If you’re serious about lifting weights, learning how to do a deadlift is important. Deadlifts are a great exercise because when done properly they can work several large muscle groups at the same time, making them a great compound exercise to know.
Compound exercises can help you make your workout routines extra efficient since they work the most muscle groups in the least amount of time. Think of squats with an overhead press or lunges with a rotation and compare that to, say, triceps presses or biceps curls, which work muscles in isolation. Deadlifts are a great compound exercise because they work your hamstrings, glutes, back, and even your core. Depending on the variation you’re doing, deadlifts can also be great for building balance.
While it might take you a bit to get the hang of how to do a deadlift, once you do, they might just become your new favorite strength-training move.
What Is a Deadlift
A deadlift is a weight-lifting compound exercise that works several large muscle groups including your glutes, hamstrings, back, and core. It’s most commonly done with a barbell, but if you’re new to the move you should practice your form first with little or no weight to make sure you learn the movement correctly. If you have access to one you can also use a light body bar, like these, to get a sense of what it will be like lifting a bar without adding too much weight.
Once you learn how to do a deadlift, you can try them with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or even resistance bands.
Benefits of Deadlifts
Deadlifts are great for building strength in your glutes, hamstrings, core, and back. They’re also one of three powerlifting exercises (alongside squats and chest presses), meaning they’re perfect if you’re interested in lifting heavy. Translation: There’s no reason to go light on this move once you’ve mastered your technique. Deadlifts can help get you strong as hell, if that’s a goal of yours.
Deadlifts can also be great for people who have knee pain when doing lunges or squats, since they work several of the same muscle groups but put less pressure on your knees. Since you’re not bending your knees much at all and you’re allowing your glutes and hamstrings to do the bulk of the work, deadlifts can also be good for those with limited ankle mobility.
Another benefit of deadlifts is that they secretly work your shoulders, upper back, and core at the same time. Keeping your core engaged throughout the exercise is essential for proper form; and you’ll use your grip strength, shoulders, and upper back as secondary muscles to pull the weight off the floor.
Here’s a detailed breakdown of exactly what to do for a classic deadlift (often called a stiff-leg or Romanian deadlift) using a barbell. See the next section for an instructional GIF of the move.
Stand behind the barbell with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
Hinge at your hips, bending slightly at your knees. Push your butt way back, keeping your core engaged so that your back stays flat.
To pick up the barbell, you may need to bend your knees more on this first rep than you will on subsequent reps.
Grip the barbell with both hands so that your hands are placed wider than your knees.
Focus on keeping your shoulders pressed down, away from your ears, and slightly internally rotate your elbows in order to engage your shoulder scapula (shoulder blades) so that you are using your back and shoulders to help lift the weight.
Keeping your core tight, push through your heels, and lift the weight, straightening your knees first, keeping your back flat, and then reversing the hinge at your hip to stand up the rest of the way.
Pause at the top, and really squeeze your butt to ensure that your hip flexors are completely extended (your legs are straight), and your pelvis is stacked directly under your shoulders, with no arch in your low back.
The key is to make sure that you’re actually using your glutes and hamstrings to lift—not rounding your back as you lift the weight, which can be dangerous and lead to injury.
Types of Deadlifts
There are so many deadlift variations out there, you’ll definitely find one that’s right for you and your body. The single-leg deadlift requires the most balance, so you may want to master a few other variations first before attempting that one.