Learning to deadlift: the right technique

The perfect deadlift This is what you have to pay attention to when deadlifting

Cross lift is next to bench press and squats with weights the triple classic in every gym. Accordingly, the stations are usually in demand. Here’s why clean deadlifts are so desirable, what to look for, and what you need, even if you’d rather have the flexibility to train your whole body at home.

Which muscles are trained in the deadlift?

The English exercise term "Deadlift Doesn’t suggest that exercise is the killer – although anyone who’s done a few reps with a heavily loaded barbell could certainly relate to that. Rather, the name alludes to the dead center that you overcome to lift the weight off the floor, then completely straighten the torso when you reach the top.

According to a study published in the journal Plos One, this exercise uses more muscles than almost any other exercise. First and foremost, the back extensor (Musculus erector spinae) and the broad back muscle (M. latissimus). In addition, the ischiocrural muscles on the back of the thighs (leg biceps, musculus semitendinosus and M. semimembranosus). These muscles also affect the knee joint and the hip extensor. But the buttocks also work with (M. gluteus maximus), just as you need the core muscles for a stable stance despite the heavy weight, for balance and to transfer power to the other muscles.

The trunk musculature includes the invisible, deep-lying muscles in the middle of the body: in the abdomen, back and lumbar region, as well as the hip flexor and extensor muscles. Supportively, when doing deadlifts, you also need to strengthen the shoulder muscles (M. Trapeze and M. rhomboideus) as well as the forearms with ran. Accordingly, even your handshake becomes a lot firmer. If you row once each with the dumbbell bar at the bottom, even your biceps will still get a decent workout stimulus.

Why should I do deadlifts?

Because you train many muscles in the legs, back and torso with only one exercise, it is particularly efficient for muscle building and strength gain. Deadlift is a functional exercise that involves several muscle chains and joints at the same time, thus training your coordination and body awareness, making you more efficient in everyday life and training: you won’t get hurt so easily in the future when carrying boxes or running around with the kids. Firstly because you internalize the correct lifting technique and secondly because you strengthen your lower back and thus protect it from injury. So deadlift will hardly be missing in a training plan for a strong back:

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      Of course you can also train your strength endurance with deadlifts and benefit from it in other sports as well. At the same time, you burn a lot of calories by exercising many large muscle groups at once and mobilizing unimagined strength: Depending on weight and load, almost 100 kcal are possible in 15 minutes.

      For whom are deadlifts unsuitable?

      If you have joint problems in your knees or hips, complaints in the lumbar region or an acute herniated disc, you should refrain from cross lifting. Make sure to check with your doctor beforehand which exercises you can and should do. As a gentle introduction, the bodyweight exercise Superman is suitable, in which you lift the upper body and the legs a bit from the mat in the prone position. Once you have the green light for deadlifts, you should practice with light weights. The right technique is essential for you to remain free of complaints. A physiotherapist or fitness trainer can help here.

      The correct deadlift technique

      Technique is everything: To make sure you trigger all the muscles as you want and don’t risk injury, pay full attention to proper execution and start with light weight. Train sideways in front of a mirror at the beginning or ask a trainer or training buddy to check your execution before mistakes creep in permanently. This is what clean deadlifts look like:

      • Stand hip-width apart and distribute the weight over the whole foot for a firm footing. Your shoes are best flat, so you have a better grip and more feeling. Rather do without running shoes with thick soles. Tip: Practice barefoot, without socks, so you don’t slip away. So your foot muscles have to work too and you train even more your balance and deep muscles.
      • Bend the knees slightly for a good stance and optimal power transfer. The knees must never tilt inwards, rather push them slightly outwards. beginners better refrain from a complete squat, but also from the variation with stretched legs. In any case, pay attention to your body tension.
      • Grasp the barbell or kettlebell in front of you on the floor with a straight upper body and long arms. If you add a rowing pull, stretch it completely again afterwards. Your hands are about shoulder width apart and grip the barbell in an overhand grip.
      • Push your hips far back. Important: Keep your spine straight, avoid a hunched back! You will feel a stretch in the back of the leg here depending on the state of shortening. Work slowly and in a controlled manner.
      • Come with the weight swinging into the upright position, push the hips forward a little bit exaggeratedly. Bring the weight up close to your legs. Push out your chest and pull your shoulder blades firmly down and back. The gaze is directed straight ahead to the floor.
      • Slowly lower the weight to the floor with a straight back. The upper body bends as soon as the bar reaches your knees. Touch the floor with the pulleys in a controlled manner (at least if you use a standardized Olympic barbell) before you pull yourself back upright with the weight.

      Remember: In the first part of the movement most of the power comes from the legs, in the second part from the back.

      The right breathing

      In general, the following applies to strength training: In the concentric phase you breathe in, in the eccentric phase you breathe out. So when you do a deadlift, it behaves like this: You exhale as you lift the bar, and inhale as soon as you lower the bar to the floor.

      What are the most common mistakes when doing deadlifts?

      Typical mistakes that you unfortunately see again and again are a round back, a tense neck and too much weight. These mistakes put a strain on the neck and spine. The lumbar spine, the sacroiliac joint and the knees are the most important parts of the exercise. Many overestimate themselves and load too much weight too quickly or are not properly warmed up. Injuries to the intervertebral discs or joints can be the result and are often irreparable. there are always complaints.

      How much weight should I set as a goal?

      More often you read that you should lift your double bodyweight to build muscle especially effectively. We do not recommend this, because the movement with so much weight is very unnatural or too heavy. is unfamiliar to the body. Therefore, from a physiotherapeutic point of view, it is strongly discouraged. As a goal, you can first perfect the technique with very little weight. After that you prefer to train many repetitions with 50 percent of your maximum weight (the weight you can lift once).

      Alternatively, you can also orientate yourself on half of your body weight and then perhaps increase every week by 10 percent, if it goes well. Until eventually you may be able to move your own weight. But you do not have to! Train for the goal of muscle building with so much weight that you can always do ten clean repetitions pain-free. That’s enough to build up your muscles without overloading yourself and damaging your back permanently.

      For new training stimuli you can also train your strength endurance with more than 20-25 repetitions and correspondingly less weight. With a protein-rich diet, you can lose weight without losing muscle mass or get fitter for other sports.

      4 deadlift variations for more variety

      By the way, it is often not the lower back that is too weak at some point, but the forearms that quickly become weak. There is a grip variation that helps against this, which we will now introduce to you. For new training stimuli, here are also two tips related to equipment and leg position.

      1. Protects the forearms: the cross grip

      To relieve stress on your forearms, you can grip the bar shoulder-width apart with one hand in an overhand grip and the other hand in an underhand grip. After half of the repetitions or in the second set you change the hand position each time. Guaranteed to get you through more repetitions. In order to strengthen your forearms, you should also regularly train your grip strength in the two-handed overhand grip, at least in the first of three sets or as long as you can.

      2. Protect your back: deadlift with rack or hex bar

      If you find it completely difficult to grip the barbell, you can also use a hex or a dumbbell. Use the trap bar, as it is also known. It contains handles on the side and the weights are also located there. This means you don’t have to bend over as far, relieve the strain on your back and bend your knees more than with classic deadlifts.

      Alternatively, you can also cross lift with a rack: Here the weight is not lifted as low, which may allow you to mobilize more weight in a smaller range of motion. Also back and knees are spared.

      3. Offers new training stimuli: Sumo cross lift

      When standing in sumo, your feet should be much wider than shoulder width apart. This shortens the barbell’s lifting motion, allowing you to move more weight and work the hip flexors and extensors even more. Vary your stance as well as your grips regularly for varied training stimuli.

      Man doing sumo deadlift with a lot of weight and wide stance

      4. For professionals: Romanian deadlift

      Another variation of the foot position is achieved with Romanian deadlift: Here, the feet are rather close and the legs remain almost fully extended the whole time. This is only recommended for those without back problems, because the load on the lower back is very high, even if the knees are spared a little more. But you also need a certain flexibility to bend forward that far without bending the knees.

      The right equipment for the deadlift

      You can also do deadlifts with a kettlebell (depending on your level we recommend 18-24 kg or just a modular kettlebell) or with dumbbells. Don’t touch the floor with the dumbbells, this would be too far, but come down with slightly bent legs and a straight back only as far as you can without pain. With the kettlebell you can touch the floor without putting the weight down.

      The exercise is most effective with a barbell. If you want to buy your own, we recommend a standardized Olympic barbell, because here you can touch the floor with the discs without hesitation. Then of course you need weight plates: We recommend a set of five and ten kilograms for the beginning. Keep in mind that the barbell also weighs 20 kg.

      It is best to wear longer and tight-fitting sports shorts to avoid rubbing the skin with the barbell. Shorts also usually interfere. In addition, suitable dumbbell locks are helpful to secure your workout. If you are prone to blisters, you can also invest in fitness gloves or magnesium powder for better grip. Some strength athletes use weight belts to support the spine, but this is not necessary. Rather pay attention to a clean technique.

      Conclusion: Deadlift is complex and therefore so effective

      The deadlift is one of the most demanding and strenuous exercises in strength training because the movement is very complex and involves almost all major muscle groups. Whether with dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells: The most important thing is correct execution – otherwise your spinal discs will suffer. Even those who have practiced the exercise should question themselves from time to time and correct themselves if necessary. Here you can find a guide how the perfect deadlift has to look like.

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