I remember the first time I had a personal trainer. Let’s call him John Doe, because, well, John is going to need some anonymity. I had grown up like most guys, I thought I knew something about lifting weights, but really didn’t.
And, it turned out, my new trainer was exactly the same.
With John, I did a variety of workouts, shoulder presses on the Smith machine, rear dips with a stack of plates on my legs…but we never did any deadlifts. You see, while John was busy destroying my shoulders, he thought deads were too dangerous. And sadly, this is a common belief.
And, truth be told, the deadlift can be dangerous. But, every exercise out there can lead to injury when done wrong. But, this is also the mother-load of all exercises. It works more of your body than any other lift and because of this, it sets you up for serious gains in your other lifts if you do it right. So, let’s dispel the bad reputation and get schooled in how to do the deadlift properly.
- Respect the lift
Because the deadlift places direct strain on the low back, every single repetition must be approached with complete attention to all the details. Let me say this another way: from your warm up to your one rep max, never half-ass this lift.
- Start at the top
Unless you had a rock star trainer you probably learned this the wrong way, from the bottom up. If you want to master this lift, don’t start in a bent over position, but start while standing. Put your feet midway under the bar and tuck your chin back to lock in your traps, then lift your chest and force your shoulders back, activating your latissimus dorsi muscles, which will help support your whole back. From there, hinge at the hips and lower your hands to the bar, keeping your back locked in the whole time. Grab the bar with your back set in this safe position and come up, then unhinge, while keeping the bar pressed firmly into your legs the whole time. Then put it back down in the same path, with the same strong back position. That’s a real deadlift.
- Start at the top again
Again, most people learn this one wrong. When you are first learning the mechanics of this lift, don’t start with the bar on the ground. Instead, start with a light weight in a standing position and work from the top down. This will help you nail your form and show you the importance of the negative phase of this lift.
- Don’t forget the negative
Studies have shown that paying attention to both the concentric (contracting) and eccentric (releasing) phases of an exercise result in growth that is much bigger than the sum of the parts. This applies for the deadlift as well. Don’t lift and drop. Lift and ease down in a controlled manner so you can start your next rep with less wasted time. And, as legendary coach Mark Rippetoe says, “Dropping the bar is for pussies.”
- Start smart, stay smart, forget your ego
This is not a show off lift. It is not one that will impress girls or make other guys bow before you. This lift is about getting, and staying, strong. So, don’t go for numbers you aren’t ready for. Instead, start with a weight that gets pretty hard in the 8-10 rep range. You can move the amount up slowly as it gets easier. And then, when your technique is solid and nearly instinctual, move up to weights that get damn hard in the 4-6 rep range. And remember, the only one who needs to know about or will care about your numbers is you.
There you go, you now know more about the deadlift than my old trainer John Doe ever will. Embrace the potential of this lift, use the knowledge wisely and watch your gains skyrocket.