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Deadlifts and More!

What is the Deadlift? 

According to a myth the term “Deadlift” came from ancient Rome because after military battles soldiers would carry their fallen comrades onto wagons to bury them. The deadlift has certainly evolved overtime to something a little more enjoyable in today’s era where you will see individuals in the general public use it in the weightroom to improve their physique, athletes are prescribed to enhance their performance, and even police officers, soldiers, and firefighters will practice the movement to keep them prepared for the demands of their job. The deadlift is a compound exercise meaning that it targets a multitude of muscles when performing just one repetition. Therefore, the deadlift is definitely an exercise you want to have in your program whether you are looking to add muscle or size, and also improve your sports performance. The deadlift targets your posterior chain which comprises your upper and lower back muscles, muscles of your trunk, the quadriceps, gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and adductors. In addition, performing this movement will help teach you how to hip hinge which is a foundation movement pattern that everyone needs to be efficient in. 

What are the benefits of the deadlift? 

The deadlift is great for those trying to improve their sports performance because it is going to teach you how to apply force into the ground, develop proper hip hinging mechanics, and also help build size and strength to reduce the likelihood of an injury. For those who might be trying to lose weight, increase muscle size, or get stronger the deadlift is a great exercise to help you reach your goals. Studies have  reported that when performing the barbell deadlift there is a significant EMG reading from the hip flexors, erector spinae, vastus lateralis, and gluteus maximus (Fuentes, Lozano, Muyor, 2020). Experts t recommend taking up to 72 hours off before performing your next intense session due to the fatiguing effect it has on your central nervous system and also the metabolic damage it causes. While that may sound scary, if you perform the lift correctly you will burn twice as many calories both during the lift and after while recovering than you would if you just went on the elliptical for 45 minutes. The deadlift is such a taxing exercise on the body because it requires a lot of intermuscular and intramuscular coordination so your body can work in unison to achieve the movement. Therefore, you must be mentally and physically prepared to perform the deadlift. 

Common issues with the Deadlift

Some of the most common errors when performing this movement are: 

  1. Rounded back in the starting position

  2. Feet to wide

  3. Arms bent/relaxed when pulling

  4. Straightening the legs out first when pulling

  5. Eyes forward during the initial pull

  6. Bouncing off the ground after each rep

The above errors have to do with either tightness, weaknesses, or poor motor control of the athletes muscles; improper technique due to lack of coaching; or false comparison of what is being watched on social media. 

For many athletes they are unable to pull from the floor with proper form due to stiffness in their muscles such as the hip flexor muscles, upper back, and glutes. Those issues potentially could be solved with soft tissue work using a foam roller or lacrosse ball. In other instances having poor trunk control, or have weak abs, can cause the low back to round because the athlete is not strong enough or coordinated enough to hold their spine in a neutral position. In my experience, many athletes can be coached to get into better positions to help them perform the movement more appropriately.



What are the progressions for beginner athletes? 

It is never the best idea to start a beginner athlete with the conventional deadlift so it is important to understand what regressions can get them to the more advanced level. If you break the deadlift down the first movement a beginner needs to learn is the hip hinge. The hip hinge is a fundamental movement designed to help teach the person how to shift their pelvis without bending at the back which can lead to low back issues. The hip hinge can be taught by using a PVC Pipe or just a wall: 

After the above is mastered, the next exercise would be a RDL using DBs, KBs, or a Barbell depending on what you have access to and your experience in the weight room. Performing the RDL will help build the size and strength of the hamstrings and posterior chain. It is important to have similar strength levels of the quadriceps and hamstrings or the imbalance can lead to long term injuries. 

Next, the TBDL which is a great exercise to continue reinforcing the hip hinge, but now introducing the athlete on how to also bend at the knees and ankles. Due to the where the handles are on the TBDL it is safer on the lower back and easier to get into position without needing excessive coaching or correctives. I like this movement because we can begin to increase load early on in the training to help build size and strength to prepare for more difficult lifts. In some cases, having athletes pulling off blocks can solve some positioning issues due to needing less mobility to perform the movement with the bar raised up. In order to best prepare your client, it is recommended to wait until they can pull 1.5-2.0 x bw before progressing them to the Conventional deadlift. 

Last, the Conventional Deadlift.  The Conventional deadlift provides very similar benefits to the TBDL however, due to the bar being in front of the legs it relies more on the hamstrings and posterior chain to perform the lift. Some may ask, “should I only perform the straight bar deadlift?” Unless you are preparing for a powerlifting meet, I highly recommend you provide variety in your programming to prevent overuse injuries. While this exercise is great to improving strength, size, and performance it can lead to more injuries than the TBDL or other deadlift variation that do not put your back in an at risk position. Therefore, if your goals are more than just improving your Conventional Deadlift max change up your exercise selection. 

What are other variations of the deadlifts? 

The deadlift is a great exercise to help reach your athletic and fitness goals, but you do not want to only perform one variation as that can lead to an injury. For many of my clients, I tend to switch up the reps and sets each month, but also after every 4 weeks change the exercise depending on their goals. Doing so will ensure you or your client is not getting bored, and also are ensuring they are still providing a stimulus their body will respond to. Below are a few deadlift variations you can perform:


While some may stay away from the deadlift because it is a barbell movement and others have hurt themselves while doing it. Guess what? People have hurt themselves shoveling the driveway and picking up a hairball on the ground, did they stop doing that? The first takeaway from this article is to progress your clients appropriately and do not fit a round peg in a square hole. Next, there are a magnitude of deadlift variations you can perform to help you achieve your performance or fitness goals. Choose the one that best fits your anthropometrics best and get to work! 

Reference Page

Martín-Fuentes, I., Oliva-Lozano, J. M., & Muyor, J. M. (2020). Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PloS one, 15(2), e0229507.