deadlift

If you’re looking to get stronger, put on muscle, tone, or lose fat this exercise should be in your program. You don’t have to worry about it being bad for you. Deadlifts will help you be stronger and safer, because stronger abs, glutes, and good posture makes a healthier YOU.

What deadlifts can do for YOU

Burn Fat 

The deadlift is going to help you burn more fat than any other exercise. It requires all of your muscles to work together. You’re expending a large amount of energy, your heart rate sky rockets and you end up burning a ton of calories. It’s a perfect fat loss recipe.

Gain Strength

The deadlift is the best strength building exercise. You primarily build strong hamstrings, glutes and back but you will also build your shoulders, forearms and abs. You gain strength from top to bottom.

Build Lean Muscle 

The deadlift has the most bang for your buck when it comes to putting on muscle, because you’re able to target the most muscles all at once.  You target your whole posterior chain. Meaning a bigger back, firmer, bigger glutes and more muscular hamstrings. You also build your forearms, shoulders and abs as well. Isolation exercises (i.e. “bicep curls, tricep extensions, etc“) have their time and place and you don’t need to stop doing them, but the deadlift targets more muscles in less time which is much more efficient. 

Improve Performance

Being able to produce great amounts of force is very important for everyone. The more force you can produce the faster you will be able to run, jump, lift, and move better.  For this reason the deadlift is an outstanding exercise if you want to be better on the field or a better overall athlete in general.

Improve Posture

Have you tried to fix your posture but can’t make it stick? The deadlift can help with that. The deadlift strengthens your upper back and all your postural muscles to keep you upright without you having to think about it.

Eliminating a Common Misconception

A green two-way street sign pointing to Right Way and Wrong Way

You will probably hear that the deadlift is bad for your back.

That couldn’t be FURTHER from the truth.

The deadlift is going to strengthen the muscles that keep your back healthy.

Now, if you’re doing the exercise improperly, the deadlift could cause sheer stress to the back.  Pulling with a rounded back or hyperextending at the finish are two ways that could hurt you.

Rounded Back

Rounded Back

Hyperextended Finish

Hyperextended Finish

But when done properly you don’t have to worry about that.

In reality the deadlift will make your back stronger and more resilient. This movement trains all the muscles that are important in keeping the back strong. Having strong glutes, strong abs and good posture is what is going to keep your back healthy.

I have had two clients that had back pain prior to deadlifting.  After taking them through the proper progressions to be able to deadlift, their backs not only got better but they are stronger than ever.

Let’s Get Going

Although, there are four different deadlift variations, there are a few things that remain the same for each variation.

Setup

[wpvideo PQXZBz3P]

You will notice in the video I reset after each rep.

You have to setup properly every time. A strong setup is going to put you in the best position to lift correctly.

The setup for the deadlift is so important, I can not emphasize it enough, especially as the weights start getting heavier. The deadlift has no stretch reflex like the squat or bench press, meaning, there is no loading phase. Your only time to “load up” is in your setup. Get as much tension as you can in your hamstrings, pull your shoulders down toward your hips and brace TIGHT.

My favorite way to work on my setup is to reset after each rep, making each set a cluster set. Instead of doing a set of four consecutive reps, I break the ‘cluster set’ into a set of 4 single reps. Make each lift as if it is the first. Just like anything, the more you practice, the better it becomes.

Your setup should become routine. You do the same thing every time. Not only will this put you in a better position, but it will make you more confident.

Think of baseball players, the most superstitious people in the world. They have to do the same routine. Every. Single. Time. If they don’t, they don’t feel ready.

Look at this video of Nomar Garciaparra. He had to do this whole routine before every pitch because it was part of his setup.

Air and Brace

You also need to learn to properly breathe during the deadlift, it’s very important in executing the lift and keeping you safe. Being able to create a “bubble” around you by getting 360 degrees of expansion is going to not only create a great amount of stability and pressure but keep your back safe.

It is very important for you to create a lot of tension throughout your whole body. You’re going to create this tension by squeezing your abs and your whole body tight after you get your air. 

When you are properly braced you are going to be at your strongest and safest position to execute the lift.

Lats

lats

Your lats are very important in the deadlift.

The lats are the biggest muscle on the back, they run from your shoulders to your hips. One of the main functions of the lats is to internally rotate the shoulders.

One of the main things you want to resist when deadlifting is letting the shoulders roll forward, that’s why it’s important to pull your shoulders down away from your ears.

A cue that works amazing is thinking about squeezing something between your armpits. Let’s use a baseball for example, imagine you have baseballs in your armpits right now. I want you to squeeze those baseballs in your armpits and don’t let them fall out. Do you feel the tightness that is created when you do that?

When you brace tight and pull your shoulders towards your hips you will be in the best position to keep your back from rounding and the bar getting away from you.


Time To Deadlift

Now, it’s time to go over the four deadlift variations, the kettlebell deadlift, trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift and conventional deadlift.

Each deadlift is great and has its purpose. I am going to go over each one, how to do it, and how to program it.

Kettlebell Deadlift

 kettlebells

The kettlebell (KB) deadlift is a great way to learn deadlift technique. I like that you get to keep the weight closer to your center, which makes it a lot easier to control the weight.

Technique Points:

  • Keep the KB centered
  • Push your hips back
  • Get your spine in a neutral position
  • Squeeze “baseballs” in your armpits
  • Drive your heels through the floor
  • Show the logo of your shirt
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top

Who:  If you’re a beginner this is a great variation to learn the lift.  It is a way to learn the movement and get stronger. This is also perfect for conditioning circuits.

Sets and Reps: Start with 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps.

When: 1-2 days a week.

Weights: You should use as much as you can, but make sure that your form stays intact. At some point as the weight goes up it will be best to move to the next variation.

Regression: Elevating the KB can help make the movement easier and help you get down to the weight.

Progression: Pause KB deadlift. This variation really challenges your position and helps in maintaining your form.

Trap Bar Deadlift 

hex-bar-trap-bar

The trap bar is a way for you to progress the deadlift.  You hold the weight at your sides so you don’t have to fight the bar trying to get away from you. It’s an outstanding way to handle some weight while working on technique and mobility.

Technique Points:

  • Your feet shoulder width apart
  • Push your hips back
  • Get your spine in a neutral position
  • Squeeze “baseballs” in your armpits
  • Drive your heels through the floor
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top

Who: The trap bar deadlift is for everyone. I use it for my athletes, as a progression to KB deadlift and if you don’t have full mobility to get down to the bar.

Reps and Sets: 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps.

When: 1-2 days a week is perfect.

Weights: Work up to as heavy as you would like, as long as you can maintain proper form and do the prescribed reps.

Regression: Elevate the bar to make the pull shorter.

Progression: Trap bars have two handles, to make it harder switch to the low handles.

Sumo Deadlift  

barbell

If you’re looking to get strong and build nice glutes this a great exercise. The sumo deadlift is easier on the low back and will help build hip stability. This variation requires less ankle and thoracic mobility as well.

Technique Points:

  • Your feet somewhere outside shoulder width apart
  • Point your toes slightly out
  • Push your hips back
  • Get your spine in a neutral position
  • Pull your shoulders down
  • Squeeze “baseballs” in your armpits
  • Pull back on the bar
  • Separate the floor
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top

Who: If you’re interested in maximal strength and want to build the backside this is a great fit.

Reps and Sets: 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps.

When: 1-2 days a week

Weight: Go as heavy as you can while maintaining proper form on one day. Then the other day use a lighter weight and focus on speed.

Regression: Elevated sumo deadlifts. Shortening the range of motion will help make the movement easier.

Progression: Deficit sumo deadlifts off a 1-3 inch deficit. This movement increases the range of motion.

Conventional Deadlift 

colored barbell

This is the most common deadlift. This will help build strength, muscle and power.

Technique Points:

  • Place your feet shoulder width apart
  • Push your hips back
  • Hands right outside your shins
  • Squeeze “baseballs” in your armpits
  • Show the logo of your shirt
  • Drive your heels through the floor
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top

Who: This deadlift is for you if you’re looking to build muscle, get strong and be more athletic.

Reps and Sets: 3-5 sets of 3-8 reps. There will be a time when you can do more sets. There will also be times when you can do doubles and singles, but this will have to come at the right time depending on your program.

When: 1-2 days a week.

Weight: One day a week you can work up to as heavy as you can, while maintaining form. One day should be a lighter day for more speed and form.

Regression: Elevated deadlifts. This variation shortens the range of motion while still being able to perform the movement.

Progression: Pause deadlifts. This a great way to challenge yourself. Starting and stopping the momentum of the bar makes it more difficult to hold your position because you have to fight gravity.


Deadlifts target the whole body, but if you are trying to bring up a weak spot to help fix and/or improve upon your deadlift there are three muscle groups you really need to target. The hamstrings, glutes and upper back.

Here are my favorite accessory exercises to help build these muscles.

Hamstrings

A couple of exercises for the hamstrings are glute-ham raises, spine ball curls and single-leg Romanian deadlifts.

Glutes

My favorite glute exercise is any hip thruster variation, single or double leg, and any glute bridge variation. These can be weighted, banded, paused, single or double legged.

Upper back

Upper back exercises include chin-ups, chest supported rows, and single arm rows.

These are just some examples of what you can do to strengthen your deadlift.

Wrapping Up

As you can see, I am big believer in the deadlift.  I include it in all of my clients programs because I know it works.

If you take this information and include it in YOUR training, I know it could help you, too.

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