What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?

Deadlifts are one of the most beneficial lifts or workouts for your whole body, they work a number of muscles and because they target so many muscles with one motion, you get much more bang for your buck than any other exercise.

However, deadlifts can become quite dangerous if not done properly, this article will outline the benefits of deadlifting and what muscles the deadlift works.

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work

What Are Deadlifts?

A deadlift consists of lifting a stationary weight off of the floor in front of you, this is typically done with a large barbell to get the spacing of your arms in the right position.

There are loads of variations of deadlift but the most common way to deadlift is to lift this barbell off the floor while keeping your feet firmly planted on the floor and your spine neutral, meaning that you use your core strength and lower body to lift the barbell instead of your arms.

How Do You Do A Deadlift?

Deadlifting can be very dangerous if not done correctly, the first step in doing a deadlift is to stand with your feet hip-width apart, keep your feet stationary and reach down to grab the bar with your knees bent and your butt back.

It is important to keep your neck and back straight and neutral so the lifting is done with your core and legs. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.

When grabbing the bar, make sure to drive your feet to the ground and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips. As you are doing this, come to a standing position by straightening your knees and bringing your butt forward. Make sure to maintain a straight back posture throughout bringing the bar back up.

After you have stood up, your legs are straight and your butt is forward, slowly bend your legs and put your butt back to softly drop the bar again. When dealing with heavier weights, be careful when dropping the bar and make sure that you are on an appropriate surface to drop the weight.

When deadlifting it is important to ease yourself into the weight, we advise that you start with just the bar without any weight attached just to find your form.

Then slowly add weight until you feel comfortable. Because of the muscles worked when deadlifting, you can often use more weight than you would with bench press or even squatting.

Here is a breakdown of some of the most important things to keep in mind while performing deadlifts:

  • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Keep your spine and neck straight and neutral. 
  • Focus on using your core, glutes, and hamstrings to lift rather than your back.
  • Push your butt back as you bend down and bring it forward as you stand up.
  • Don’t go into a deep squat, keep your hips above your knees.
  • Focus on form rather than weight at first. 
How Do You Do A Deadlift?

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?

Deadlifts are one of the most varied workouts when it comes to the muscles worked, they train multiple muscle groups, these groups include:

  • Glutes - The glutes are the biggest muscle in the body and the deadlift uses the glutes when you are bringing your butt forward, tightening the muscles, and lifting the barbell.
  • Hamstrings - The hamstrings are another of the core muscles in play when performing a deadlift, when picking up the barbell your knees will be bent, when straightening your knees as you pick up with your legs, the hamstrings will tighten.
  • Core - A lot of core strength goes into performing a deadlift, when you squeeze your core while lifting a barbell you generate intra-abdominal pressure that creates stability around your hips and spine. By keeping your back straight during a deadlift you are generating that intra-abdominal pressure automatically.
  • Back - When performing a deadlift your back stays isometrically contracted, meaning that over time your back muscles will get stronger in this position.

    It’s unlikely that your back muscles will grow from deadlifts but they will become stronger which will allow you to deadlift more weight improving growth in other muscles.
  • Trapezius - Your trapezius or ‘traps’ as they are commonly referred to are the muscles at the base of your neck that keep your shoulders attached to your body. When deadlifting, your traps will have to adjust to the load as all of the weight is being hung from your shoulders. This allows the traps to tear and grow.

Risks Of Deadlifting

Risks Of Deadlifting

Because deadlifting requires the use of so many muscles, the parameters have to be just right and you can lift heavier weights than with most other workouts, there are some risks that come along with deadlifting. A lot of these risks are due to errors in form and technique, such as:

  • Poor control - When performing a deadlift both lifting and lowering should be done very slowly, doing deadlifts quickly can cause joint problems and be potentially dangerous to those around you
  • Arching the lower back - You must always keep your back straight and neutral when performing a deadlift, if you arch your back while deadlifting you can cause pain in your joints and lower back
  • Barbell position - The barbell should be as close to your body as possible, having the barbell too far away from your body can lead to a loss of control and footing.
  • Shoulders not locked in - The upper body, during a deadlift, require stability. If the shoulders are not locked in properly they will be unstable and you may lose control of your lift.
  • Squatting into the deadlift - The knees should not be excessively bent when performing a deadlift, if you squat into a deadlift it will put too much pressure on your knees to lift and could cause potential injury.

As well as potential form and technique issues, when deadlifting you have to be strict with your training, errors in your training could result in injury. Some examples of training errors are:

  • Lifting too heavy - Having too heavy a weight on your barbell when deadlifting can throw your focus off balance as you focus more on lifting the weight than maintaining form, this could lead to all sorts of lower back and hip injuries. It is important with any workout to focus on form before weight. 
  • Overtraining - Deadlifting is a very taxing workout and allowing enough recovery time for your muscles between deadlifting sessions is crucial. If you are using a lower weight for your deadlifts we recommend performing 5 - 8 deadlifts per set at around 3 - 5 sets.

    If you are using a heavier weight for your deadlifts then we recommend 1 - 6 deadlifts per set at 3 - 5 sets. It is very important not to train deadlifts more than 2 or 3 times a week and always leave ample space in between to help the muscles recover.

Final Thoughts

Deadlifts can be a fantastic way of working many muscles at once, but it is important to get the form absolutely correct before moving on to any weight.

Deadlifts can be quite dangerous when done wrong or too excessively so make sure you aren’t training deadlifts more than 3 times a week and always leave enough time for the muscle to recover.

Kevin Harris
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