The benefits of deadlifts are copious, and with so many variations to perform you can choose to target different muscle groups, work towards different goals, and generally tailor your workout to fit your individual needs.
That alone is one of the biggest benefits of deadlift exercises; few other exercises offer this level of customisation.
Deadlifting is the perfect choice if you want an exercise that’s simple and safe to perform, yet can be scaled up or down depending on your needs. In this article, we will answer all of your deadlift queries, including deadlift benefits, risks and what they are.
- What is a Deadlift?
- Benefits of Deadlifts
- Deadlift Risks
- Deadlift: Sets, Reps and Rest
- Muscles Targeted By Deadlifts
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So, before we jump into the benefits, we should probably start by explaining what a deadlift is.
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What is a Deadlift?
The deadlift is one of three main compound exercises hailed by powerlifters and bodybuilders, alongside squats and bench presses. It is a relatively simple movement, although its many variations make it extremely versatile to cater to all fitness levels.
In its most basic form, the deadlift involves lifting a bar/barbell to the level of the hips by driving your hips forward and maintaining a flat back, and then returning it to the floor under control. This might sound undemanding, but deadlift exercises are extremely effective and favoured by weightlifters and fitness enthusiasts around the world.
The deadlift is a fundamental exercise that helps to build muscle, increase flexibility and improve balance and posture.
It is also one of the safest exercises around when performed correctly. The position of the bar makes deadlifts substantially safer than most other weight training exercises. The bar isn’t going above your head, so there’s no chance of getting crushed or injured, and if the weight becomes too much you can simply drop it.
There are plenty of variations to choose from, but since this basic principle remains unchanged, they're all safe and great for beginners.
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Benefits of Deadlifts
#1 - Promotes High Level Fat Loss
One of the most profound health benefits of deadlifts and lifting weights is their ability to burn more fat than simply dieting, or dieting combined with cardio exercise alone.
In short, deadlifting engages a number of major muscle groups within the body, which simultaneously triggers high levels of fat loss by burning a large number of calories at once. The number of muscle groups engaged means deadlifting comes close to being considered a full-body exercise and thus helps to speed up the body's metabolism.
In addition to its impact on strength the deadlift exercise benefits those looking to boost their weight loss, but in a way that is safe.
Studies have even shown that deadlifting burns more calories per workout than a running on a treadmill does, and this makes a great deal of sense when you consider just how many muscle groups are harnessed or utilised by this exercise.
To name but a few, the deadlift works the glutes, abdominals, calves, mid and lower back, hamstrings, quads and inner thighs.
That equates to a lot of exerted energy and a lot of calories burned, much more so than most other exercises. By working out so many muscles simultaneously, deadlifting simply requires a lot of energy which, in turn, burns fat at a rapid pace.
Moreover, deadlift workout benefits are long-term. Muscle tissue within the body is metabolically more active than fat tissue and burns more calories, and so the more muscle you have, the bigger your resting energy expenditure.
This means that your body burns more calories while in a state of rest. By performing deadlifts regularly, you will not only lose weight, but you'll be able to transform your body into a calorie-burning machine!
In a 2016 article published in the ACSM's Health and Fitness Journal, the research concluded that deadlifting burns more calories than a large number of other exercises.
According to the report, the only other exercise that burns more calories than the deadlift is the barbell back squat, which similarly uses many muscle groups in both the lower and upper body. By performing exercises that burn a greater number of calories, this will in turn boost your total calorie expenditure, and therefore directly aid weight loss over time.
Deadlifts positively impact your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate). That means a higher metabolism in the long run, so you will burn more calories even whist sitting down and doing minimal.
#2 - Strengthens the Core
It's no secret that some of the best health benefits of deadlifts are reserved for the core.
The reasons for this are quite simple. For a start, when you go into the manoeuvre it is important to engage your core as this will offer support throughout the performance of the lift, and ensure that your body remains stable and your lower back is protected as you lift and lower the weight.
Simply bracing your core properly and applying the correct breathing technique is enough to work this muscle group, but the benefits of deadlifts for the core go much further.
Lifting a heavy weight requires a great deal of stabilisation from the core muscles, as they're forced to work exceptionally hard to remain balanced.
When you brace your core, you create intra-abdominal pressure which then transfers to the surrounding areas of your hips and lower back, and influences how much force you can push through them. Intra-abdominal pressure is proven to increase muscle strength and develop a strong core.
If you need more assistance on how to engage your core, we have you covered with an entire guide that walks you through it step-by-step.
Moreover, there are many deadlift variations designed specifically to target the core area. Single leg deadlifts, for example, force the core to make constant yet small readjustments throughout the movement. This places the muscle group under added pressure, and forces it to work harder.
A conditioned core is fundamental to all movements including weight transference and balance, and you’ll certainly feel the effects and benefits in everyday life.
Core strength is one of the most sought after and potentially best benefits of deadlifts for females and males. The core is made up of several muscle groups, and few other exercises engage them all so effectively; that is why deadlifts are often considered to be close to being a “full body” exercise.
Plus, developing your core will allow you to push ahead with more difficult or complex exercise variations in the future.
#3 - Improves Posture
Perhaps one of the less commonly lauded benefits of deadlifts is their direct aid in improving posture when they're performed regularly.
Though it may not strike you as being a huge deal, bad posture actually carries a number of negative side effects, including back, neck and shoulder pain, a misaligned spine, and even decreased mobility. With time, bad posture can develop from stooping whilst you’re sat, to slouching when you walk and overall taking a toll on your spinal health.
Deadlifts require you to keep your spine fully straight throughout the movement, and this alone has been shown to provide the necessary benefits for correcting poor posture.
Moreover, one of the primary focal points of a deadlift is the lower back. When performed correctly, the exercise targets and conditions the lower back muscles and works to strengthen them, and with a strong back comes good posture.
Having a strong core (which, as we mentioned is another benefit of deadlifts) is also vital for good posture, as the core is a crucial area of support for the entire body.
You can improve your posture whilst you're working from the comfort of your own home; OriGym's guide on the best yoga ball chairs provides an array of options to assist maintaining a strong position whilst you're seated.
In short, deadlifts improve bad posture through a mixture of developing good habits; increasing muscle strength in the back and core and maintaining a straight and aligned spine throughout the lift.
Improving posture is one of the most valuable health benefits of deadlifts and yet another reason to incorporate these exercises into your fitness routine.
#4 - Improves Bone Density
One benefit of deadlifts that has minimal scientific research surrounding it (yet holds confirmative results) is their ability to increase bone density. Deadlifting is proven to both promote new bone growth while maintaining existing bone structure.
Current research indicates that the long-term benefits of performing deadlifts not only promote an increase of bone density in younger populations, but they may also help maintain that increase well into the later stages of life when we naturally lose bone density.
As we age, our bone density decreases; even more so following menopause in women. The older we get, the more susceptible we become to the likes of osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones so much to the point that they can break easily.
In a 2011 study exploring the changes in bone mineral density in response to 24 weeks of resistance training in college-age men and women, researchers found that through committing to a 6-month resistance-training regimen which included deadlifts, the subjects all experienced an improvement in bone mineral density.
Though the results were more prominent in young men, the majority of subject's results offered supportive findings.
This theory also applies to the other powerlifting compound exercises we mentioned earlier (the bench press and squat), which were also measured during this experiment.
Additionally, a 2015 study conducted by University of Missouri offers further support for this claim, as their study also highlighted that certain weight lifting exercises, with particular focus on deadlifts, may increase bone mass.
The researcher concluded that exercise-based interventions work to increase the bone density in healthy middle-aged men with low bone mass. These exercises could be prescribed to reverse bone loss associated with aging.
Therefore, by implementing deadlifts into your routine, you’re not only benefiting your muscle growth in the short term, but you’re helping your future self preserve it, which will benefit your health in later years. Combine deadlifting with a supplementation of L-Glutamine for optimal results in supporting bone density, too!
#5 - Prevents Injury
Many of the aforementioned deadlift benefits are a direct result of the strength the body is pushed to build and develop when performing this exercise, and its prevention of injury is another that stems right off the back of that.
Contrary to popular belief that deadlifts can cause significant damage to the back (though true if not performed correctly!), some may be surprised to discover that in those that have already suffered a back injury, deadlifts can in actual fact help you during the recovery process.
The deadlift, in all variations, involves the lower back muscles and is consistently working to strengthen them. By strengthening the lower back muscles, this in turn has a direct effect on preventing any future potential back issues.
If performed using the correct form, deadlifts can help prevent lumbar injury (injury to the lower back) by strengthening the lumbar spinal extensors, which are the dominant stabilisers of the lower spine.
As well as the deadlift benefits for lower back injuries, they’re also effective in making your shoulders and neck more resistant to injury as they work the entirety of the posterior chain, strengthening the upper body which has a direct effect in reducing potential injuries.
You may want to give OriGym's common weightlifting injuries and prevention guide a thorough read before performing deadlifts to ensure that you're doing everything in your power to avoid injury.
Furthermore, if your muscles, bones, ligaments or tendons become misaligned, this will prevent them from working together efficiently and therefore negatively impact the way they're supposed to function naturally. Strength training exercises (deadlifts more specifically) require fluid movements that promote a greater body alignment, which as a result will significantly reduce your risk of injury.
#6 - Increases Hormones
One of the more subtle benefits of deadlifts is their ability to increase the levels of essential hormones within the body.
The number of lifts that enables an individual to do this may vary from one person to another depending on their individual ability and fitness levels, however the general guidelines suggest that by performing between 8-10 lift repetitions with heavy weights (roughly 75% of the limit you can lift for a single repetition), the growth hormone and amount of testosterone both increase as a result.
The growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and it enhances a number of functions, including fat loss, bone strength, tissue healing and muscle growth - all desirable fitness goals.
In order to increase the production of the growth hormone, it is suggested to do so through intense training and keeping your rest periods under 90 seconds for optimal effects.
Testosterone, on the other hand, is the primary anabolic hormone that improves muscle repair and muscle growth. Though men typically produce a significantly greater amount of testosterone compared to women, women still produce the hormone and reap its benefits and effects.
Generally speaking, performing heavy deadlifts following the same guidelines that we set earlier with short rest periods can increase your production of testosterone. To increase testosterone production, we would recommend avoiding high-repetition sets with light weights as they do not offer the same effectiveness.
#7 - Promotes Glute Gains
Deadlifts definitely deserve their holy grail status in the fitness industry, particularly when it comes to lower-body or leg days, as they work many of the major muscle groups found within the hips, lower back and legs.
While deadlifts are most definitely a full-body burner, they provide extra effectiveness for certain muscle groups - namely, the glutes (scientifically titled the ‘gluteus maximus’).
In addition to the aesthetic benefits that come with building the glutes, the gluteus maximus is the biggest muscle in the human body and when compared with the other main powerlifting exercises, nothing targets them as greatly as the deadlift.
Strong glutes transfer to better power, endurance and pain prevention, in theory making them the engine that drives your machine.
In a Western Michigan University study that looked into the effects both Romanian deadlifts and the conventional deadlift had on the glutes (as well as the subjects rectus femoris and biceps femoris), the researchers found that the conventional deadlift caused greater response than the romanian deadlift, and was confirmed as a powerhouse movement for building the glutes.
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#8 - Appropriate For All Fitness Levels
While popular belief may have you picturing a ripped bodybuilder when you think of a deadlift manoeuvre, deadlifting can in fact be altered to accommodate and benefit all fitness levels; from beginner all the way to Strongman competitors!
For those who want to reap the vast benefits of a deadlift but do not yet possess the strength to pile heavy plates onto a barbell, this can be rectified by switching to lighter plates as you adapt to the movement.
Lighter plates will allow an individual to master the correct technique, whilst gradually building up strength and simultaneously harvesting the deadlift's advantages.
As a person’s strength increases, this can of course be approached by simply adding more weight onto the bar incrementally; the correct term for this is 'progressive overload'.
This is perhaps one of the most overlooked benefits of deadlifts, as there is absolutely nothing to suggest that absolute beginners shouldn't attempt to perform them. As long as they are in good health, they will benefit from performing them.
If you're new to fitness or just starting out with strength training, we think you will find our buyer's guide on the best resistance bands for building strength an insightful read, as well as beneficial for your deadlift progression.
It is important to take note on our emphasis on a gradual increase in weight when starting out with progressive overload. Experts suggest that once you’re able to execute a deadlift with ease using a given weight, this should be increased by approximately 5-10 pounds per set.
However, if there comes a time where you begin to compromise your form or you feel any pain, you should regress back down in terms of the weight that you are lifting, otherwise this could result in injury.
#9 A Number of Variations
Similarly to the former deadlift benefit, you can adapt a deadlift to your fitness level by utilising different variations of the exercise.
Once you have perfected your technique for the conventional deadlift, which is essential before attempting more advanced variations, there are a number of ways which allow you to switch up the movement and target slightly different muscle groups.
For instance, in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers explored the difference in muscle activation and power characteristics when a deadlift is performed with both straight and hexagon barbells (known as Hex Bar Deadlifts).
The study found that in comparison to the conventional deadlift, the hex bar deadlift works the quadriceps muscles more, whereas the straight barbell utilises more of the hamstring and lower back muscles.
Additionally, a 2017 study published in Sports found that most people could lift significantly heavier weights when performing hex bar deadlifts, as well as perform faster repetitions with greater power outputs. The increased speed could have a significant effect on training outcomes and could be more beneficial for athletes wanting to be more explosive.
In order to advance in both deadlifting, along with most forms of fitness, it is always good to combine your training with an appropriate diet. If you'd like to develop your nutrition knowledge, why not look into enrolling onto OriGym's Level 4 Advanced Sports Nutrition Course?
Furthermore, there is a much longer list of deadlift variations that target different fitness levels, to name a few:
- Romanian deadlifts: Legs are kept straight (with soft knees) for the entire exercise, placing extra emphasis on the hamstrings.
- Sumo deadlifts: Legs are positioned in an extra-wide stance, targeting the quads and hamstrings more than the back and core.
- Single-leg deadlifts: Advised more so for intermediate-advanced levels, as the name suggests, this variation is performed by shifting all the body’s weight to one side, engaging your core and keeping one leg off the ground. This helps to improve balance, stability and core control.
Any exercise can lead to injury if performed incorrectly, and a deadlift may present a greater threat since you are utilising more muscles than you would in most other movements.
However, deadlifts can only present cause for concern in those who do not perform them properly. In fact, most research would tell you that one of the primary benefits to deadlifts is that they're perhaps one of the safest weightlifting exercises.
When executing a deadlift, there is no worry that the weight could drop onto you, or that you could be pulled backwards; when presented with an issue, you can simply drop the barbell.
However, what about when a deadlift is not performed correctly? Though there is limited research reporting the occurrence of specific injuries related to deadlifts, four deadlift-related studies described the following risks attached to the exercise: fractures, muscle ruptures, various lower back injuries and meniscus tears.
- Muscle ruptures
- Various lower back injuries, particularly sprain or strain of the lumbar spine
- Tricep and bicep tear
- Pop your spinal column
- Shoulder pain (from mild to severe)
While we know that all sounds scary, and rather painful, we do not want this to put you off incorporating this highly effective exercise into your training routine, as generally speaking, it is renowned for its safe nature.
If you find injury prevention and sport physio particularly interesting, why not turn this into a rewarding career where you can help and inform others on the topics? Here at OriGym, we are the providers of a Level 4 Lower Back Pain Management course where you will develop the skills to assist clients with back pain management and recovery.
Deadlifts: Sets, Reps and Rest Gaps
One of the most frequently asked questions in the world of lifting weights is "how many reps of an exercise should I do?" - and the reality is, that depends entirely on the desired goal of the individual.
Deadlifts can be incorporated into all training regimes, whether you’re training for strength, muscular hypertrophy or muscular endurance.
Here we will break down how you should train deadlifts to achieve each of the aforementioned fitness objectives. This guidelines generally applies across the board of all exercises, so you can utilise this to the majority of exercises within your training.
First, let us define what each of the goals aims to accomplish:
Strength - the goal in strength training is to maximise the amount of force produced with the primary muscles. This form of training aims to build muscle, increase strength and build durability with load bearing activity.
Muscular Hypertrophy - to put it simply, the goal in hypertrophy is to increase muscle size.
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Muscular Endurance - as the name suggests, muscular endurance training works to improve the ability of a muscle to repeatedly exert force over a period of time.
Lets begin with the repetitions (reps). The reps are the number of times you complete a single exercise before taking a rest.
- When training for strength, sets should consist of 1-5 repetitions.
- When training for muscular hypertrophy, sets should consist of 6-12 repetitions.
- When training for muscular endurance, sets should consist of 12+ repetitions.
Sets & Rest Gaps
The sets are the number of cycles of reps that you complete (e.g. you perform 3 sets of squats for 8 reps). Different rest periods are required for the different types of training as when you lift heavier, it utilises more work from the nervous system, therefore needs longer rest to delay fatiguing and enable for better consistent performance.
- When training for strength, you should perform 2 sets of each exercise with around 90-180 seconds of rest between sets.
- When training for hypertrophy, you should perform 3 sets of each exercise with around 60-90 seconds of rest between sets.
- When training for muscular endurance, you should perform 5 sets of each exercise with around 30-45 seconds of rest between sets.
Muscles Targeted By Deadlifts
As we have mentioned throughout the article, a deadlift is a top compound exercise due solely to how many muscle groups it works simultaneously, many even refer to it as the “king” of all exercises for that reason alone.
We’ve touched briefly on the muscles it works, however here is a brief summary of all the muscles included in this one movement to truly highlight just how many people, no matter what the fitness goal, would benefit from deadlifting (here’s a hint: everyone).
First of all, we need to split it into two categories:
Deadlift Prime Movers
The prime movers, sometimes known as the agonist, are the muscles that are responsible for the primary force that drives the movement. In a deadlift’s case, these muscle groups are:
- Lats - the agonist at initiation of pull
Synergistic and Stabiliser Muscles
Generally speaking, the synergistic and stabiliser muscles are the groups of muscles that affect how a movement is produced and executed. They encourage the strength of the prime movers, joint stability and have the capability to boost activation throughout various ranges of motion, however, may not be active throughout the entire movement like the prime movers are.
In terms of a deadlift, these muscles are:
- Soleus (a broad muscle in the lower calf)
- Gastrocnemius (chief muscle of the calf of the leg)
- Rectus Abdominis (also known as the "abdominal muscle")
- Erectors (group of muscles and tendons than run nearly the length of the spine on the left and right)
That rounds up our list of the deadlift exercise benefits. Deadlifting has long held a strong reputation in the fitness industry, and following our research, it's easy to see why.
With its benefits ranging from physical and aesthetic effects, to long-term health advantages, we would encourage all who can to implement this versatile exercise into your fitness routine. With so many variations, most people can perform some version safely, but there are some exceptions.
Generally it is recommended that if you struggle with spine or hip mobility, you shouldn't jump straight into performing a deadlift. Instead, work on improving your mobility moves. Additionally, those who struggle with back pain should consult a fitness professional prior to attempting a deadlift or simply avoid them all together as they can cause more damage.
However, for those who can perform a deadlift safely and properly without pain or strain, the many benefits of deadlifts are well worth it.
Want to take your knowledge of fitness to the next level? Become a personal trainer with OriGym where you can enrol on a L3 PT Diploma. You can download our course prospectus today for all the information you need.
- Yoke, Mary M. M.A., M.M. WHAT ARE THE BEST WEIGHT ROOM EXERCISES FOR INCREASING ENERGY EXPENDITURE?, ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2016 - Volume 20 - Issue 3 - p 28-30 doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000203.
- Pamela S. Hinton, Peggy Nigh, John Thyfault, Effectiveness of resistance training or jumping-exercise to increase bone mineral density in men with low bone mass: A 12-month randomized, clinical trial, Bone, Volume 79, 2015.
- Vecchio LD, Daewoud H, Green S. The health and performance benefits of the squat, deadlift, and bench press. MOJ Yoga Physical Ther. 2018;3(2):40‒47. DOI: 10.15406/mojypt.2018.03.00042.
- Almstedt, HC, Canepa, JA, Ramirez, DA, and Shoepe, TC. Changes in bone mineral density in response to 24 weeks of resistance training in college-age men and women. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25(4): 1098-1103, 2011.
- Lake, J.; Duncan, F.; Jackson, M.; Naworynsky, D. Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance. Sports 2017, 5, 82. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports5040082.
- Camara, Kevin D.; Coburn, Jared W.; Dunnick, Dustin D.; Brown, Lee E.; Galpin, Andrew J.; Costa, Pablo B. An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2016 - Volume 30 - Issue 5 - p 1183-1188 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001352