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  • Writer's pictureLee Pearson (Tutor)

How to Deadlift for Beginners

The barbell deadlift is one of the best exercises around. Whether you want to build muscle, burn fat, increase athleticism, or focus purely on gaining strength, it's the one movement every lifter must do. But it only helps you out if you learn to do it right.

Performed safely, the deadlift will strengthen every bone in your body, challenge every muscle across your posterior chain (all the muscles that run from your neck to your heels) and test your grip strength and core stability to the absolute max. It will find any chink in your armour that you need to address if you hope to lift heavy. For that reason you should always start light, within your means, and build up the weight once your technique is flawless.

It’s a great addition to the routine of anyone who’s guilty of just training their “mirror muscles” on the front of the body – think chest, abs and quads – at the expense of those on the rear of the body, especially the lower back and hamstrings. Doing so will result in an unbalanced physique,and significant strength discrepancies between synergistic muscle groups that leads to injury. But the barbell deadlift is the best remedy for this, according to research published in the Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, because the exercise works the entire posterior chain of muscles from your neck to your hamstrings, and activate more muscle fibres than doing similar moves such as hex-bar deadlifts or glute raises. Researchers found hamstring activation was 28% greater in the barbell deadlift over the hex-bar variation, and 20% higher than during glute raises.

The deadlift and its variants will also prove hugely beneficial to anyone who play sports. The activation it places on the hamstrings, glutes and quadriceps (if you adopt a sumo or trap bar stance) are invaluable for activities that require explosive leg strength – rugby, football, and track and field to name just three. These muscles are also vital in endurance sports such as swimming, cycling and running. The deadlift helps to keep them strong and in tip-top condition, preventing injury while also significantly boosting strength.

As a big compound lift, it also prompts your body to release growth hormones and testosterone, further increasing your bone density and muscular hypertrophy – so say goodbye to not being able to lift your sofa up to reach the remote.

The deadlift is one of the three core exercises in any strength training plan, along with the barbell squat and the bench press. With so many variations to activate different muscle groups it’s a great strength builder – you will find that you progress through the weight fairly quickly. You’ll fire up lots of muscle fibres during the move – much more important than a quick arm pump – and racking up big numbers on the deadlift will boost your confidence in the gym too.

How to Lift:

With your feet flat on the floor, bend at the knees and grab the bar with hands shoulder-width apart.

You have two grip choices: a double overhand grip or a reverse grip, where one hand grips the bar overhand and the other underhand. The reverse grip will allow you to lift heavier. Always squeeze the bar as hard as you can, especially on heavier sets, before the bar leaves the floor.

If you struggle with your grip try using chalk or a mixed grip (with one hand facing forwards, one facing back), which will help you cling onto the bar so you can focus on your form.

Keep your head in a neutral position by looking forwards with your eyes fixed to a spot on the ground, 2-3m ahead of your feet. Keep your chin up so your head stays in the best position for lifting.

Keeping your back straight and your head facing forward throughout, lift the bar using your legs and driving your hips forward. The deadlift should be a fast and powerful lift using your legs and glute strength. Drive upwards as explosively as possible.

Aim to maintain a strong spine from the beginning of the lift to the end. Do this by keeping your chest up to prevent your torso hunching forwards over the bar.

Your shoulders should remain slightly in front of your hands until the bar passes mid-thigh level, at which point you want to retract your shoulder blades for a strong and stable torso.

Pull your shoulders back at the top of the move, then carefully lower the bar to the ground.

Top Tips:

Keep your chin high at all times, this will make it harder for you to round the spine and give you a stronger position with less chance of injury.

Keep your arms locked out and straight, if your arms are flexed at the elbow you will be wasting energy and efficiency trying to assist the lift with your arms.

Always keep your core tight and braced, even on the lowering phase. Most injuries occur on the lowering phase after people think they have finished the lift at the top, lower under control with the core tight.

Drive through the heel not the toes. Driving through the toes will cause you to lose balance and shift your weight forward, you want your weight to come back as you sit into the get set position.

focus on driving through the heels and using the glutes together, most novice lifters forget to engage the glutes and instead place too much strain on the lower back.

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