What is a deadlift?

The deadlift is a weighted strength training exercise in which a loaded bar (barbell) is lifted off the ground to the level of the hips, and torso being in a perpendicular position to the floor, before being placed back on the ground. This is also a powerlifting exercise, which works multiple muscles at the same time, making it a compound exercise.

Origin of the “Deadlift”

The first story is as follows:

The deadlift has been said to originate in the 6th century on the island of Thera (somewhere in Greece). It is funny how scientists found out that people on this island were deadlifting. They just so happened to uncover a huge boulder that had inscriptions on it that basically read “Eumastas lifted me off the ground”. Very much like what the archaeologists found in Bybon. Scientists found a stone in Olympia that had a similar handprint (the above words were found in a handprint on the stone) that basically read “Bybon was able to lift me overhead with a single hand”.

A second story reads:

Originated sometime in the 1800’s. It entailed an old-time strongman ‘deadlifting’ two barrels filled with silver dollars connected by a bar.

The last and most relevant story may just be:

Weightlifting was part of the first modern-era Olympic Games in 1896. Circus strongmen were performing the deadlift from various heights in the early 1800s. In one popular manifestation, the ‘Silver Dollar Deadlift,’ where members of the audience were invited to out-lift a circus strongman to win money. Boxes on each end of a bar were partially filled with silver dollars, to the strongman’s satisfaction; he would lift the boxes, then challenge spectators to match his lift. If they did, they would win the money. Those familiar with carnival games will recognize the odds of winning.

Whichever story has most research and bears most evidence maybe the one you would accept.

What muscles are trained, and strengthened over time?

The posterior chain muscle groups are primarily activated during a deadlift. Hip muscles, glute muscles, hamstrings group of muscles, back muscles, and more importantly the Erector spinae and core muscles, are the primary movers during a deadlift. Other muscles also worked are the trapezius, quadriceps, adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh), lats, rhomboids, abdominals, and obliques. These muscle over time become bigger and stronger. There is also a massive increase in grip strength, as well as the tendons and ligaments in the arms, forearms, the wrist, and the hand.

Proper deadlift technique including reps and sets

Proper placement of the feet

Place your feet shoulder width apart. This is where you will be well balanced, and you will be allowed to anchor your feet to the ground, keeping it grounded, so that maximum force can be propelled upwards, during the upward lift.

Proper hand grip for a successful deadlift

The deadlift can be performed with a double overhand grip.

Grip the bar with both palms facing toward your body and your arms perpendicular to the floor. This grip is about shoulder width apart, on the close outer part of your legs to minimise the angle of your hips and decrease the distance of the pull. This also allows the body to maximise pulling force by the upper body and the connecting core.

Proper stance to allow maximum upward pulling force from the core and hips

Bend your knees until your shins are a few inches off the bar, keeping them above the middle of your feet. You will need room to move both your shins and knees forward. This allows your hips to drop into place and help prevent your back from rounding.

Lower your gluteal area until your quads are parallel. Lift your chest, but do not squeeze your shoulder-blades together. Pull your shoulders back at a downward angle, positioning them over the bar, remembering to keep your head in line with rest of your spine.

The upward pull force motion

Keep the bar as close to your body as possible, for maximum force and optimal control, rolling it over your knees and thighs until your hips. Stand straight, do not lean back at the top. By driving your feet down into the floor, the weight will begin its upward trajectory.

As the bar hits the knees, lock into a straight torso position, by using your glutes. Do not arch your back, keep the back straight, and keep your core braced throughout the lift. As the bar passes your knees, do not pull with your back, but thrust with your hips.

Keep your head up and chest out. This will help maintain proper alignment of the back and prevents back arching. As you pull the weight up, you want your legs to straighten out simultaneously with your hips. Your hips, knees and feet should simultaneously form a straight line. You may lock your body once the weight has reached the maximum height, or you may proceed with the negative immediately, controlling the weight slowly in the negative movement, back down to the floor.

The return to floor downward negative

Time to return the bar to the floor at start position. Do not lower the weight straight down rapidly, instead control the movement down. Load both the hamstrings and glutes with a Romanian Deadlift movement back to the knees.

Once it reaches the knees, move the bar straight back to the floor where you can perform another rep immediately, using built up momentum, and proper form, or come to a complete stop, before resetting for your next rep.

Here is how to deadlift with proper form, in summary:

  1. Stand with your mid-foot under the barbell shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend over (also bending at the knees) and grab the bar with a shoulder-width and an overhand grip.
  3. Lift your chest up and straighten your lower back. Keep your lower and upper back, and head (and shoulders) aligned, all in the same plane.
  4. Take a big breath, hold it, and stand up with the weight.
  5. Hold it up for 1 – 3 seconds. Time length will be determined by your goal.
  6. Then return to start position, with a controlled movement, back to leaving the weight on the floor.
  7. You may repeat the movement again immediately, using the attained momentum as one motion, or stop and reset, for another rep.

Your approach will depend on the goals that you would want to achieve.

For both muscle strength and power, do 4 to 5 sets of 1 to 5 reps per workout.

For pure muscle strength and a little muscle, do 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps per workout.

For muscle development and a little endurance, do 2 to 3 sets of 10+ reps per workout.

An example is shown below:

5 sets at 65% 1RM on Day 1 of training (for beginner and endurance phase).

3 sets at 80% 1RM on Day 4 of training (for intermediate phase and muscle building).

Over time and progression (generally over from “weeks” and / or to “months”), then the below maybe applied:

5 sets at 80% 1RM on Day 1 of training (for intermediate phase and muscle building).

3 sets at 95% 1RM on Day 4 of training (for advanced phase and muscle strength and power).

The above maybe best applied when a proper rest period and proper nutrition plan is followed for optimal recovery.

Shop online for USN supplements that help you with your training and body goals.


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