Deadlifts -they’re one of the most basic weightlifting moves and one you can’t afford NOT to do. Whether you’re trying to build strength, reshape your body or both, doing a deadlift can help you achieve your goals. Not convinced? Here are 5 reasons why deadlifts should be part of your routine.
Deadlifts Work Many Muscle Groups at Once
A deadlift is a compound exercise extraordinaire. Each time you raise the bar in true deadlift form, you work the muscles in your back, core, glutes, hips, hamstrings, biceps, and forearms. Whew! That’s a lot of bang for your fitness buck! Since you’re working SO many muscle group, including large ones, you burn more calories than when you do isolation exercises like biceps curls. When you focus on exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time, like deadlifts and squats, you get more done in less time. When your workout time is limited, exercises like a deadlift and squats are the ones to focus on.
One of the Best Exercises for Strengthening Your Spine
You may have heard that deadlifts are bad for your back. While you should approach deadlifts with caution if you’ve had a back injury or herniated disc, doing deadlifts regularly using good form can actually lower your risk for back injury over time. How so? By strengthening the paraspinal muscles, the muscles that run parallel to your spine. These muscles reinforce your spine and keep it in proper alignment. When you deadlift regularly, these muscles hypertrophy and become stronger, encasing your spine in a protective layer of muscle.
Of course, getting the benefits without injury means you have to do the exercise properly. No matter what exercise you do, good form is essential, but it’s especially important when you deadlift. Arching your back or flexing your spine during the movement creates shearing forces on your spine that could cause a disc in your lower back to herniate. When you arch or round your back during a lift, it directs force away from the muscles in your spine towards the spinal discs and vertebrae, where you DON’T want it be. If you keep your back straight, it reduces the stress on your spine. So, conventional deadlifts are a good exercise for strengthening your back. However, if you don’t use good form, it’s an exercise that can injure your back.
What if you have a history of lower back problems? An alternative to the conventional deadlift called a hex bar deadlift is a safer option. According to a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, hex bar deadlifts place less stress on the lumbar spine. The hex bar is a hexagonal-shaped barbell with metals handgrips at each end. To use it, step into the hexagonal opening and grip the handpieces. When you stand inside the hexagonal as you lift, it places the center of your hips in line with the barbell. So, when you deadlift, the weight of the bar is distributed in line with your hips and closer to your body, placing less stress on your lower spine.
Another deadlift variation you’re probably familiar with is called the sumo deadlift. It too is a “safer” option if you have back problems since the bar travels a shorter distance and the movement places less shearing force on your spine. When you do a sumo deadlift, your feet are wider apart and you’re closer to the ground, so you’re not stressing your lower back as much as with a conventional deadlift. However, if you have long legs, sumo squats may be more challenging than conventional deadlifts. Tight hip flexors also make it harder to do sumo deadlifts properly. If you plan on doing them, work on hip mobility first.
The other way to lower your risk for injury when you do deadlifts is to build core strength first. A strong, stable core gives your spine greater support when you do any kind of deadlift. Doing deadlifts with good form is also a vehicle for building core strength. For safety purposes, always start with light resistance until you’ve mastered the form.
Builds Better Posture
Bad posture is almost an epidemic. When you spend hours hunched over a desk at work, your posture is bound to suffer. Deadlifts to the rescue. Why are they so effective? They work every muscle that’s important for good posture, including your core and the muscles that support your spine. Doing deadlifts, with good form, will give your posture a boost and help you stand tall and proud.
Deadlifts Can Improve Your Ability to Jump
Deadlifts are an exercise that’s glute and hamstring intensive. Strengthening these muscles not only improves how your rear view looks but also builds strength and power in your hip extensors. In response, your ability to generate power in your lower body will improve. Women tend to have greater quadriceps strength relative to their hamstrings. This creates a muscle imbalance that contributes to the higher rate of knee injuries in women. Deadlifts build hamstring strength and reduces the risk of injury.
Don’t forget, you lose power and strength in your lower extremities as you age and that’s that main reason older people become less functional. Make deadlifts a part of your routine from this day on and you’ll get a jumpstart against changes in body composition due to aging.
Deadlifts as a balance exercise? If you do single-leg deadlifts, the movement will challenge your balance and proprioception skills. Plus, single-leg deadlifts are excellent for improving hip mobility and they activate your glutes more than conventional, stiff-legged deadlifts. If single-legged deadlifts are too challenging, use the non-supporting leg to touch down on the floor lightly for added support until your become more comfortable with the movement.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, including deadlifts in your fitness routine offers lots of benefits. Few exercises work as many muscle groups at once as the deadlift, yet good form is crucial not only to get the most benefits but to avoid injury. Learn the appropriate technique and master it before doing deadlifts with heavy resistance. Learning to do one properly will pay off with greater strength, power, and resistance to injury.
Simon Frazier University. “Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift”
HealaHerniatedDisc.com. “The Deadlift: The Best Exercise To Prevent And Treat Lower Back Pain”
J Strength Cond Res 25(7): 2000-2009, 2011.
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