There’s a load of stuff that’s been written about deadlifts over the years, some good and some not so good. But, there is little doubt that deadlifts are a great strength exercise. Most trainers and lifters list it as their favourite thing to do in the gym.
It’s one of the 5 main basic compound lifts. A compound lift, in case you’re not familiar with the terminology, is a lift that uses multiple joints and muscle groups. It’s commonly accepted that Deadlifts, Squats and Bench are the big three, with Overhead press and barbell rows being the next two most important (you may exchange rows for pull-ups, and of course there are cleans to add in there too, depending on who you ask, but you get my point).
We consider these the ‘main’ movements because anyone wanting to maximise their body composition, sporting performance or overall physical abilities should really be paying attention to them, or at least a variation of them, most of the time.
Power lifters tend to train these regularly, sometime 3 times a week, along with various ‘accessory’ lifts to target weak areas.
Bodybuilders will base body part splits around variations of these main lifts and, of course, add in isolation work to improve the aesthetics of each muscle group.
But what about everyone else?
Are deadlifts suitable for endurance athletes, elderly people, overweight people or people with injuries?
Here are five reasons why you ALL should consider deadlifting that you might not have considered yet.
Deadlifting fixes some forms of lower back pain
Trainers and strength coaches often talk about deadlifts as being a corrective exercise. This depends on what you are trying to correct but certainly, it’s a great exercise for developing strength through the legs, hips, abdomen, spine and shoulders.
If you are strong in these areas, you are stable and a stable spine is one that is less prone to injury.
First of all, if you have back pain that has lasted longer than a few days you might want to seek medical advice. If you have back pain and shooting pains down your legs, you definitely need to seek medical advice and probably should refrain from any kind of lifting until this has been diagnosed.
A lot of back pain is not associated with injuries, of course, as back pain and pain in general is one of the most complex topics there is - and this isn’t something that simply deadlifting can fix, but if you have had a prior back injury, deadlifts aren’t something to fear every time.
Now, I have used deadlifts to improve my own posture and help rehab an old back injury, but the deadlifts were just a small part of the procedure and if your core is weak you need to work on TVA and Pelvic Floor activation.
Can you say Pilates?
But, once the muscle imbalances have been identified and strengthened and sufficient back extensor strength is achieved (1) getting yourself deadlifting correctly will definitely help, especially for those with mechanical lower back pain.
Romanian deadlifts are great variation that have been mentioned as a good exercise for strengthening the back but, if those back extensors are weak it probably won’t help (2).
So, in short. Deadlifts can be included in a rehab program once the cause and muscle imbalances have been addressed.
You’re getting on and your bones aren’t what they used to be
Sarcopenia is a common problem among ageing populations which involves muscle wastage and reduced bone density. Diet and lifestyle are key influences here. One is of lifestyle that can be of benefit to this condition is exercise.
Any form of progressive resistance training, particularly with an aim to improve hypertrophy is highly recommended (3) for populations over 60.
So, if you have taken an early retirement and are wondering what to do with your time and your money I highly recommend that you invest in a good personal trainer or strength coach and get lifting.
Deadlifts don’t HAVE to be a part of that but they are, as already explained, perhaps the best strength exercise of them all and one that will definitely improve your chances of building muscle within a progressive training schedule.
Imagine the conversations you’ll be having on the cruise ship as you and the husband take that trip around the Caribbean.
“Sanatogen? Bro, I LIFT!”.
Deadlifts protect sportsmen from injury
Strength training in general is well known to reduce the risk of injury in active people. As someone who works with a lot of cyclists I can tell you now that very few of them lift weights, in fact convincing them to do anything that isn’t on a bike is near impossible.
But yes, deadlifts can improve your cycling. Just think about the deadlift position for a second. Hips hinged, knees flexed, spine neutral… Now cut out the bar and add in a Storck Aernario (bike porn). Yep, the deadlift position is directly relatable to riding position.
Most cyclists I know have weak extensor muscles and winged scapula. Deadlifts will certainly help to improve that posterior chain.
"You look and feel better in your clothes and, better still, you look good naked too".
But what of other sports?
Ever wondered why your favourite footballer spends half the bloody season on the physio table? Being a West Ham supporter this is something I have grown used to, at some point in the season the entire first team will be out injured and more than half of those will be hamstring injuries.
In a recent study (4) it was observed that eccentric hamstring endurance was a key player in hamstring tears in soccer players.
It seems that as the muscle fatigued that the strength was reduced and its capacity to contract eccentrically was reduced, significantly in the second half of matches, where most hamstring injuries occur.
Being a corrective exercise specialist I can tell you that there is a lot going on here, from ankle mechanics to glute engagement to core strength, to spinal mobility and so on. But, if you are to strengthen the hamstrings through the eccentric phase then what better exercise is there than deadlifts. Straight leg, Romanian, single leg and, of course, traditional deadlifts will all help here.
So, perhaps Andy Carol needs to hit the gym floor and start deadlifting more often?
Maximal strength training burns more calories than you think
Let’s add in some context here. Deadlifts won’t burn more calories than, say, a metric century on that previously mentioned Aenario. But, maximal strength training does burn more calories than medium intensity resistance training (5).
Speaking from personal experience and this is by no means a statement of scie
ntific fact, but when I do a heavy deadlift session my appetite is rampant for the rest of the day.
So, if you’re not the type to do a lot of steady state cardio, and don’t have pockets deep enough for an Aenario, but you do enjoy hitting the gym; incorporating a session or two of heavy deadlifts will certainly help you to create a sufficient energy deficit.
Just be aware that if weight loss is your goal, then you’re not likely to be hitting any personal records with those lifts.
Lifting heavy stuff feels really good
No references for this bit. I didn’t even look to be honest, but if you ask me there’s something primal about lifting heavy things. It’s like we’re answering our genetic programming or something (does that sound too Paleo?).
I’m sure neuroscience can explain about endorphins and reward systems, etc.
Strength training is well known to improve one’s levels of self-esteem. As your body composition improves, as your strength improves so does your confidence.
You look and feel better in your clothes and, better still, you look good naked too. Adding weight to a bar is a pretty definitively visual reward as you not only feel, but see your strength increase each week. What’s not to like about that?
There’s also the whole adrenaline thing, but all I know is that when I hit a 2x body weight deadlift (I’m no power lifter) I feel fecking awesome!
- J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jul;29(7):1803-11. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000837. WHICH PATIENCE WITH LOWER BACK PAIN BENEFIT FROM DEADLIFT TRAINING Berglund L1, Aasa B, Hellqvist J, Michaelson P, Aasa U
- A RANDOMIZED TRIAL TO CONSIDER THE EFFECTS OF ROMANIAN DEADLIFT EXERCISE ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF LUMBAR EXTENSION STRENGTH. Fisher J1, Bruce-Low S, Smith D
- THE INTENSITY AND EFFECTS OF STRENGTH TRAINING IN THE ELDERLY Frank Mayer, Friederike Scharhag-Rosenberger, Anja Carlsohn, Michael Cassel, Steffen Müller, Jürgen Scharhag
- SOCCER-SPECIFIC FATIGUE AND ECCENTRIC HAMSTRINGS MUSCLE STRENGTH Matt Greig, PhD1 and Jason C Siegler, PhD ATC2
- STRENGTH TRAININIG AND METABOLISM Ted Lambrinides, PhD