Strength Basics

Getting stronger, fitter, and healthier by sticking to the basics. It's not rocket science, it's doing the simple stuff the right way. Strength-Basics updates every Monday, plus extra posts during the week.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Deadlift

One of the best exercises you can learn to do is the deadlift. It's a deceptively simple exercise. You stand with a loaded barbell in front of you, on the floor. You grip it and lift the weight with straight arms, until you are standing in a normal, upright posture.

Pretty simple. And this is a mechanically advantageous way to pick up weight - you use your back muscles to hold your spine in position, and your large gluteals and leg muscles to pull the weight off the floor. Plus virtually every other muscle in your body works to stabilize your posture, stabilize the weight, or transfer energy from your legs and gluteals to your "hooks" (the hands) to lift the weight. Even your hands get a huge workout - if you can't hold the weight, you can't lift it.

But the difficulty lies with the fact that it's not always so easy to keep the back in proper position. And the weight goes up very quickly - because so many muscles are involved. You can get a tremendous amount of weight up, and if you do so with bad form, or relax and let the weight shift around...you can get hurt.

It's a perfectly safe exercise done right, and very productive. But you do need to learn to do it right. It's easy to screw up - rounded back, bent elbows, the weight too far from your body (which encourages bad form).

Lucky for us, though, is the fact that there are a large number deadlift resources.

Here are my favorites.

Free resources!

EXRX has a basic look at the deadlift. It's a good list of the muscles involved.

Diesel Crew put out a long but excellent article on the deadlift - how to do it, common mistakes and how to correct them, variations, and programming. It has the usual picture of Franco Columbu deadlifting. Despite the rep of bodybuilders being "big, showy, but weak," one thing is for certain - Franco Columbu wasn't weak. He could pull!
Diesel Crew Deadlift

Diesel Crew also put out an excellent video on deadlifting
Deadlift 101

Eric Cressey wrote three articles about deadlifts for T-Nation. As usual, T-Nation has non-W/F safe images.
Part I - Why deadlift
Part II - How to deadlift
Part III - Variations

There are a few resources for the deadlift that will cost you money, but I think I worth the investment.

Starting Strength (2nd edition). Only about $30, this book contains an entire chapter on deadlifting. The instruction is clear and easy to follow.

Starting Strength DVD. About $20-$25. Even easier to follow than the Starting Strength book, and a useful companion or stand-alone.

Personal instruction. If you can find someone who knows how to deadlift properly, learn from that person. I highly recommend you make sure the person knows what they are doing. "Biggest guy at my gym" is not sufficient. "Trained coach" is.
Some good signs for a deadlifting coach:

- The coach has passed Mark Rippetoe's Basic Barbell Training certification, that's a good sign - it means they got hands-on training from an excellent coach. You can attend one too, but it's not cheap. You'd also learn to squat, power clean, press, and bench press, hands-on, so it's not a one-lift training session.

- The coach is a competitive powerlifter, or coaches competitive powerlifters. They will compete in deadlifting, so they'll know how to do it and should know how to teach it. Even if you're just a beginning trainee, it's worth asking a local powerlifting club about learning the basics. Not everyone has an open-door policy, but you never know until you ask!

- The coach has a track record of successfully training deadlifters.

Generally, expect to pay for this, but the rates vary wildly.


I hope this is useful resource for you. Deadlifting is a basic human movement - pick anything up off the floor, it's a deadlift. You should learn to do it right, and it's a very productive exercise.

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