Back when the Roman legions were running around slaughtering so-called barbarians, too many of their soldiers were being injured by picking up the dead bodies from the battlefield. Back then, chiropractors didn't exist. So they developed an injury-free technique now known as the deadlift.
History aside, the deadlift is the king of lifts in the gym when it comes to developing brute strength and a yoked back. The only problem is, they are one of the most butchered and therefore dangerous exercises you can do.
When performed correctly the deadlift is a fantastic way to build and strengthen your hamstrings, glutes, entire back and your core. They'll help increase bone density, total body strength, testosterone production, growth hormone release, central nervous system function and metabolic capacity and burn.
Deadlifts are also incredibly helpful outside of the gym, because you never know when you're going to need to pick something heavy up, sprint from a crocodile, or jump over a cactus!
Form is king
But to gain the benefits, you need to master the technique.
A good place to start when performing a correct deadlift is to learning to differentiate between a squat and a hip hinge.
Rule of thumb: squats are an upright, quad-dominant move and a hinge (deadlift) is a hamstring, posterior chain-dominant exercise. They're two very different beasts and that can tend to be quite confusing in a gym environment. For example, a leg press is a squat type and a kettlebell swing is a hinge-type exercise.
Knowing when and how to differentiate them is a valuable tool and being able to perform both with top-notch form is going to ensure your continued success both inside and outside of the gym.
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When executing a deadlift, begin by standing with your feet directly under the bar a little narrower than shoulder width. Try to think of the bar as an extension of your arms and know that if the bar gets away from your centre of mass, things get harder due to leverage.
Take a big deep belly breath - you should feel your entire midsection expand - and squeeze this belly-full of air like you are about to be sucker punched in the ribs. This is called increasing your intra-abdominal pressure.
Start squeezing your hips backwards, drawing your hamstrings down towards the bar like you're bowing to the Queen. If you can grip the bar with a nice neutral spine and relatively vertical shins, then you have adequate range for this movement.
Breathe, and hold
From here you are going to tense all your muscles by pulling some weight out of the barbell, set your shoulders back and down towards your hips and squeeze that belly-full of air that you haven't yet let go of. This position should feel like if someone was to suddenly pull the bar away from you, you would fly backwards. Just holding this position should be exhausting.
Driving your feet through the floor, lift the bar from the ground. As the bar travels past your knees squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward until they contact the bar at the top of the movement. Exhale that breath of air.
During that portion of the lift, if your back rounded or your face doesn't become the shade of a tomato, then you aren't creating quite enough intra-abdominal pressure, or you've let go of your full-body tension.
And back again
You are now at the top of the lift. Take another big breath in, squeeze your core and begin to reverse that movement; hips squeezing back as you maintain a neutral spine until the weight is back on the ground.
Congratulations, you have just completed a solid deadlift. Your goal is to increase the weight you can lift without losing your form by more than 10 per cent.
When your form starts to falter by more than this then you have reached your safe working capacity and now should look into playing around with rep-ranges, tempo and other accessory work.