How To Deadlift Properly, Deadlift Muscles Worked, and Deadlift Variations

For part of our series of the best home gym workouts, here we will discuss how to deadlift properly as well as some other critical points that you need to know.

Using proper deadlift form is the most important part to avoid injury while performing this challenging movement. Next, we will talk about a handful of the many deadlift variations that you can do after gaining some experience.

To add to your knowledge of deadlifting, we will include what muscles are used when doing a deadlift, the benefits of a deadlift, and how to increase deadlift weight.

What Is A Deadlift Exercise?

This difficult compound exercise is on the hot sheet of every great trainer and coach. It has been said that if you could only pick one exercise for your workouts, it would be this one.

The funny thing about the deadlift exercise is that it looks very easy but is incredibly difficult. The barbell deadlift exercise, for example, is simply picking up the bar and putting it down. However, there is a lot more to this challenging exercise movement as you will learn below.

What Are the Benefits of Deadlifts?

When talking about a hardcore strength and muscle-building workout we simply can’t go without deadlifts. When talking about deadlift benefits, this is one of the two best compound exercises you could do in a gym, next to the squats exercise.

Compound exercises are some of the most difficult, but also the most beneficial kind. You will use several different muscle groups at one time in your dead lifting workouts. This is like doing two or more exercises in one movement.

Skeletal muscle diagram

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?

Deadlifts are often used as a full-body workout for a reason. If you don’t use a muscle directly during the movement, it is being worked as a stabilizer. The main deadlift muscles worked as synergists during a deadlift:

  • Entire Back
  • Rear Delts
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Traps
  • Core
  • Hips

Aside from these that work in unison in order for you to be able to perform one repetition, you get a bunch of stabilizing muscles that aid them, so that your body can endure the stress. These are:

  • Calves
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Quads
  • Chest
  • Forearms

If you are wondering how your chest is also included, try making one rep of Deadlift without flexing your core and chest, and you might end up flat on your stomach. When thinking about what muscles does the deadlift work, keep in mind that compound exercises also use the opposing muscle group as well.

Of course, which muscles groups are stressed the most greatly depends on the type of deadlifts you choose to perform. We will discuss these later in the article.

Not only do they stress almost every single muscle in your body, if done with proper form, but they also greatly increase the testosterone levels that are being produced post-workout, which can result in a huge boost of HGH (Human growth hormone).

More Important Deadlift Benefits

Aside from these, there is a wide variety of benefits, not limited to:

  • Increased Grip Strength.
  • Burning more calories.
  • Improving core muscles and strength.
  • Deadlifts help with fixing your posture.
  • They activate your whole body. (This single exercise is a full-body workout.)
  • Widen your back and increase the resilience of your lower back.

Of course, these are just some of the main ones that you can mention. But they can only be achieved if you follow proper form. If you don’t perform deadlifts with caution and respect, you can very well end up with a serious injury. Always respect deadlifts and squats. These are very serious compound exercises.

Let’s see how to avoid injury and aim for this proper form that we’ve been talking about.

What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work - man doing deadlift

How To Deadlift Properly

How to do a proper deadlift. The best deadlift technique and safest way to perform a deadlift is the most important part of this exercise, to get the full effect and not get hurt.

When you first start learning how to proper deadlift, it is recommended that you have at least 6 months of prior gym experience with both machines and free weight. Moreover, classical deadlifts are the first variation of deadlifts most advanced athletes recommend for beginners to start with.

How To Do a Deadlift Exercise

To use the best deadlift technique, it is best to start with a classical deadlift. Follow the steps below:

  1. Put a barbell on the ground with a reasonable amount of start weight, place your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes slightly pointing outwards. The middle of your foot should be right under the barbell.
  2. Straighten your back and grab the barbell by placing your hands on it a bit wider than the position of your feet. When you do that, position the barbell as close to you as possible.
  3. Make sure you look in front through the entirety of the movement. Relax your neck and head and don’t look around while performing the exercise.
  4. Throughout the entirety of the movement ensure that your shoulders are retracted backward.
  5. Let your hips move slightly backward when you lift the barbell, ensuring that you perform the exercise without bending your back. While extending your hips, maintain the barbell at a minimal distance from your body.
  6. Pay attention to your knees and keep them straight. They shouldn’t be moving sideways.
  7. When you lift the weight, don’t lift your heels, squeeze your back and lower the weight until it hits the ground. Then repeat.

Now that you know the usual sequence of moves a deadlift consists of, let’s learn some of the errors that you must avoid at all costs when performing deadlifts.

Common deadlift errors

It seems like the number of ways not to perform a deadlift outweighs the proper deadlift instructions.

The most common deadlift error you can spot in the gym is someone performing this very physically demanding exercise without warming up at all.

Another big no-go is stretching before deadlifts. You can stretch minor muscle groups like biceps or triceps, but if you expose your hamstrings, quads, or back to stretching before performing heavy lifting, you are actually setting up the muscle for injury. Thus, just warm up with light movements like jogging, athletics or rope-skipping

While these two are fairly easy to fix, some of the errors mentioned below might have become a habit if you’ve been performing the movement wrong for some time.

Best Exercises for Stronger Legs - man doing deadlift

The Most Important Deadlift Errors to Avoid:

Arching or bending your back. This is most commonly seen in people who are trying to lift heavier than they would be able to with proper form. If someone is trying to lift heavier than their capabilities, they usually bend their back forward.

While this is a mistake, many people also do the other thing – arching their back backward. Make sure to keep a neutral position during the entirety of the exercise.

Keeping your shoulders forward. As we mentioned above, your shoulders should be retracted backward. If you protract them forward you would get a false feeling of being stronger at the expense of injury and back instability. If your back, shoulders, and chest are all flexed at the same time, your torso becomes very stable, thus a better tool for performing a deadlift.

Lowering the bar. So you’ve managed to lift the barbell. The movement isn’t over, don’t throw the bar or simply relax while dropping it. If you do so, your knees would be the first to bend and you end up messing up your form for the next repetition.

You’ve seen heavy deadlifters drop the bar from the top position. It’s more beneficial for your muscles to get the downside of the deadlift move as well.

While lowering the bar, ensure that your knees are very slightly bent and work with your hips and hamstrings in the form of a hinge. While performing this, you should try to keep the bar within an imaginary vertical path downwards, as close to your body as possible.

Improper sequence. Sometimes people feel the bar is too heavy for them, but they still keep going. This usually leads to them either using their back before legs or their legs before back in order to perform the movement.

This usually happens when either the individual’s legs are lagging behind in terms of development or their back. The proper performance of a deadlift consists of a hip-hinge movement, while your back remains neutral at all times.

When this happens, you will strain and overextend certain muscles from the improper weight distribution, so this is a good way to get hurt.

Relaxing your core muscles. Don’t! This is a huge mistake. If you feel like you are about to cramp or are uncomfortable, the only place you can relax your core muscles is when the barbell is resting on the ground. By relaxing your core, both your back and shoulders bend forward together, resulting in a non-balanced torso, prone to injuries.

More on Preventing Injuries

Here are a couple of ideas that we have covered in-depth on this website. First, you can prevent injuries by performing these simple hip flexor exercises for weightlifters on your off days. Strengthening the smaller hip and leg muscle will help protect from injury and help you get stronger when you go to do deadlifts or squat exercises.

Another idea is to try some foam roller exercises as a cool down or on your recovery day. These will help to loosen up and relieve back and leg muscles. Foam rollers will also help to work out muscle knots.

how to do a front squat - man doing front squat start position

Deadlift vs Squats

Squats vs deadlift exercise and which one is better has been one of the most asked questions. Let start out with the main muscles worked in each exercise with the table below. This table includes only the main synergist muscles and excludes the stabilizing muscles.

Deadlifts Squats
Entire Back Quads
Hamstrings Shins
Glutes Glutes
Traps Thighs
Core Core
Hips Calves
  Hips

Table 1. Deadlift vs Squats Muscle comparison (Synergist muscles).

These two exercises are the bread and butter of strength and endurance training. But is one of them better than the other? You can see by this chart that the biggest difference between the two is that one focuses on the quad muscles more, and the other hits the back to some degree.

There are only two reasons why you might be choosing to perform one of these over the other.

  1. You are currently lacking the willpower to perform both deadlifts and squat exercises in the same workout week.
  2. One of these exercises hurt you during the movement.

If number 1 is the case of your frustration, then there are two ways to go. The first way is to alternate between deadlifts and squats each week. The second is to simply lower down the volume by one set of the exercise and split them apart with at least 2 rest days in between.

If number 2 is what bothers you, squats are usually the movement that is worse for your knees. So if your knees hurt, you should try performing deadlifts instead of squats. For some of the best leg workout exercises, check out how to do a proper front squat.

Are Squats Easier than Deadlifts?

This statement is debatable for many. On the other hand, squats are a way simpler exercise than deadlifts and almost anyone could learn to do them properly in a few days.

Squats are a more natural movement, which all of us have performed, although mostly wrong throughout our daily lives. They are very easy to learn with the help of a wall or a chair, which can be used so that a beginner learns the basics of a parallel squat. It’s always a good idea to begin with bodyweight exercises.

But regardless of whether you choose to perform both of these exercises or just one, if you are a beginner, make sure to consult with a professional or hire a fitness trainer.

How to do a deadlift - Proper deadlift form

What are the most common deadlift variations?

The deadlift is an exercise full of possibilities to add to your home gym workouts. There are many deadlift variations that you could choose from.

Some of them focus on preventing knee pain, while others on building different muscles in your body. Just a different angle stresses your muscles in different ways to help them grow faster and stronger.

The Conventional Deadlift / Classical Deadlift

This is the most common one you would see in the gym. And it’s the one we’ve described how to perform in this article. Beginners should always start with this one, as it is the easiest to perform. But it also builds leg muscles and leg strength like no other exercise.

The Sumo Deadlift

If you have performed a sumo squat, you would know how to do the sumo deadlift exercise. Just like it sounds, with a wider stance, it focuses on hips and quads. It’s more of a leg exercise than a back exercise.

How to do a deadlift - Romanian Deadlift position

The Romanian Deadlift / Stiff Leg Deadlift

You guessed it right, it’s because, compared to the classical deadlift, the Romanian deadlift exercise you don’t bend your knees. This variation focuses on your hamstring more than on your lower back.

The two most popular variations to this exercise is the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift or the barbell stiff leg deadlift. This movement may also be called the straight leg deadlift.

The Hack Deadlift / Rear Deadlift

An advanced squat exercise, this one is quite risky, and non-beginner friendly, as it is performed with the bar behind your back and focuses on your quadriceps. This isn’t a movement people include on a regular basis in their workout routines, so use caution when performing the hack deadlift exercise.

The Rack Pulls Deadlift

This variation uses a decreased range of motion. It is mostly used to load up more weight for a heavy deadlift exercise, without putting as much stress on your lower back and knees. Some coaches don’t feel that the rack pull deadlift exercise provides as many benefits.

The Snatch Grip Deadlift

If you have the experience of performing a snatch or you watch the Olympics, you would know that snatch movements require a very wide barbell position for a deadlift. This one is mainly used to increase grip strength and technique. It is a prerequisite for performing a good snatch movement, and it’s definitely a challenging compound exercise.

How to do a deadlift - Hex bar deadlift

The Hex Bar Deadlift

This one is a personal favorite. Unfortunately, not all gyms are equipped with the hex bar, which allows you to distribute the bar’s weight in a manner that reduces the stress on your lower back. This is also the best way how not to skin your knees or shins while doing a deadlift.

In the next post, we will talk more about how to do a barbell deadlift exercise as well as the most popular deadlift variations.

How to do a deadlift - Deadlift using dumbbells
Dumbell Deadlift Exercise Is An Excellent Variation

Deadlift World Records

Deadlift competitions are a popular and fun sport to watch. Here is a little information on deadlift world records to see what the big boys(and girls) are doing. There can be some fierce competitions at these deadlift championships.

Men’s Deadlift World Records

As of 2021, the heaviest deadlift record ever achieved is 501 kilograms or 1104.52 lbs. It was achieved by  Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, more commonly known as the Mountain from the Game of Thrones TV Series.

On the other hand, this record is non-official, as it wasn’t performed on a competition or stage. For this reason, the official deadlift world record belongs to Eddie Hall and is 500 kilograms or 1100 lbs.

There are other interesting deadlift world records like strongmen’s hummer tire deadlift, which is performed with straps and is 542 kilograms or 1,202 lbs. The world record holder there is  Jean-Francois Caron at the 2020 Shaw Classic competition.

Women’s Deadlift World Records

The world record for Standard Raw deadlift without straps is held by Becca Swanson, who performed the feat of lifting 305 kg or 672 lbs.

The elephant bar deadlift with straps world record is held by Andrea Thompson, who managed to lift 282 kilograms or 622 lbs, at the 2020 Arnold Strongman Classic.

If you want to know how to deadlift with straps they are not always recommended. You can learn to deadlift more, but you are sacrificing important wrist strength with the help of deadlift straps.

How To Deadlift Exercise Wrap Up

Deadlifts are one of the most difficult exercises to master the proper form of, but when you do, it becomes a rewarding experience. Deadlifts are the real deal when it comes to building a strong and overall powerful body. Make sure to always perform the exercise with proper form with a neutral back.

If you are a beginner, always start with the conventional deadlift, and avoid diving into more complicated techniques. Never forget to warm up before you hit the gym, and good luck building a strong back, glutes, core, and hamstrings.

If you have any questions or comment about how to deadlift, please leave a comment below and I will respond.

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