All You Need to Know About Deadlifts
People will either love or hate deadlifts. The common perception is that they look like a perfect way to throw your back or hurt your feet (and this can happen if you have bad form). However, deadlifts are the most practical movements inside and outside the gym.
Carrying out a traditional deadlift entails lifting “dead weight” off the ground and putting it back down. This clearly defines many practical things that we do in our daily lives such as moving heavy furniture or carrying bags of dog food.
Deadlifts Simply Make You Tough
Deadlifts will enable you to improve in sports, move better, have better posture, and build a strong body. If you want inspiration, here is a 495-pound deadlift:
Deadlifts Are Safe as Long as You Do Them Right
It is natural to think that deadlifts are not safe. However, the truth is that they are safer than most movements in the gym. Jon-Erik, a running and strength specialist, notes that the problem takes place when your form is wrong.
The secret lies in the fact that picking things up relies more on bending your hips and less on bending your back. This movement of the hips is called hip hinge. You might confuse this with a squat, but Tony Gentilcore, a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Performance, explains the difference as:
Hip hinge = maximal hip bend, minimal knee bend
Squat = maximal hip bend, maximal knee bend
To do a hip hinge, push your butt out towards, for instance, a wall behind you. Your back should remain straight and your core should be braced. This keeps your spine from rounding. Your knees should be slightly bent. It should look something like this:
Like all other types of exercise, deadlifts require right form and technique necessary for your safety. Most gym goers can benefit from deadlifts, but not it's not for everyone. Jon-Erik does not recommend deadlifts at all for anyone with back issues.
If deadlifts cause you pain even when your body is in the right form, you should stop doing them. You can use a trap bar or replace deadlifts with hip thrusts, cable pull-throughs, glute bridges, and kettlebell swings.
Sumo Deadlifts or Conventional Deadlifts?
Here are the differences between the sumo and conventional styles:
- Sumo: This style entails spreading the feet farther than shoulder width with the toes pointing outwards slightly. This makes it easy for some people to reach the bar. Sumo deadlifts are easy on your back and you can go as wide as you can.
- Conventional: This is thetechnical and regular stance that most lifters associate deadlifts with. The feet stand shoulder width apart and you just “grip it and rip it.”
When choosing a style, you have to think of:
- Flexibility. Conventional deadlifts will require you to improve the flexibility in your ankles, upper back, and hips so that you can reach the bar while maintaining proper form. On the other hand, sumo deadlifts require less flexibility as the range is short. However, you will still need mobile, flexible hips to maintain proper form and avoid unnecessary stress.
- Pressure on certain joints. Conventional deadlifts will put more pressure on your back since the bar is farther away from the center of gravity. On the other hand, sumo deadlifts demand 10% less than conventional ones. This stance, therefore, is ideal for those with back issues. Sumo deadlifts can strain your hips if you squat a lot.
- Body proportion. Everyone has a different body structure and this will determine the suitability of the deadlifting stance you take. People with shorter arms or a longer torso might like sumo deadlifts better. Regardless of your body structure, hip flexibility is important.
According to Greg Nuckols’ article on this topic, he recommends training on both styles and then choosing the one you feel strongest and most comfortable with.
How to Include Deadlifts in Your Workouts
Deadlifts can be really taxing to include in a program. Omar Isuf, a strength and performance coach, has the following recommendations:
- If you are going to perform intense deadlifts, then you have to reduce the total amount of work you do.
- Beginners should do deadlifts once a week and increase it to two times every week as they get used to deadlifting,. You can do this by doing heavy sets (5-3) on one day and a lighter one on the next.
Common Deadlifting Errors and How to Fix Them
Here are some common mistakes that people make:
- Wrong starting position. How you begin your deadlift is important. If you lean way too far forward, you will stress your back. Additionally, do not jam your shins against the bar. Visualize your arms above the bar and leave a few inches between your shins and the bar.
- Your back aches. This can be caused by lifting a heavy weight and not bracing and keeping the back neutral. This can be solved by raising the bar until you find a neutral spine position.
- The weight is too heavy. Drop the weight if your form begins to crumple. Use a weight that does not interfere with your body's form.
- Your arms are doing too much work. Keep your arms straight and close to your body while lifting.
- You are overextending your back at the top of the movement. To avoid this, crunch your butt at the top of the movement.
- You fail to hip hinge. Practice hip hinging until you get it right.
- The bar drifts away from your body. Keep the bar close to your body.
Do You Need to Master Your Deadlift? Check Out These Resources
Guide to Deadlifts by Mike Robertson (Article)
Enjoy your deadlifts!
As a fitness and Crossfit coach, I get to use deadlifts almost every day. If you have any questions, you may reach me at FitnessCrab.com where I teach people how to achieve perfect form with bodyweight exercises such as yoga and rowing, as well as how to best utilize exercise machines like exercise bikes.