Why deadlifting should be the most important lift in your program
The deadlift is arguably the most commonly known exercise in the world. A true marker of ‘general’ or full body strength, lifting a dead weight from the ground.
However, there are probably more myths, misunderstandings and less commonly known effects and benefits to and about deadlifting than any other exercise out there.
“I deadlift in the gym on ‘back day’, it’s a back exercise”
Hopefully now a more commonly known fact is that a deadlift (whichever variation) is a HIP dominant exercise, with the bulk of the benefits reaped in the lower body – Hips, Hamstrings and Glutes.
The most important factor in a deadlift and deadlift technique is hip hinge. Probably the main reason that deadlifting is so useful to improve movement mechanics and hip function, is that refining the proper technique teaches us to use our hips correctly and effectively, in order to transfer and separate load and force from our lower to our upper body. Hip hinge is something that people generally struggle with, and is essential to protecting our backs when bending over/down, lifting, sitting and squatting.
“It’s bad for your back”
Like any exercise technique, it can be bad for your back if performed poorly. However, as mentioned above, it is actually very good for your back when performed well. Deadlifting with progressive load also engages your extensors (erector spinae), lats and traps, as well as multiple deep stabilisers in the lower and mid-back.
Deadlifting has lots of neural benefits, but in short, it is the most effective exercise for training the body’s nerves and muscle groups to fire in sync, to create a kinetic chain of contraction and activation, which is why it is a staple for athletes who have to perform complex movements in their sport.
‘Overhand’ grip – Allows you to keep the bar closer to your body, but does mean that you’ll often fail when lifting heavier loads purely due to your grip strength running out.
‘Mixed’ grip – Often associated with giving you greater grip strength, but leaving you more susceptible to muscle strains in the arms when lifting greater loads.
Single leg deadlift (Single-leg RDL) – Great for balance and coordination – Use lighter loads and focus on body/hip alignment – Try using an exercise band or kettlebell.
Straight or ‘stiff’ leg deadlift – Knee’s are only slightly bent – Not lifting the weight from or returning it all the way back to the ground – Really focus on keeping your back flat – Extra emphasis on hamstring strength and flexibility.
Photo credit: Alexander Clarke - Powerlifter, coach and Owner of British Strength Magazine