really be that much greater for a
shorter person. Furthermore, the combined
strength of your gluteals and hamstrings may
allow you to lift more weight than if the
majority of force output was from your
quadriceps. It is important to note that world
records in powerlifting have been established
using both styles.
- Feet should be flat on the
floor about shoulder width apart in the
conventional style and slightly farther apart
in the sumo style.
- Grip bar with a closed,
alternate grip (one palm facing you the other
away from you).
- Knees should be flexed as in a
full squat position.
- Bar should be as close to the
shins as possible.
- Back should be flat.
- Head should be up or in a
- Begin pull by extending at the
hips and knees, such that the hips and
shoulders move at the same rate, keeping the
back flat, with the shoulders above or
slightly in front of bar.
- As the bar passes your knees,
thrust hips forwards and your shoulders back.
- The hips and knees should be
fully extended, and your shoulders back (as
opposed to rounded forward).
- In the downward phase, release
the tension in your muscles so that gravity
alone allows the bar to descend to the floor.
- Rules in powerlifting
competition require that you maintain a grip
on the bar so as to control its descent.
- Do not attempt to lower the
bar at an extremely slow rate, as the
eccentric stress is taxing and causes undue
micro trauma and vertebral stress.
- The lift ends when the bar is
motionless on the floor in front of you.
Points to Remember
- Your back should be flat
throughout the movement.
- At no portion of the lift
should your back or shoulders be rounded o
keep the bar as close to the shins as possible
during the initial pull, and as close to your
thighs as possible after the bar passes your
- Feet should always be flat on
the floor, with your center of gravity over
the back half of your feet.
- Exhale through the sticking
point of the pull (some lifters find it
advantageous to exhale forcefully as in
- Do not jerk the bar off the
floor. The pull should be a smooth, max effort
from the beginning.
- Pay attention to good form. If
your technique begins to break down from the
sheer weight on the bar, you predispose
yourself to injury. Rounding of your back,
knees buckling inward and initiating the pull
with your back instead of legs and hips are
examples of common technique errors that are
- Because of the many muscles
involved in the lift, you may require more
rest between sets than normal.
The deadlift itself has many variations. You can
use barbells for lighter weights or use a
limited range of motion if the situation calls
for it. For instance, I recently had an ankle
injury that limited my range of motion in that
joint. Instead of doing reps from the floor, I
only lowered the bar halfway. There are also
specialized bars that some people find more
comfortable such as the Combo Bar, "U" bar or
Keystone deadlifts are a great exercise that can
help you increase your deadlift totals. They are
done in a power rack and the weight is only
lifted from your knees. There is an exaggerated
pelvic tilt such that you go into mild hyper
flexion of the lumbar spine. This forward pelvic
tilt pre-stretches the hamstring and allowing
you to overload them more effectively.
Stiff-legged deadlifts, also called Romanian
deadlifts, target your hamstrings and erector
muscles (the muscles in your lower back). To
perform this exercise, place your feet about 8
inches apart and place your hands on the barbell
shoulder width apart. Keeping your legs and back
straight, lower the bar to mid-shin level and
bring the bar back up. Though your legs are
straight, your knees should not be locked. The
positioning of your body and movement plane of
the bar is similar to a deadlift.
As in all exercises, the deadlift is not for
everyone. If you have lower lumbar injuries or
any other joint injuries, it is important to get
your doctor's or chiropractor's release before
adding this lift to your regime.
Because of the wide range of muscles the
deadlift targets, some people use it as a
warm-up lift before their workout. In whatever
form you use, the deadlift should play an
important role in your training program.
A short bio on me:
I hold my Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science
form the Pennsylvania State University and am
currently completing my Master's degree in
Health Psychology. I also work for the
Baechle, T. Essentials of Strength and
Conditioning. Human Kinetics, Illinois, 1994
Escamilla, R., et al. A three-dimensional
biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional
style deadlifts. Medicine and Science in Sports
and Exercise, 2000;32:1265-1275.
Hatfield, F. Fitness: The Complete Guide. ISSA,
Santa Barbara, 2000.