The deadlift is a free weight exercise where a loaded barbell is lifted from the floor using the knees and hips. From personal experience in the gym setting, I see this highly under utilized! Lack of education, and fears of getting hurt seem to be paramount when talking to clients about this exercise. Lets take some time and look at proper dead lifting form, and some benefits.
First off we will start with proper from. Though there will be written instruction, this should never supersede proper one-on-one instruction.
- Walk up to the bar and place the feet at shoulder width, or slightly wider than shoulder width. Toes are pointed slightly outward.
- The bar should be approximately one inch form the shins.
- Squat down to the bar, grasping in either a pronated or alternate (one pronated, one supinated) grip. Arms are outside the knees and at shoulder width or slighter wider, depending on the width of the stance.
- Ensure back is flat at this point before beginning the lift.
- Keep eyes up at all times (This does not mean look at the ceiling, but look up and forward)
- Pushing through the heels, extend the knees and hips. Ensure the hips to not extend faster than the shoulders and keep the back flat.
- The bar should rise close to the shins (Some choose to touch the bar to the shins).
- Continue the controlled lift until the knees and hips have fully extended, and you have a slightly hyperextended torso.
- The set position should also include the shoulders rolled back (should not be forward looking as if hunching over).
- Begin by flexing the knees and hips to return the bar to floor.
- The bar should take the same path down as the lifting path (close to the shins).
- Maintain a flat back during the execution of the lowering phase.
- If doing multiple reps, let the plates touch the floor, and begin the lift without bouncing off the floor.
What has been presented is “proper form.” It needs to be understood that everyone has different limb lengths, and nuances that can alter an individuals proper form.
Now that we have an understanding of how to do a deadlift, lets take a quick look at where injuries occur. First and foremost rounding of the back. This places a huge undue stress on the lower back, creating the possibility for skeletal injuries such as herniated disk(s). There can also be Strain(s) (overly stretched / torn muscles) and Sprain(s) (ligaments are torn, pulled away from insertions points). Along with improper form, we also have overloading the bar. The easiest way to lose out form is using too heavy of a weight. Besides for a rounding back, another sign is the buckling of the knees. Best practice to avoid injuries is to load a lower weight and practice proper form, and progress slowly. I have seen time and time again individuals who progress to fast. Increasing intensity (weight and/or reps) too fast will lead to an injury.
When used properly, what are the benefits of deadlifting? Using deadlifting as a training modality can decrease pain and increase general activity (Berglund et al). For sports related power, deadlifts can increase explosive power output. Vertical jump increased 7% while rapid force output increased 18.8% to 49% while training twice weekly for 10 weeks (Thompson et al.). This is also beneficial to no sport specific training too. The ability to produce power at any age requires Type II muscles fibers. These are the first muscle fibers to see atrophy in older populations, leading to balance issues. As with all weight barring exercise we also see a higher bone mineral density (BMD), which can assist with warding off osteoporosis, or at least greatly slow the process. We also see hormone releases, a great metabolic enhancer, and a training tool that can be used to break through plateaus.
Berglund, L., Aasa, B., Hellqvist, J., Michaelson, P., & Aasa, U. (2015). Which Patients With Low Back Pain Benefit From Deadlift Training? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(7), 1803-1811.doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000837.
Thompson, B. J., Stock, M. S., Shields, J. E., Luera, M. J., Munayer, I. K., Mota, J. A., … Olinghouse, K. D. (2015). Barbell Deadlift Training Increases the Rate of Torque Development and Vertical Jump Performance in Novices. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(1), 1- 10. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000000691.