The Ultimate Guide To Deadlifts

Deadlifts are a great lower body and back strengthening exercise. Here is why it works, how to do it safely, and what to expect by deadlifting regularly.

How It Works

Deadlifts are a compound exercise primarily working the legs and lower back. The exercise is popular because it is one of the big three lifts in powerlifting. Unfortunately, if done incorrectly, deadlifts can also lead to injury, which sometimes discourages people from performing it.

The objective of a deadlift is to improve strength in the posterior chain of muscles. These are the postural muscles of the upper and lower back, the glutes, the hamstrings and the gastrocnemius of the calves. This group of muscles spans many joints, and makes up a whole natural chain of movement. Anytime you bend over to pick something up, you use this chain!

By strengthening your body with deadlifts, you’ll have better posture, better lower leg strength and better back strength.

How To Do It Correctly

Standard deadlifts are performed with a barbell, so we will describe the movement in this variation.

Start with a barbell on the floor or 8’ off the floor (a standard Olympic plate height) Place your hands with a grip slightly wider than your shoulders with palms down. Extend your back so that your spine is neutral and straight. Ensure that the barbell is touching shins, with feet under the bar. Shoulders should be down and back, and your neck should be neutral and long- not staring up ahead!

The correct standard start position is with knees bent and hips slightly lower than your shoulders. If looking at yourself in a mirror from the side, you should see your back just slightly inclined.

To activate the deadlift, engage the abdominal muscles to hold your core in place. Extend the knees first. As the bar begins to move, push your hips forward, extending the hip and keeping the bar as close to your body as possible.

To finish the movement, extend to a straight standing position with shoulders behind the bar. Return to the start position using the same technique.

Variations Of Deadlifts

Once you have mastered the technique of a deadlift, the rest is all about improving strength. Performing sets of 8 to 12 deadlifts is a great way to master the movement. You might choose to perform one of the many variations of deadlifts to work the same group of muscles but with different tools and for different goals.

Roman Deadlifts

This is synonymous with straight-leg deadlifts. These eliminate the work of the quads in the initiation of the movement. To perform a roman deadlift, keep your knees straight- but not locked out- at the start position. Your back should be parallel to the floor. This version requires more mobility in the hamstrings and focuses more on strengthening them as well.

Single leg deadlifts

These are a common one for people who do not want to use a lot of weight. They are also a great way to improve ankle and glute strength while improving balance. Using little or no weight in each hand, stand on one foot. Descend into a deadlift keeping your back straight and both legs as straight as possible. Your working leg remains stable, working at the hip. The lifted leg follows a straight line with the body, lifting backward.


This is another way to target the hamstrings and glutes over the quadriceps. You will also work the stability and strength of the lower back. Start with your barbell in a rack to get it into the correct position behind your neck on the trapezius muscles. Starting from an extended position, you spend a lot of energy working the hamstrings through the eccentric contraction as you descend.

To perform this correctly, maintain good posture while you push your hips back to feel a stretch in the hamstrings. Try to descend to a depth where your back is parallel to the floor. To lift back to center, think about contracting from your butt, pushing your hips forward. 

Dumbbell deadlifts

This is a simple at-home version if you are not yet confident in your technique. Simply hold two dumbbells in your hands, and perform a classic deadlift. You can also try combining this with a single-leg deadlift.

Deadlifts For Your Goals

To Get Stronger: To get stronger in this group of muscles, perform classic deadlifts, good mornings, and straight leg deadlifts for 4 to 6 sets of 4 to 6 repetitions. Remember that your deadlifts are directly related to core strength. Always work your abdominal muscles when hoping to improve glute and back strength.

To Improve Muscle Endurance: Perform any of the variations of deadlifts with a lighter load, performing 3 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions.

To Improve Athletic Performance: Perform good mornings and single leg deadlifts to improve mobility and overall strength. Change up the stimulus each training, staying in a mid-range of moderate intensity for 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 repetitions.

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