The Incredible Benefits of Deadlifts: Why You Should Be Doing Them

The Incredible Benefits of Deadlifts: Why You Should Be Doing Them

Why is it that so many people are resistance training today? One could argue that people are worried about their health and living a long time. You could also argue that culture has made it cool to get fit and look your best. 

Regardless of what you think the answer is, we all do share something in common. We all want the benefits that come with exercise.

Exercising regularly, especially resistance training, can help you (1, 2): 

• Lose weight
• Build muscle
• Reduce the risk of injury
• Increase bone mineral density
• Reduce cardiovascular risk factors
• Increase your quality of life
• Live longer

With all these benefits in mind, some exercises can be more beneficial than others. So it’s best to throw in plenty of variety to your training.

While variety is ideal when it comes to your training, there is one exercise that almost everyone can benefit from. That exercise is the deadlift.

Deadlifts require so much coordination between your upper and lower body that it’s basically a full-body exercise. It’s also very functional, and can really increase your strength in multiple areas.

This, along with several other reasons, is why I'm a huge fan of deadlifts myself! I couldn't imagine not doing them in all honesty.

In this article, I’m going to cover the benefits that deadlifts have to offer. Before I do that though, I'll explain what deadlifts are in case you don't already know.

What is a Deadlift?

So, what are deadlifts? Well, there are many variations of the deadlift. Today, we'll talk mostly about conventional deadlifts. This is what most people picture when they think of a deadlift.

You start with a barbell on the ground with weight on both sides. Then, you walk up to it, and pick it up off the ground.

It’s really that simple, but to do it safely requires a lot of coordination. It’s also easy to hurt yourself if you don’t do it with proper form. So, you'll definitely want to pay close attention when I go over the proper form later on.

Anyway, the deadlift is what’s called a compound exercise. This means you have to use several muscle groups to do it. A lot of people don’t realize that. I mean, you’d think it would just be a leg exercise, right?

Well, let’s break it down. 

Your forearms have to hold the bar, so they’ll get plenty of work. Imagine how hard you have to squeeze your hands to hold a bar with hundreds of pounds on it. 

Your upper traps (aka the shrug muscles) have to work hard to keep your shoulders from getting pulled down. Your lats have to work hard to hold the bar close to your body as you stand up with it.

Your spinal erectors have to work very hard to keep your spine in a neutral position. This keeps your spine from rounding, which under a heavy load can lead to injury.

Your core also gets plenty of work by keeping your spine stabilized throughout the movement.

Those are just some of the muscles outside of the lower body that get plenty of work when you deadlift. The majority of your body is getting trained to some extent in every rep, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Now, let’s dive into the benefits of deadlifts!

Deadlift Benefits

You can get quite a few benefits from adding deadlifts to your routine. Some of them may keep you doing them for the rest of your life! So, let's talk about the benefits of deadlifts.

Deadlifts Are A Functional Exercise

How often do you have to pick something up off the ground? For most of us, that can be every day. Now imagine that you have to pick something heavy off the ground like a box or piece of furniture.

In these scenarios, what you are doing is a deadlift.

For instance, I’ve moved 11 times in the last 12 years. If I didn’t have a strong deadlift, I would have had a much harder time doing it. I'd probably even hire movers to do it for me which would have cost me a fortune by now.

In the deadlift, you squat down and pick something heavy off the ground. It’s almost the same, except you’re picking up a barbell instead of a heavy box or a piece of furniture.

When you train similar movement patterns to things you do in real life, it is considered functional. You become stronger in that movement, and it translates into real-world strength.

So if you can deadlift a barbell with 400 pounds, it’s safe to say carrying a 125-pound piece of furniture won’t be all that bad. Even if you can’t lift 400 pounds, deadlifts can still make carrying almost anything easier.

Deadlifts Increase Strength In Almost The Entire Body

I touched on this a little bit earlier, but it’s true. It’s no secret that the muscles you train with resistance are going to get stronger. Well, deadlifts train the majority of your body in every rep. 

Your quads, hamstrings, glutes, back, core, and forearms will all be getting stronger. Your chest, triceps, and shoulders won’t get a ton of work, but that’s okay. You don’t have to do it all in one exercise.

If any exercise gets close though, it’s the deadlift. 

Never forget this: A strong muscle is a healthy muscle. The stronger you are, the more capable you will be to do anything physical in your everyday life. So, even if strength isn't your main goal, it can help in many ways you may not be considering.

Deadlifts Can Potentially Help You Jump Higher

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research studied this (3).

They tested peoples’ vertical jump height before and after a 10-week deadlift program. What they found was that deadlifting helped make significant increases in the participants’ vertical jump height. This makes total sense when you break it down too!

When it comes to increasing vertical jump height, your muscles must do at least one of these two things:

1. Increase the amount of force being produced within the same muscle contraction speed.

2. Increase the speed your muscles contract with the same amount of force.

Imagine you’re trying to squat as much weight as you can for one rep. You’ll be producing as much force as you can to lift that heavier weight. Don’t you think it’ll likely be a slower rep than if you cut the weight in half?

Of course it will be. If you put some light weight on the bar, you may still be able to produce force fast enough to jump with it. No way you can jump with your one rep max on the bar.

This is why, in general, when you are trying to increase speed you’ll likely use a lower weight. That way you can train at a higher speed, and it’ll help you produce force faster.

So with that being said, there is one caveat to this.

The stronger you are, the easier it will be to produce force quickly with a lighter weight. If you can deadlift 400 pounds for one slow rep, I’m sure you can deadlift 200 at a pretty fast speed.

Now imagine how much faster you would be able to jump with no external weight! The faster you can contract your muscles to jump, the higher you can jump.

That’s why the people in this study were able to jump higher after a deadlift program. They got stronger, so it was easier to increase their contraction speed. Plus, deadlifts strengthen a lot of the same muscles used to jump.

Deadlifts Can Help You Build Muscle

This one is obvious, but don’t forget deadlifts train almost the whole body. That means the muscle you can build from deadlifts can potentially be in multiple areas.

In order to build muscle, you have to increase the stress on your muscles over time. Stress is put on your muscles every time you exercise, so allow me to further elaborate. In order to increase the stress on your muscles over time, you have to increase some of the variables.

Increasing any of these variables over time will help with muscle growth:

• Amount of weight lifted
• Amount of reps completed
• Amount of sets done
• Amount of time the muscle is under tension each set
• Decreasing rest period (this is the only one that needs a decrease)

All of those variables can change over time to continue seeing progress. Another thing you can do is change the exercise stimulus in different ways.

By that I mean you can add resistance bands or chains to the bar. As another option, you could use wider grips which add thickness to the bar making it harder to hold onto.

Any of those things can be used to increase the difficulty without changing much else. 

Regardless of how you do it, this will always stand true. If you make it harder for yourself over time, and eat enough protein and calories, you can build muscle doing deadlifts.

Deadlifts Can Help You Increase/Maintain Bone Mineral Density

This is a no-brainer too. All types of resistance training can help you build bone mineral density.

However, deadlifts can potentially help more than other exercises due to the weight you can lift. Studies show that heavy squats and deadlifts increase bone mineral density in direct correlation to the weight lifted (4, 5). Pretty crazy, right?

In simple terms, if you deadlift 135 pounds, your bone mineral density will potentially go up some. If you deadlift 500 pounds, your bone mineral density is likely going to increase much more.

This is especially beneficial for aging women who may be susceptible to osteoporosis. Women with osteoporosis who do heavy resistance training become more resilient to falls & fractures (6).

Who doesn’t want strong bones?! The stronger your muscles and bones are, in my opinion, the better your quality of life will be long term.

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of deadlifts, some of you are probably still wondering: “How do you do a deadlift with the correct form?”

Don’t worry. That’s what I'll cover with you now!

How to Deadlift Properly

For a deadlift, you'll want a barbell with some weight on it. How much weight you use will be entirely up to you and your fitness level. I would recommend starting light as you learn to get the movement down.

Load the barbell with weight and set it on the ground in front of you. Now you're ready to deadlift.

1. Walk up to the bar until your feet are under the bar, keeping them spaced hip-width apart. Squat down and grab the bar with an overhand grip at shoulder width so your arms are outside your knees.

2. Pull up on the bar just enough to pull your body down into a squat without lifting the bar just yet. You should have a fairly big bend in your knees until your thighs are about parallel with the ground. 

*Pull your shoulders back and keep your core engaged before you attempt to lift the weight. Also, make sure your back remains straight throughout the movement for safety.

3. Press your feet into the floor as you stand up with the bar. Do your best to extend your hips and knees at a similar rate as you stand up.

*It’s very easy to straighten your knees too early without straightening your hips very much. That leaves almost the entire rep for your hips and lower back to lift. That’s bad form and can cause injury if you aren’t careful.

4. Once you are fully standing, squeeze your glutes hard for a second. Then slowly lower the bar back to the ground.

5. Let go of all tension on the bar when it's on the ground, and repeat for reps.

A lot of people only focus on the standing-up portion, and then let go of the bar at the top. I only recommend this when lifting very heavy weight though. 

Dropping the bar at the top limits your potential to gain muscle from the lift. 

This is because the lowering portion creates more micro-tears in the muscle. That is a large part of the stimulus your body needs to grow. Just keep that in mind!

Now, when you're looking to switch it up, there are many different variations you can try as well. Some of the most popular deadlift variations are:

• Sumo deadlifts
• Romanian deadlifts
• Stiff-legged deadlifts
• Jefferson deadlifts
• Hex bar deadlifts
• Rack pulls

There are tons of variations that change the emphasis, and they all have their place. Conventional deadlifts will always be king in my eyes when it comes to targeting the whole body though.

So, You’re Saying I Should Start Deadlifting?

Am I saying you have to deadlift? No. However, deadlifting is something that can certainly offer you quite a few benefits.

There are certain people that may not want to deadlift, and that’s okay. If deadlifting causes you lower back pain, for instance, I wouldn’t recommend them. 

There are a lot of compressive and shearing forces on your spine during a deadlift. It can lead to injury if you don’t properly prepare your body to be able to handle the weights you’re using.

So, you need to be strong enough to handle the weights you’re trying to pick up! Just remember, there are plenty of other exercises you can do to build strength. Sometimes, you just have to work your way up to the deadlift.

Even still, deadlifts shouldn't be the only exercise you do. While they do target quite a few different muscle groups, they don't target everything. What you do in the gym ultimately depends on your goals too.

Now, I would argue deadlifts can be a great exercise regardless of what your goals are. However, reaching your goals doesn't just come down to the exercises you do. Really, earning results is everything you do through nutrition, workouts, recovery, and more.

Obviously, getting all of these factors locked in can be difficult. That's where we can help!

You see, we developed an all-in-one fitness and lifestyle app to help you earn the best results possible. It’s called the 1st Phorm App, and it takes the guessing game and complexity out of reaching your goals! When you download the app you’ll get access to:

• A certified personal trainer and nutrition coach (sometimes a dietitian) to coach you every day in the app

• A custom nutrition plan and an easy way to log your food to stay on track

• Custom workout programs geared toward your goals

• 5x per week live streams about nutrition, training, and supplementation

• Activity and step-counting software

• Progress tracking and body metrics to make sure you get the results you're after

Our goal is to get you real, long-term results. We can help you do this by teaching you what you need to do and coaching you along your journey to help you get there.

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References:

(1) Vina J, Sanchis-Gomar F, Martinez-Bello V, Gomez-Cabrera MC. Exercise acts as a drug; the pharmacological benefits of exercise. Br J Pharmacol. 2012 Sep;167(1):1-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1476-5381.2012.01970.x. PMID: 22486393; PMCID: PMC3448908.

(2) Thomas MH, Burns SP. Increasing Lean Mass and Strength: A Comparison of High Frequency Strength Training to Lower Frequency Strength Training. Int J Exerc Sci. 2016 Apr 1;9(2):159-167. PMID: 27182422; PMCID: PMC4836564.

(3) Thompson BJ, Stock MS, Shields JE, Luera MJ, Munayer IK, Mota JA, Carrillo EC, Olinghouse KD. Barbell deadlift training increases the rate of torque development and vertical jump performance in novices. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):1-10. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000691. PMID: 25226322.

(4) Nguyen VH. Exercises aimed to maximize lean mass and bone mineral density at the hip and lumbar spine. Osteoporos Sarcopenia. 2021 Mar;7(1):42-43. doi: 10.1016/j.afos.2021.03.001. Epub 2021 Mar 18. PMID: 33869805; PMCID: PMC8044589.

(5) Granhed H, Jonson R, Hansson T. The loads on the lumbar spine during extreme weight lifting. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1987 Mar;12(2):146-9. doi: 10.1097/00007632-198703000-00010. PMID: 3589805.

(6) Watson SL, Weeks BK, Weis LJ, Harding AT, Horan SA, Beck BR. High-Intensity Resistance and Impact Training Improves Bone Mineral Density and Physical Function in Postmenopausal Women With Osteopenia and Osteoporosis: The LIFTMOR Randomized Controlled Trial. J Bone Miner Res. 2018 Feb;33(2):211-220. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.3284. Epub 2017 Oct 4. Erratum in: J Bone Miner Res. 2019 Mar;34(3):572. PMID: 28975661.

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