Benefits of the Deadlift - King of the Mass Builders

Live Large - Do Deads - Franco ColumboCredit: By rhodney carter (carter chronicles) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The deadlift is one of the most effective whole-body weightlifting exercises.  It is one of the primary powerlifting movements and has been used for decades by bodybuilders to build world-class physiques.  It is extremely effective at building muscle mass, as well as improving athletic performance.   

What is the Deadlift?

Basically, the deadlift is picking up a weighted barbell from the ground, by bending over, grabbing and holding the bar, and lifting up until the bar is at your hips and you are standing up straight.  It is called the deadlift because the initial concentric movement starts from a dead-stop, on the ground.  There is no rebound momentum at the bottom of the movement like there can be for the squat.  There are many variations but we will go over the conventional barbell deadlift here:

  • Step up to a weighted barbell with your feet at about shoulder width apart or slightly closer.  The general recommendation is to space your feet as if you were going to perform a broad jump.  Aim to have the bar over the middle of your feet.
  • Bend over and grab the bar. Space your hands so that your arms will be just outside of your knees.
  • Drop your hips and bend your knees until your shins are nearly touching the bar.  Keep the lower back straight or slightly arched.  Lift your chest.  Keep your head up.
  • Inhale deeply and contract the legs, abdominals and lower back.
  • Pull off of the ground, keeping the lower back rigid.  Start the movement by visualizing pushing your legs through the floor.  Simultaneously straighten your legs while leaning back to a standing position.  Keep the bar close (or touching) the shins and legs while performing the lift.
  • At the top of the movement lockout your hips and contract your glutes.

Ideally, consult with an experienced trainer or lifter to teach you proper form.  Begin with lighter weights and slowly progress until you are comfortable with the movement.  Workout with a partner or videotape yourself to ensure you are not rounding your back.  Taller individuals may find the Sumo Deadlift (wider stance, with hands positioned inside of the knees) more suitable to their frames.

For a more in-depth description of deadlift execution, check out the video below:

The Benefits

Posterior Chain Development

The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises for building the Posterior Chain.  The posterior chain includes the back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.  By contrast the Anterior Chain includes the muscles on the front of the body, including the chest, abdominals and quadriceps.  Because the muscles of the anterior chain are visible in the mirror, they are usually more developed than the posterior chain.  This results in an imbalance that can result in bad posture, back problems, and even injury.  Also, a strong posterior chain fosters improved athletic performance including increased running speed, higher jumps and more explosive power.  Moreover, developing the muscles of the posterior chain will result in glutes and hamstrings that are shapelier and more toned.  So throw away the Buns of Steel video and start doing deads!

Full-Body Stimulation

The deadlift is a compound movement that involves every major muscle group of the body.  It is clear that the legs and lower back of the posterior chain are the primary movers.  However, in order to maintain spinal rigidity, strong abdominals and upper back muscles are also needed.  Holding the bar (especially at heavier weights) requires a strong grip which consequently builds the muscles of the forearm and even the upper arms to some extent.  It is also nearly impossible not to flex the chest, shoulders and neck while pulling substantial weight.

Compound movements like the deadlift and squat stimulate the most hormones and growth factors.  So, in addition to direct muscular stimulation, compound movements spur growth through hormonal pathways.  This will result in full-body muscular growth, including the back and arms!

Bragging Rights

The deadlift is a true measure of strength.  It is one of powerlifting’s “Big Three”, which includes the bench press, squat and deadlift.  Out of these three, the deadlift is the best at measuring full-body strength.  It is also the least affected by assistive equipment.  A bench shirt can literally add hundreds of pounds to a bench press, and the same can be said for a squat suit.  But there is no piece of equipment or clothing that can give you a similar kind of advantage to the deadlift.  Sure, straps can help, but only so much.  At higher weights grip strength is rarely the limiting factor. You can either lift it or not.  So, if you can say, “I can deadlift 500 pounds,” there is no need to clarify if it was raw or assisted.  It is clear… that you are one strong human being.


The deadlift is the one of the best exercises for full-body muscular development and it is arguably the best indicator of overall strength.  It improves athletic performance, balances the body’s musculature, and tones the muscles of the glutes and hamstrings.  It is a mainstay in the strength and conditioning programs of professional athletes, bodybuilders and physique competitors.  It is not complicated and it does not require a lot of fancy equipment—just a barbell, some plates and a lot of hard work.

Live Large - Do Deads - Sumo DeadliftCredit: isafmedia

Deadlifts done properly