8 Benefits of Deadlifts You Probably Never Knew About


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The deadlift is a staple of most strength-training programs, and it’s one of the three lifts performed in the sport of powerlifting.

Deadlifts can be performed using a variety of training tools, with the barbell being the most common option.

A large body of research supports the use of the deadlift for a variety of fitness and performance goals — both among athletes and the general population.

Multiple deadlift variations offer different but related benefits compared with the conventional deadlift. These variations allow the deadlift pattern to be incorporated into a fitness program tailored toward your needs.

This article discusses the benefits of deadlifts and offers a few deadlift variations to add variety and customization to your workouts.

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What are deadlifts?

The deadlift is a widely used compound weight exercise that involves picking up a weight from the ground by bending at your waist and hips and standing back up.

The deadlift exercise and its variations require you to bend over while maintaining a braced, neutral spine, gripping the weight, and driving through the floor with your feet. The motion uses your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps to lift the barbell off of the floor.

In the standard deadlift, the initial level change to grasp the bar comes through a combination of hinging at the hips and bending your knees. In a standard deadlift, your torso angle at the beginning of the pull will be roughly 30–45 degrees above horizontal.

Throughout the motion, you must keep your core contracted to stabilize your spine and avoid any twisting, rounding, or arching throughout your torso.

All deadlift exercises begin with the weight roughly in line with the middle of your foot before bending forward and picking up the object.

Deadlifts are highly effective at increasing functional strength due to the activation of your largest lower body muscles.

They also train you for the functional activity of safely lifting objects off of the floor, which is a key skill for day-to-day activities.

Summary

Deadlifts are an exercise that involves picking a barbell or other training tool off of the floor. They use the largest muscles in your lower body and train the ability to safely lift objects off of the ground.

The top 8 benefits of deadlifts

Here are 8 evidence-based benefits of incorporating deadlifts into your training program.

1. Activate your hip extensors

Deadlifts are among the best exercises for training your hip extensors. Your hip extensors include the gluteus maximus and hamstring complex, which are commonly targeted muscles in fitness programs due to their functional use and aesthetic appeal when properly trained.

Research suggests that deadlifts are superior to squats when it comes to training these muscles. Still, squats offer different benefits than deadlifts and are also an important component of well-rounded fitness programs (1, 2).

The activation of the gluteus maximus and hamstrings when performing deadlifts will lead to both increased strength and size of these muscles.

2. Reduce lower back pain

Lower back pain is an incredibly common complaint among the general population.

While there are many causes of lower back pain that require differing treatments, research suggests that for mild mechanical low back pain, deadlifts can be an effective tool for reducing or reversing this ailment (3).

Note that proper deadlift technique with a braced, neutral spine is crucial for ensuring deadlifts do not aggravate your pain. You should consult a healthcare professional before attempting deadlifts as part of a treatment for lower back pain.

3. Improve jump performance

Jumping is a key skill for a variety of athletic and recreational activities, and your jumping ability often reflects the overall development of your lower body power.

Plus, the increased power reflected in the ability to jump transfers to other maximal power activities like sprinting.

Research suggests that deadlifts are among the most effective strength-training exercises for improving maximal jump performance (4).

4. Improve bone mineral density

Loss of bone mineral density is a common effect of aging and a major health issue facing older adults.

Advanced loss of bone mineral density results in osteoporosis, which greatly increases the risk of fractures among older adults. Fractures can lead to a cascade of ongoing physical health problems related to loss of mobility.

Fortunately, a large body of research supports the use of resistance training to slow or even reverse age-related loss of bone mineral density. This includes the use of exercises such as the deadlift (5).

The key to increased bone mineral density is performing weight-bearing exercises that load the whole body with external resistance.

The location of increased bone density is directly related to the area of the body being trained. Specifically, the area of the muscles that work to perform the given movement will experience the most improved bone mineral density.

Given that the deadlift targets your legs and hips, performing deadlifts in conjunction with other resistance exercises can be an effective way to reduce or reverse age-related loss in bone mineral density.

5. Activate your core

Training your trunk muscles and core is a key aspect of well-rounded fitness programs.

While many different exercises train your core, research has suggested that deadlifts and other free-weight exercises are an effective way to activate and strengthen the muscles that stabilize your spine, such as the external oblique, rectus abdominis, and erector spinae (6).

6. Boost your metabolism

Weight loss is a common goal of many fitness programs. Successfully losing weight, particularly via losing body fat, requires you to burn more calories than you consume in a given period of time.

Traditional weight loss programs combine dietary modifications to reduce calorie intake and physical activity to increase calorie burning.

When it comes to effectively increasing your metabolism through movement, studies suggest that resistance training with exercises like the deadlift may be among the most efficient methods to increase calorie burn, all with less overall time spent training in the gym (7).

Additionally, the muscle growth you’ll experience over time will help you burn more calories at rest throughout the day.

7. Carry less risk during failed repetitions

The previously mentioned benefits are based on scientific research. Yet, there are some subjective benefits of deadlifts that make them an effective exercise in practice.

For example, deadlifts allow you to lift large amounts of weight without positioning the weight on top of you. In the event of a failed repetition, you can usually safely drop the weight without risking major injury.

Exercises like the barbell back squat or bench press are also effective training methods. However, you generally cannot risk going as heavy without a spotter given that a failed repetition can literally crush you.

If you typically work out alone, deadlifts are a good way to safely add heavier training to your workouts.

8. Offer simplicity of equipment

The final subjective benefit of deadlifts is the relative simplicity of the equipment. All you need is a barbell and some plates, or a weighted object with a handle, such as a kettlebell, to perform the movement.

Unlike other exercises that require specific equipment or access to a power rack, deadlifts are a very minimalist exercise for the extensive benefits they provide.

Summary

Deadlifts provide a range of scientifically proven health and fitness benefits. Additionally, deadlifts offer some subjective, practical benefits compared with other exercises.

Deadlift variations

The deadlift is far from a single exercise, and multiple variations allow you to target specific benefits.

Additionally, changing up the deadlift variation after performing a particular variation for 4–8 weeks can be beneficial for long-term continued gains.

Here are a few deadlift variations you may want to try.

Sumo deadlift

The Sumo deadlift variation has you adopt a much wider stance, with your feet turned 45 degrees or more outward. This results in increased activation of the inner thigh muscles, which can provide some athletes with greater leverage.

In particular, research suggests that Sumo deadlifts offer advantages for athletes with longer torsos in terms of being able to lift more total weight (8).

Single-leg deadlift

The single-leg deadlift involves a similar motion as the standard deadlift. The difference is that as you lean forward, one leg stays straight at the hip as your foot leaves the floor and extends behind you.

With the single-leg deadlift, maintaining a straight torso position requires increased activation of the core muscles to prevent any inward or outward rotation.

Single-leg deadlifts don’t allow as much weight to be lifted, and they’re generally used as rehabilitation protocols or warmups. Some research suggests that warming up with single-leg deadlifts may reduce markers of muscle damage following the end of a training session (9).

Romanian deadlift

Romanian deadlifts have you maintain a slight bend in your knee as you hinge forward at your waist, compared with the more aggressive bend found in a traditional deadlift.

This results in more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings and less emphasis on your quadriceps.

Research using electrical measurements of muscle activation found similar gluteus maximus activation during the Romanian deadlift and barbell hip thrust, which is a glute-specific exercise.

Both the Romanian deadlift and barbell hip thrust led to much greater gluteus maximus activation than a back squat, whose pattern is more similar to that of the traditional deadlift (10).

With this in mind, the Romanian deadlift is a great way to add increased training for the gluteus maximus.

Stiff-legged deadlift

The stiffed-legged deadlift is performed with your knees virtually locked straight. The entire raising and lowering motions come from hinging at your waist.

Research has shown that the stiff-legged deadlift places much greater emphasis on your hamstring muscles compared with other deadlift variations (11).

Deficit deadlift

In the deficit deadlift, you stand on a modestly raised platform — typically 4–8 inches (10—20 cm) high — in relation to the resting position of the barbell.

This variation trains the same muscles as the deadlift but allows for a greater range of motion due to the lowered position of the barbell relative to your shins.

Research suggests that deficit deadlifts may improve the strength balance between your hamstrings and quadricep complex, potentially reducing your risk of a hamstring injury (12).

Hex bar deadlift

The hex bar deadlift uses a hexagonal-shaped bar and has you stand inside the hexagon with the handles positioned parallel to the direction you’re facing, resulting in a suitcase-style grip. Plates are added to standard-style sleeves that protrude from the side of the hexagon.

The hex bar deadlift allows a more natural hand position and allows the direction of the weight to be completely in line with the rest of your body.

Studies suggest that hex bar deadlifts allow more total weight to be lifted, potentially resulting in greater gains in strength and power due to the increased resistance (13, 14).

Summary

Deadlift variations allow increased targeting of certain muscle groups and can be beneficial to cycle into your fitness program during different phases of training.

Deadlift precautions and contraindications

Deadlifts and their variations are extremely safe when performed by healthy individuals with proper technique.

The biggest danger occurs if you fail to maintain a neutral spine and instead round your back as you pull the weight, particularly if your spine actively moves while bearing the weight.

This places extreme pressure on the discs in your spine and can lead to acute and chronic injuries.

Often, attempting to lift more weight than you’re ready for leads to a compromised spinal position. Movement in the spine during deadlifts can also be due to a lack of knowledge about proper technique.

Taking a big breath to engage your core and abs before pulling the weight will stabilize your spine under the load and can help prevent the rounding issue.

If you have a spine or disc injury or history of chronic back pain, you should seek professional guidance from a physical therapist or other licensed expert before attempting deadlifts.

Summary

Deadlifts are safe for most of the population across all ages, provided the load is not excessive and proper technique is maintained for all repetitions. Consult your healthcare professional beforehand if you have a history of back injuries.

The bottom line

Deadlifts are a foundational strength-training exercise that offers a multitude of benefits for different health and fitness goals.

Additionally, multiple deadlift variations allow for more variety in your training program and emphasize certain muscle groups over others compared with standard deadlifts.

Deadlifts are safe for most people to perform provided you maintain proper technique and don’t increase the load beyond your current capabilities.

If you want to maximize your strength-training improvements, deadlifts and their variations are key exercises to include throughout your training.


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