The deadlift might seem like an imposing exercise reserved for the likes of bodybuilders and strongmen. Yet it’s the best exercise for building total body strength.
When it comes to describing the function of deadlift, it is very simple — pick up something heavy.
The actual mechanics of the exercise are slightly more complicated than that — but easy enough for anyone, any age, to accomplish.
Let’s break it down:
- Feet shoulder-width apart.
- Weight (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell) resting on the floor close to the ankles.
- Lock your eyes to a spot on the floor 10-12 feet in front of you; this is to maintain a neutral spine.
- Bending at the knees, grasp the weight.
- Shift your body weight to your heels and drive upward (still looking at that spot!).
- Hold the weight at arm’s length as you stand up, close to the body.
- As your legs straighten, allow your posture to become fully upright.
- Lower using the same form notes.
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There are a few reasons the deadlift is so crucial when it comes to total body strength:
Every muscle activates. Deadlifts force every muscle in your body to contract for an extended period of time. This time under tension leads to greater strength and size of muscles.
Bone density increases. External load, like that from the deadlift, is proven to build stronger bones — and decrease in bone density is particularly threatening to the older population.
You’ll run faster. The main muscles targeted in the deadlift are the hamstrings and the glutes, both of which are the primary drivers in running. Stronger muscles leads to increases power and speed.
Other workouts benefit. By building a strong base of strength via the deadlift, an exerciser can expect increases in strength and power from all other smaller movements in their workouts.
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I have taught clients ages 10 to 75 how to deadlift properly and all have seen dramatic improvements in exercise capacity and quality of life. When performing the exercise though, understand that not every rep needs to be gut wrenching.
Heck, you can avoid that altogether and still reap the benefits.
Shoot for a range of 30-40 reps total and you will begin to feel the results. When choosing a weight, select something that challenges you, but does not cripple you.
Be smart, stay safe — and deadlift.
Alex Haschen is a Baltimore, Maryland-based fitness trainer.