While the mention of deadlifting often conjures up images of musclebound bodybuilders pumping iron in cavernous weightlifting gyms, this classic exercise provides numerous benefits for men and women alike. Most of these benefits derive from the compound nature of the exercise, which engages the entire body and works muscle groups from just below the neck down through the legs.
To perform a standard barbell deadlift, stand with your feet flat under the center of the bar. Squat down and grasp the bar with an overhand grip and your hands about shoulders-width apart. Extend your knees and come to an upright standing position, keeping your back and arms straight, your shoulders high and your hips low throughout the exercise, lifting the barbell to hip level. The squatting motion of the deadlift engages the lower body while the pulling motion works the muscles of the upper body.
Starting from the top, the deadlift engages the muscles of the upper and middle trapezius and shoulders; shoulder muscles such as the rhomboids and levator scapulae act as stabilizers during the exercise. Deadlifting also engages the long group of back muscles that run from the bottom of the neck to the tailbone, known collectively as the erector spinae. Additionally, performing high-weight deadlifts builds strength in the forearms.
Hips drive the squatting and pulling motions of the deadlift, which build strength and improve balance in the core. Deadlifts especially work the adductor muscles of the hips. Torso muscles such as the rectus and transverse abdominus – commonly known as abs -- and the outer-torso serratus anterior and obliques get a secondary workout as the lifter keeps them tight and engaged throughout the motion of the exercise. Perhaps most importantly, the deadlift strengthens the muscles of the lower back by engaging them in the pull.
The squat-like motion of the deadlift gives the legs an intense workout. The downward movement of the exercise targets the hamstrings and helps tone gluteal muscles, while rising with the weight works your quadriceps, the muscles located at the front of the thighs. Although not primary targets of deadlifting, the rear-calf soleus and gastrocnemius muscles and the inner-thigh adductor magnus are also engaged by the exercise.
As a strength-training exercise, consistently performing deadlifts as part of your workout regimen increases your capacity to handle weight, whether on the barbell or off it. Like other weightlifting exercises, deadlifts help stimulate the metabolism, which may assist in weight loss. Holding the bar in a stable and controlled manner helps improve your grip strength over time.
Consult your physician before incorporating the deadlift into your regimen, especially if you have lower back problems or other health issues. Seek the guidance from a certified trainer as you learn to deadlift; improper form may cause back pain or joint stress. Always perform deadlifts with a slow, controlled motion, keeping your focus on proper technique and execution rather than speed.
Dan Ketchum has been a professional writer since 2003, with work appearing online and offline in Word Riot, Bazooka Magazine, Anemone Sidecar, Trails and more. Dan's diverse professional background spans from costume design and screenwriting to mixology, manual labor and video game industry publicity.