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Exercise of the month: The Deadlift

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If you want to be strong sooner or later you’ll need to deadlift. Here’s why…

Without doubt the greatest display of human strength is that of a man/or women pulling a fully loaded barbell from the floor with their hands.


MArk Rippetoe Starting Strength

So What Does The Lift Train?

This is a great exercise for building strength, which is so important for older adults as well as the younger ones.

The prime movers in a deadlift are those of the posterior chain (rear of the body) especially hamstrings and glutes. But these are by no means the only ones working. The back and thighs have a large roll to play, while the core musculature are also heavily involved. So in short it does pretty  much everything.

Why is it a good lift to perform?  

Let’s look at this from a goal point of view.

Strength: As mentioned it is the ultimate display of human strength.

Musculature: The more muscles used in an exercise the greater the effect on muscle growth. Rep range will also have a roll in the hypertrophy effects. 

Weight Control: The deadlift stimulates both new muscle (lean weight) and high recovery demands, both need to be fuelled so creating an advantageous calorie deficit (fat loss). 

Performance: Like calories this is simple maths, all voluntary movement involves a percentage of effort base on your one rep max. The higher your one rep max the lower (easier) the percentage. 

You can go further, faster or both!

Self Confidence: There is little more reassuring than knowing your physical strong enough to cope. The deadlift displays that in buckets. How often will you need to run 26 miles out of necessity in your life (probably none, unless your special forces behind enemy lines. My respect if you are!), compared to picking up heavy items of shopping or gardening and other things that require strength over stamina. 

How to use the deadlift in your workouts.

When starting out you can train this exercise 3 times a week as you primary back/pull exercise. After a warm up do just 1 working set, increase the weight on the bar by between 1 to 2.5 Kg (2 1/2 to 5 Lbs) each workout, until this becomes a struggle. This should place your deadlift well ahead of your other lifts. Expect this progression to last 1 to 2 months before you need to change it.

Once established deadlift is best used just once a week due to the recovery requirements of the exercise (Deadlifts can really hold you back if sufficient recovery is not factored in). They can be alternated with other back exercise, such as chins, pull downs or rows on the other training days.

Day 1Day 2Day 3
Week 1 – 4DeadliftDeadliftDeadlift
Week 5 +DeadliftChinsChins
Table 1: Example of deadlift usage.

If you are using the deadlift as your main leg exercise in the absence of squats, you can continue to train deadlift 3 times a week, with rest days between each.

As with any exercise it’s worth having some coaching sessions to check your form and give you an idea of how best to progress. Here at activeNRG I have three options do just that: Personal Training; Small Group Training and Online Coaching.