The deadlift is a fundament lift used in advanced resistance training programs, and is one of the most effective lifts for building strength in the back and legs. The classic deadlift is performed with a barbell and plates, although modern equipment, such as the lever machine, replicate the deadlift maneuver. Regardless of the lift, machines have both advantages and disadvantages compared to free-weight exercises.
The technique used in the barbell and lever deadlift machine are virtually identical. Perform either exercise by placing the weight in front of your feet, assuming a narrow stance, and squatting down to grasp the weight. Lift the weight by extending the knees and hips. Once fully extended, arch your back slightly to straighten the shoulders. Lower the weight by bending at the hips and knees.
Primary Muscles Targeted
The barbell deadlift primarily targets the erector spinae, the long muscles that run the length of the spine and base of the neck. In contrast, the lever deadlift machine places greater emphasis on the gluteus maximus. Due to the fact that the machine supports part of the weight, less emphasis is placed on the back in the initial phase of the lift, and the gluteal muscles perform the majority of the work in the lever machine version.
The barbell and machine deadlifts differ in the stabilizer muscles recruited during the exercises. Stabilizer muscles contract to provide postural support to joints involved in a lift. In the barbell deadlift, multiple muscles in the back, legs and abdominals contract to support the spine. The lever deadlift also recruits stabilizer muscles to support joints, but, like all machine exercises, places less emphasis on these smaller muscles because the machine helps support part of the load.
Machine exercises, such as the lever deadlift, are generally safer than free-weight exercises for beginning weightlifters. The weight follows a guided path, making dropping the weight or slipping less likely. Similarly, machine exercises typically do not require a spotter as they are designed with safety catches.
Free weight exercises, such as the barbell deadlift, are significantly more effective than machine exercises because of their ability to load the axial skeleton and recruit smaller stabilizer muscles. As machine exercises follow a guided path and require less work by stabilizer muscles, gains in neuromuscular coordination and connective tissue adaptations are less substantial. Machine exercises are effective for teaching technique and developing initial strength; however, advanced weightlifters should switch to a barbell after developing proficiency with the deadlift.
Graham Ulmer began writing professionally in 2006 and has been published in the "Military Medicine" journal. He is a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Ulmer holds a Master of Science in exercise science from the University of Idaho and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Washington State University.