Dead-lift is an exercise that engages muscle groups all over the body. The classic dead-lift is nothing more than the movement of lifting a heavy object from the floor. For safety reasons, one should bend the knees keeping a flat back, hold the object, and then lift the body using the legs, not the back. A dead-lift is one of the exercises in power-lifting, but I don’t think any of us here are exactly willing to compete in this kind of event. However, you can incorporate this exercise, or any of its variations, in your workout routine if you use light weights and perform it with caution.
Here is how to perform a classic dead-lift:
- Hold the barbell (or dumbbells) in front of your thighs. Feet should be hip distance apart, knees soft (not locked), chest open and shoulders down and relaxed.
- Inhale, engage your abdominals and start flexing hips and knees at the same rate as you would in a squat, lowering the bar towards the floor.
- Go as far as you can (you don’t need to touch the floor), controlling the descent.
- When you get to the bottom of the movement, stop and then come back to standing. Use your thigh muscles to lift your body.
- Exhale on your way up.
Remember that the work phase of the movement is the lifting but this doesn’t mean that you should allow the bar to pull you down when lowering the weight. It is important to control the movement in all phases to prevent injuries. So keep your abs engaged and your pelvis tucked. This will create a brace around your spine.
There are several variations of this exercise, which will make the movement slightly different.
Dead-lifting engages primarily glutes, hamstrings, quads and lower back muscles, but it also calls for core muscles as stabilizers. However, if you are performing stiff-leg dead-lifts or good mornings, the emphasis is on hamstrings, glutes and lower back muscles. (The quadriceps muscles only come into play when you flex/extend the knees.) Rotation movements (as in cross body dead-lift) also engage the oblique muscles.
Tips for a Proper Form
- Check your posture in the mirror while performing the movement.
- Control the whole movement – avoid jerking the body.
- Keep feet planted on the floor at all times – do not raise the heels. Body weight should be evenly distributed throughout your feet.
- Keep back straight and chest open. Avoid rounding or arching your back – maintain neutral spine.
- Knees should be parallel to each other – do not allow them to collapse inward.
- During the movement, flex hips and knees at the same rate.
- Keep knees aligned over the ankles – you should be able to see your toes when sitting.
- When lifting, use you leg muscles, not your back.
- Engage your abs and tuck your pelvis in to protect your spine.
- Keep the bar close to your body.
- Inhale when you go down; exhale on your way up.
When it comes to dead-lift, you have quite a few options. If you want a total-body exercise, stick to the classic version presented above, or try the sumo dead-lift which has the advantage of engaging inner thigh muscles too. However, if you are looking for an exercise to target hamstrings and glutes, the stiff-leg dead-lift or the good morning exercise are definitely great alternatives. When performing these exercises, keep your knees slightly bent (don’t lock the knees) and go down as far as it is comfortable for you. It is normal to feel a stretch in the back of your thighs (hamstrings); it will get better as your flexibility improves. More advanced variations are the single-leg dead-lift, which challenges your balance, and the cross-body dead-lift, a dead-lift with a twist motion.
Progression and Challenge
The better options for beginners are the classic or stiff-leg dead-lifts. Good morning is also a good alternative, but because the weight is placed over the shoulders, it should be performed with very light weight. One or two sets of 10 to 12 repetitions, once a week, is enough to get you started. Remember that proper form and body alignment is vital when it comes to safety. Use a mirror to adjust your posture.
Practice these two variations before trying more challenging ones. As your core strength increases, you’ll be able to keep body alignment throughout the movement, making you ready to move on.
 The so-called core is formed by several muscles of the pelvic floor, back and abdominal areas that stabilize and protect our spine. They are responsible for the maintenance of posture and body alignment. Most of the resistance training exercises require the engagement of core muscles in order to maintain proper form.