Athletes and weightlifters use deadlifts as one of their primary weight-training exercises because they effectively build strength in the erector spinae, gluteus maximus, quadriceps and soleus muscles. To begin deadlifts, you flex your hips and knees to lower toward the floor and grip a weighted barbell or other type of weighted implement off the floor. You then extend your hips and legs to rise to a full standing position. As you stand, you lift the weight up with you so that it finishes at the front of your thighs. You then flex your hips and knees again to return the weight to the floor and complete one rep. The movement at the hip, knee and ankle joints during the exercise mimics the joint movements of jumping or lowering into an athletic stance.
The deadlift is most commonly performed with a weighted barbell. First, place and secure any weighted plates onto each end of the barbell. Set your feet underneath the bar, positioning them to shoulder-width apart. Squat down and grip the bar with your hands set just wider than your shoulders using an overhand grip. Keep your head facing forward and engage your core muscles and glutes to keep your spine straight and prevent it from hunching forward as you perform the exercise. Engage your glutes to extend your hips and engage your quadriceps to straighten your knees to lift the bar up off the floor until you are standing fully erect with the barbell resting against the front of your thighs. Flex your hips and knees to lower the bar back to the floor.
Using Other Weighted Implements
Besides the barbell, you can also use dumbbells, kettlebells or a trap bar for deadlifts. To perform deadlifts with dumbbells or kettlebells, set a pair of weights on the floor about hip-width apart. Stand in between the weights with a shoulder-width stance. Flex your hips and knees to lower toward the floor and grip the weights. Extend your hips and straighten your knees to rise to a standing position, lifting the weights up off the floor so that they finish at the outside of your upper thighs. Flex your hips and knees to lower the weights to the floor and complete one rep. To use a trap bar for deadlifts, stand inside the trap bar with your feet set to shoulder-width. Squat down and grip the handles of the trap bar. Lift the bar off the floor by fully extending your hips and knees and then squat back down to return the bar to the floor.
Variations of the Deadlift
While the traditional deadlift primarily works the erector spinae in your back, you can do straight-back stiff-leg deadlifts or straight-back straight-leg deadlifts to place greater emphasis on other muscle groups. The exercises are similar except straight-back stiff-leg deadlifts require your knees to be slightly-bent, while straight-back straight-leg deadlifts require your knees to be completely straight. The straight-back stiff-leg deadlift primarily works the gluteus maximus. Instead of your knees flexing and extending as you lower and lift the barbell, they remain just slightly bent throughout the entire exercise. This increases the degree of hip extension and thus places a greater demand on your gluteus maximus. To focus primarily on the hamstrings, do the straight-back straight-leg deadlift. While lowering and raising the barbell off the floor, your knees remain completely straight throughout the entire exercise.
Training With Deadlifts
Add deadlifts to your lower-body weight-training workouts. Perform them two to three days per week and take one day off between each workout to recover. The deadlift is a compound, multi-joint lift that works all the major muscles in your lower body. To maximize the strength-building benefits of deadlifts, schedule them toward the beginning of your workout when your muscles aren't fatigued so that they can lift more weight. Start your workout with a 10-minute, dynamic warm-up of light jogging, bodyweight squats, walking lunges, walking quad stretches and walking knee-to-chest stretches. Do three to five sets of six to 10 reps, resting 90 seconds between each set. Use a weight that allows you to do six reps, but no more than 10. When you can do 10 reps with ease, increase the weight.
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