You might associate deadlifts with an oversized bodybuilder grasping a barbell with tons of weights stacked on it. But if you are a knowledgeable about the exercise, you can perform deadlifts in a way where your rewards outweigh the risks. Although the deadlift has been associated with being a back-straining move, proper posture can ensure your back stays intact and your muscles grow stronger. Before adding this exercise to your resistance-training program, check with your doctor to ensure you are in good enough health to begin.
The deadlift is performed by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell with or without added weight on the ground in front of you. While maintaining straight posture, bend forward from your hips and bending slightly at your knees to grip the barbell in either an overhand or mixed-grip fashion with one hand over the bar and the other under the bar. Imagine your heels are pushing against the floor as you straighten your legs and back to lift the weight off the ground and toward your hips. Start slowly, then accelerate the motion as you stand. Slowly control the weight as you bend your back and legs forward to return the barbell to your starting position.
The chief reward of the deadlift is its ability to strengthen your erector spinae muscles in your back responsible for maintaining proper posture. A number of muscles also are activated and strengthened during the deadlift, including your butt, inner thigh, quadriceps and calf muscles, according to ExRx, an anatomy and physical therapy website. By holding the bar, you also work your abdominal and upper back muscles. The ability to work so many muscles in one exercise makes it a potent and effective exercise when properly performed, according to "Muscle & Fitness Magazine."
The deadlift has gotten a reputation as a risky exercise because of its risks to your lower back when performed improperly. For example, if you are new to lifting weights, you might not have the hip flexibility or core muscle strength to properly lift the bar. This can create a rounded back when lifting the barbell that places strain on the lower back, according to “Muscle & Fitness” magazine. Another issue is that you might try to jerk or lift the bar too quickly, which can place significant strain on your lower back, potentially herniating a spinal disk.
If you have lower-back issues, adding the deadlift to your exercise routine might not be your best bet, according to ExRx. As your body tires and you lose your form, you might be at risk for further lower-back injury. One method to build your deadlift capabilities is to start with little weight, such as a 10- to 20-pound bar, and gradually increase the weight after you ensure your form is on target. If at any time you experience pain or tension in your back during the deadlift, discontinue the exercise.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.