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Effective Exercises: The Deadlift

by Meaghan posted March 11, 2014

The other day, one of my students asked me what my favorite exercise was. My response? The deadlift, hands down. (Not to be confused with the Romanian deadlift – or “RDL” – where the bar starts from a hang position and never touches the floor, and is predominantly a single-joint hip extension exercise rather than a multi-joint lift like the conventional deadlift).



Why is it my favorite lift? Well, because it has a lot of carryover to everyday life and there isn’t much it won’t train. Plus, like Mark Rippetoe said, the deadlift is a prerequisite to the Olypmic lifts – which are, well, awesome. The other benefits of the deadlift include:

1. Strength in triple extension (i.e., hip extension, knee extension and plantarflexion – so it works just about ALL of your leg muscles)

2. Thoracic extension (which most people lack)

3. Dynamic core stability (which everyone needs)

4. Grip strength (which has actually shown to correlate with longevity)

5. Hormones (specifically, the deadlift has shown to increase levels of testosterone and GH)


The reason most people tend to shy away from doing deadlifts, however, is because  they’ve unfortunately gotten a reputation for being injurious to the back. And sure, when done INCORRECTLY, deadlifts do pose a high risk – just like any other improperly executed exercise.

The deadlift is a technical lift, however, so one must learn the proper way to do it before attempting to perform or coach it. In addition to the above coaching video, here are some checkpoints to reference while you learn:

  • Feet set at shoulder width to start
  • Bar lined up over the midfoot
  • Bar gripped outside the shins with prone or alternated grip
  • Back neutral or slightly arched
  • Hips higher than the knees
  • Arms straight with shoulders forward over the bar
  • Hips and knees extend together during the lift
  • Bar remains in contact with the legs throughout the lift
  • Bar follows a vertical path
  • Hips fully extended at the top
  • Descent is initiated by sending the hips back first
  • When the bar passes the knees, the knees bend to set the bar back on the floor
  • Make sure you’re clear of the dumbbell rack:



Yikes… There are a couple of other safety considerations as well. One of my favorite coaches, Eric Cressey, put it well when he said, “There are no contraindicated exercises, only contraindicated lifters.” That said, if you lack the hip mobility to pull from the floor with a neutral spine, you might want to try one of the following alternative deadlift variations:


1. Trap bar or hex bar deadlift. 


I like this variation a lot. The elevated handles allow you to pull from a higher position, and the fact that you can stand inside the bar and keep the load on the side (vs. out in front of the body) shortens the moment arm – which means less torque on the spine (provided the load isn’t greater) if you do lose your form.


2. Sumo deadlift.


While the wider stance and more vertical trunk position does place slightly more emphasis on the quadriceps and adductors (vs. the hip extensors) with this variation, it also places you closer to the ground and shortens the bar path, so may be a more suitable variation for those with mobility limitations.

Regardless of the variation, you should be training some form of a deadlift in your program. We here at FPTI and FocusNYC have been deadlifting like crazy lately in preparation for our upcoming powerlifting meet this July. I’m up to 235 so far!

FPTI ALUMNI: Wish us luck and leave a comment if you want to join the team, or simply come back and train with us at Barbell Club on Friday afternoons at 3:45pm!

Filed under: exercise instruction, exercise programs, fitness-related injuries, strength training, tips for trainers, workout tips

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5 responses to “Effective Exercises: The Deadlift”

  1. Brent Carter says:

    Best. Article. Ever.

  2. Meaghan says:

    Figured you’d like it :). Mark Rippetoe. Barbell Club. People lifting heavy things and getting strong, and people faceplanting into dumbbell racks. The only thing that might make for a better Brent-like blog post is if Hill Country put a gym downstairs and we could tape our deadlifts there and then go eat meat. Have you had that dream yet?

  3. Caryl Anne says:

    This was a great read on how to be more effective when working out. Another thing to keep in mind when working out would be to make sure the proper equipment is in place to ensure an effective workout is taking place. For example, if the incorrect flooring is in place, this could create additional stress and shocks to the body, which can slow down the fitness doer. To ensure a healthier, more productive workout, make sure the correct equipment is in place, such as the flooring, mats, etc.

  4. Edward C says:

    AWESOME post!!

    Any thoughts on the eccentric portion of the exercise? I’ve seen people doing deadlifts and coming down pretty fast.. I always wonder if that (or rather the impact of the weight on the floor) will hurt them in the long run.

  5. Meaghan says:

    Thanks for the comment, Edward, and hope you’re doing well! As for your question, if people maintain control and neutral spine through the eccentric phase, I’d actually prefer they come down relatively fast – provided they aren’t bouncing the weight off the floor for the next rep, that is… With such a heavy load in hand, coming down slow places a lot of tension on tendons and ligaments for extended time, and that could also be injurious. My two cents!

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