You’re Deadlifting…Right?

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OK, SO YOU’VE DECIDED to be strong, which means being more awesome.  So you’re deadlifting, right?  RIGHT?

The deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do for overall muscular strength–if you’re not incorporating it into your lifting routine you’re doing yourself a disservice.  Deadlifts make the often-neglected posterior chain stronger, and really help strengthen your back, core, and grip.  Seriously, it’s good for almost everything.

75 Ways Deadlifting Just Plain Rocks: funny, true, and will get you pumped about deadlifts.

I admit, I neglected deadlifts (and squats) for years.  Don’t get me wrong; I was deadlifting.  But I wasn’t deadlifting.  I think a lot of that was because I just didn’t have much exposure to the concept during my formative (early high school) lifting time in the gym.  I was always running.  Sprints.  Distance.  Hills.  Stairs. Plyometrics.   My legs were muscular, and I just didn’t have much recovery time built in, so my weight room time was very upper-body oriented.  Years went by where I gave only moderate effort on deadlifting (and squatting), sometimes neglecting them for long stretches at a time.  When I switched my mindset from working out for “looks” and decided to actually get strong, I realized: I gotta deadlift.

So I set out to get good at it.  Did the research.  Read up about it.  Watched videos.  Worked with good trainers.  I’m still not an elite powerlifting-type deadlifter (deadliftee?), but I’ve sure been making some progress.  You should, too.

So, why?

We touched on most of the physical reasons up there, but the bottom line is that the deadlift makes you stronger.  Everywhere.  It puts a huge (good) strain on your central nervous system, basically telling your body “Hey!  We gotta get stronger!  This crap is tough!”  If you’re deadlifting correctly your other lifts will get better.

Deadlifting, to me, is one of the purest feats of strength.  It’s the barbell equivalent of pointing to a distant tree and saying to another person, “Bet I can beat ya to it.”  You’re taking a giant heavy weight that’s sitting there on the ground and just lifting it off the ground.  It’s both daunting and satisfying.  Every time I set a personal record on a deadlift, I’m vanquishing doubt and fear.  When I’m staring at a really heavy (for me) weight, I have to get my mind right and change from “Holy crap that looks heavy; what if I can’t do it and get hurt?” to “I am going to lift this giant weight up right now.”  It builds your mental toughness at least as much as it builds your physical toughness.

So, how?

The deadlift, at its purest essence, is simple.  Pick this weight up.  Put this weight back down.  However, you do not want to mess around, especially at heavier weights, with anything less than perfect form.  Deadlifts are very safe–but if you’re doing them incorrectly they can be very dangerous.

There are lots of resources about how to deadlift properly out there–from people who can lift waaaay more weight than I can, so for an in-depth explanation of form and “how to” check out the writings and videos and tutorials from the big-time guys (and gals).  The basics, however, are fairly straightforward.

  • Set up with the bar over the middle of your feet, with your feet about hip distance apart, toes slightly turned out.
  • Bend your knees slightly until your shins touch the bar.
  • Keep your back straight and sit down and back until your hands are on the bar.  Your hands should be straight down, as they fall naturally, not out to the sides.
  • Keep your weight in your heels, keep your butt down, arch your lower back, and look up.
  • Pull that weight off the ground, dragging the bar up your shins, by pulling your chest up and driving your hips forward.
  • Wear tall socks on deadlift days.  Your shins will thank you.

That’s it in a nutshell–but really, do a lot of studying and get a qualified deadlift coach (likely not a trainer at your local big-box gym) to watch your form.  Take video and compare it to good lifters online.  And get out there and deadlift–and be more awesome!

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I can’t deadlift due to injury or a bad back?

Honestly, you can probably deadlift, or do a modified version of deadlifting (pulling from a rack, sumo deadlift, etc.).  And “my back hurts” isn’t a reason to avoid deadlifting; it’s a reason to do them.  Deadlifts fix a lot of back problems.  Obviously, if a spinal doctor who knows a ton about lifting research tells you not to deadlift, then don’t.  But you can probably deadlift, even if you think you can’t.

Can’t I get strong without deadlifts?

Yes, you can get strong.  Can you get stronger by incorporating deadlifts?  Probably.  Only one way to find out, right?

What if I’m a girl?

Deadlift.  Girls who do deadlifts are awesome, and they look better.

I should use lifting straps and whatever else I think will help, right?

Sure, if they match your purse.  In all seriousness, though, I think deadlifting without gloves, straps, weight belts, etc. is the way to go.  You’ll improve your grip strength and get a killer forearm workout.

Overhand or mixed grip?

I’m a proponent of using an overhand “hook grip”, as it seems to be safer and more well-balanced than having one hand turned in a mixed grip.  My advice for using the hook grip is: yes, it’s going to make your thumbs hurt, but if you squeeze every muscle in your hands hard your thumbs are just taking up some of the excess weight, and it isn’t that bad.  Part of the mental toughness of deadlifts.

That’s it for my take on deadlifting.  So…you’re deadlifting, right?

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