The deadlift is easily the most important lift you can do. Sure, we can wax lyrical about squats, and guys love the bench, but the deadlift has by far the most benefits for the majority of people.
Not only does the deadlift have the most carryover to daily life, people tend to enjoy doing it. Deadlifting doesn’t seem to inspire as many tears as the squat, but it’s just as effective, albeit in somewhat different ways.
Without further ado, here are the benefits you can get from doing the deadlift.
#1: Improve Mobility
Anyone with a healthy lower back can get benefits from the deadlift because it teaches you to move properly. Many people are afraid to do deadlifts, but if you learn to perform them correctly, there’s no reason to avoid them.
The deadlift motion is a fundamental movement. Unfortunately, most people don’t even know how to pick up their shoes properly by maintaining the natural arch in the lower back. Deadlifting can teach you to move with ease and grace.
#2: Improve Body Composition
The deadlift has many benefits when your goal is to improve body composition:
- The prime movers in the deadlift are the largest muscles in the body – the glutes, hamstrings and quads. It also hits the calves, the entire trapezius, the lats, and all the muscles in the lower back.
- By working so much muscle with one lift, you can significantly elevate the amount of oxygen your body uses during recovery. Known as EPOC, this elevates your metabolic rate and enables you to burn a lot more calories than you normally would at rest.
- Including deadlifts in a high-volume workout with minimal rest produces a high lactate response, which is associated with growth hormone release. One of growth hormone’s primary effects is to increase the use of fat for energy.
- The technique for the deadlift is simpler than for the squat, and it’s safer to perform in a fatigued state. You can throw a ton of weight on the bar and perform “death” circuits in which the goal is a large metabolic disturbance.
#3: Deadlift = Strong
Ask anyone in the iron game what lift comes to mind with the word “strong,” and their answer will probably be “the deadlift.” You’ve got recruitment of the largest, most powerful muscles in the body and some of the highest-threshold motor-unit activation of any lift.
You’ve also got to have a killer grip, robust arms, and a powerful back.
The most telling evidence that “deadlift equals strong” is that elite strongman competitors train it regularly to boost their maximal strength and power. One study found that among strongman competitors, the deadlift was the most common traditional lift trained.
#4: Build Muscle Faster
One of the coolest benefits of the deadlift is that it’s just as good for packing on muscle as it is for building maximal strength.
First, the deadlift is one of the easiest lifts to use to train near-maximal loads. To pack on mass, you want to include maximal-load attempts to activate satellite cells, which are the ultimate key to getting big: The more satellite cells you are naturally blessed with, the greater the hypertrophy you can achieve. Heavy training appears to create new satellite cells, increasing the potential for growth.
Second, you have more flexibility in training to technical failure, which is well known as being beneficial for hypertrophy because it optimally activates anabolic muscle-signaling post-workout.
#5: A More Chiseled Six-Pack
Proper deadlifts are one of the most effective lifts for building your abs because they activate all the muscles in the core.
In studies comparing traditional ab exercises like crunches and V-ups with multi-joint exercises such as the deadlift, these latter dynamic exercises activate the abs two to three times more than isolation lifts.
Further, surveys of elite Olympic lifters who commonly train variations of the deadlift show that they have some of the most bulletproof abs ever recorded. Their obliques are “super” hypertrophied due to the strenuous overload of fast-twitch abdominal fibers required from the deadlift.
#6: Overcome Plateaus
When was the last time you increased your weights or tried a new lift? The deadlift is one of the best ways to make fast progress.
Depending on where you are weak, the deadlift can help you overcome a plateau:
- If you’re weak off the floor, perform “dead stop” deadlifts to eliminate the benefit you get from stored elastic energy on the descent. Stay honest with yourself and reset before each deadlift.
- If you‘ve plateaued in the squat as well, do dead stops in the bottom squat position. Yes, this is brutally hard, but it is sure to be worth the effort. Try a 4-second eccentric phase with a 2-second pause in the down position of the squat followed by an explosive concentric motion.
- Do eccentric-enhanced deadlifts. For novice-level trainees, simply lowering on a 6-second count increases your lengthening time under tension.
- More advanced lifters can do supramaximal eccentrics in which you load the bar in a power rack, pick it up, and lower it to the ground.
- If you’re an advanced lifter and your lower back is a limiting factor, do eccentric wide-grip deadlifts on a podium.
- Train with chains attached to the bar to challenge your natural strength curve. This technique isn’t intended to make you stronger off the floor, but it will train you to produce greater force during the latter stages of the concentric action.
#7: A Stronger Back
The deadlift is a superior exercise for strengthening the lower back to protect against back pain.
Research shows that average muscle activity in the spinal erectors for the deadlift is 88 percent. Peak activity was 113.4 percent for the lower back muscles. The back extension and lunge exercises also provide significant muscle activation, thus reinforcing their use in any training program. Other typical lower back exercises, including a single-leg body weight deadlift and a static bridge on a BOSU, didn’t effectively activate the back muscles, making them largely useless.
Researchers suggest that regularly training deadlifts with a load ranging from 70 to 85 percent of the 1RM in conjunction with other multi-joint “global” lifts will optimally strengthen the lower back.
#8: Improve Power
Although not a ballistic exercise like the power clean, there are several variations of the deadlift that can help you improve power. One method is to do chain training with an explosive tempo.
If you train the deadlift with chains attached “as fast as possible,” you can produce peak force and acceleration, similar to that achieved in other ballistic exercises such as jerks, cleans, and bench throws. Studies show loads in the 30 percent of the 1RM range are ideal for training power.
By now you know that deadlifts will make pretty much everything about your life better. Get the benefits of the deadlift by learning which deadlift variation is right for you. Advanced lifters can set new PRs by trying this 12-week deadlift training program.