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Few exercises hold as much reverence and transformative power as the conventional deadlift in the strength training workout environment. Often referred to as the “king of lifts,” the deadlift is a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, making it a cornerstone of any well-rounded fitness program.
The conventional deadlift stands tall as a test of strength, functional prowess, and mental resilience from powerlifters to athletes and fitness enthusiasts to beginners. As you grasp the barbell, brace your core, and stand tall, you embark on a journey that can reshape your body and mindset.
We will delve deep into conventional deadlifts – from proper form and technique to the extraordinary benefits they offer in this comprehensive guide. Whether you’re a seasoned lifter looking to perfect your technique or a newcomer eager to unlock the secrets of this empowering exercise, we have you covered.
Stay with us as we explore the anatomy of the deadlift, debunk common myths, and unravel the steps to achieve mastery of the conventional deadlift.
Get ready to unleash the power within as we dive into the transformative potential of conventional deadlifts on your strength, physique, and overall fitness journey.
A step-by-step journey to perfect form and gains with conventional deadlifts
Conventional deadlifts are one of the most fundamental strength training compound exercises. The movement involves lifting a barbell from the floor to a standing position.
It is a compound movement that engages multiple muscles simultaneously and is also one of the most challenging and potent exercises for building overall strength and functional fitness.
Conventional deadlift: Targeted muscles
Primary Muscles: Erector spinae, gluteus maximus, hamstrings, quadriceps, and core muscles.
Secondary Muscles: Trapezius, rhomboids, lats or latissimus dorsi, grip muscles, and calves.
Conventional deadlifts: Required equipment
You can perform conventional deadlifts with various types of equipment, providing options for different fitness levels and preferences. Below are some of the equipment options you can use.
- Barbell and weight plates
The traditional and most common way to perform conventional deadlifts is with a standard barbell and weight plates.
- Trap bar or hex bar
A trap bar, also known as a hex bar, is a hexagonal-shaped bar that surrounds the lifter, allowing it to stand in the center. Trap bar deadlifts are a variation of conventional deadlifts and are considered more back-friendly for some individuals as they typically place less stress on the lower back. They also allow for a more upright posture during the lift.
You can perform single-leg or staggered-stance deadlifts with dumbbells. This variation can help improve balance and stability.
You can perform deadlifts with one or two kettlebells. Kettlebells offer unique grip challenges.
- Resistance Bands
Adding resistance bands to the conventional deadlift can provide accommodating resistance, making the lift more challenging at the top portion of the movement.
- Elevated Platforms or Blocks
Elevating the barbell using platforms or blocks allows for deficit deadlifts.
The variation increases the range of motion and can target your muscles differently.
- Lifting Straps
You can use lifting straps to improve grip strength and help lift heavier weights.
They are a good option for individuals with grip limitations.
- Lifting Belt
You can wear a weightlifting belt for additional support to the lower back during heavy deadlifts.
A belt can help increase intra-abdominal pressure and stabilize the spine.
- Deadlift Jack
A deadlift jack is a tool to help lift the barbell off the floor when loading or unloading weight plates.
It is helpful when using heavy loads.
How to perform conventional deadlifts with proper form
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to do conventional deadlifts with proper form
Steps to follow
- Stand with your feet at hip-width.
- Position the barbell over the middle of your feet. The bar should be close to your shins but not touching them. Point your toes straight ahead or slightly turned out.
- Bend at the hips and knees to reach down and grasp the barbell. Use an overhand grip with both palms facing you. You can also use a mixed grip, with one palm facing you and the other facing away. Your grip should be just outside your knees.
- Ensure your hands are shoulder-width apart or slightly wider.
- Keep your back straight and chest up throughout the lift.
- Engage your core and avoid rounding your back.
- Take a deep breath, brace your core, and drive through your heels to lift the bar off the floor. Do not pull with your back.
- Push your hips forward to stand up straight as the barbell passes your knees. Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the lift. Do not lean back excessively.
- Ensure you stand tall with your shoulders back, chest up, and hips and knees fully extended at the top of the movement. You should be in a straight line from head to heels.
- Push your hips backward while maintaining a straight back to lower the barbell to the floor. Bend your knees when the barbell passes them, and gently lower the bar to the ground.
- Repeat 1-6 reps per set to build strength and power, 6-12 reps for muscle growth, and 12-20 reps for endurance and conditioning. Beginners might start with fewer sets (e.g., 2-3 sets) to allow their bodies to adapt to the exercise, while more experienced lifters may benefit from higher set volumes (e.g., 4-6 sets) to push their limits and stimulate further progress.
- Keep the barbell close to your body throughout the lift. That can help maintain balance and reduce stress on your lower back.
- Focus on engaging your glutes, hamstrings, and core to power the lift.
- Do not round your back or lift with your back rounded; this is a common mistake that can lead to injury.
- Practice with lighter weights before adding more load to ensure proper form and technique.
- Newbies should consider working with a qualified trainer to guide them through the exercise.
Tips and best practices for conventional deadlifts
The following tips and best practices can help you perform deadlifts with proper form and get the most out of the exercise.
- Master the setup
The starting position is critical for a successful deadlift. Ensure the central part of the barbell is over your feet.
Keep your feet at about hip-width apart.
The bar should be close to your shins without touching them.
Set your grip width and maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift.
- Engage your core
Take a deep breath and brace your core before lifting.
That can help stabilize your spine and protect your lower back during the lift.
- Keep your spine neutral.
Maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.
Avoid rounding your back or excessively arching it.
Rounding the back can increase the risk of injury.
Experiment with different grip styles to find what works best for you.
Most people use either an overhand grip or a mixed grip.
Alternatively, you can use a hook grip or straps if necessary.
- Keep the bar close.
Keep the barbell as close to your body as possible during the lift.
That minimizes the lever arm and reduces stress on your lower back.
- Hinge at the hips
The deadlift is a hip-hinge movement.
Focus on pushing your hips backward and using your glutes and hamstrings to drive the movement as you lift the barbell.
- Drive through your heels.
Focus on pushing through your heels to engage your posterior chain effectively as you lift the bar.
- Avoid jerking
The deadlift is a controlled movement.
Lift the barbell smoothly and avoid jerking or yanking it off the floor.
- Full hip extension
Fully extend your hips and stand tall at the top of the lift.
Squeeze your glutes and keep your chest up.
- Lower with control
Maintain control throughout the descent when lowering the barbell back to the floor.
Don’t drop the weight, as that can be dangerous.
- Ensure proper breathing
Take a deep breath before lifting and exhale at the top of the movement or when the barbell is back on the floor.
Controlled breathing helps with core stability.
- Start with light weights.
Newbies should start with lighter weights to perfect their form and technique before adding more weight.
- Exercise caution
Deadlifts are physically demanding, so be mindful of your body’s limits.
Do not lift too heavy too soon. Give yourself adequate rest between sessions.
- Use a lifting belt (optional)
Some lifters may find a lifting belt can provide extra support for the lower back during heavy deadlifts.
But, it is not necessary for everyone, especially at lower weights.
- Vary Your Deadlifts
Incorporate variations like deficit deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, or sumo deadlifts into your routine.
That can help address weak points and add variety to your training.
Conventional deadlifts – Safety precautions
- Learn proper form
Ensure you understand and practice proper form before attempting deadlifts.
Seek guidance from a qualified fitness professional or strength coach if necessary.
- Start with light weights.
Novices should begin with lighter weights to perfect their form before adding more load.
- Use a lifting belt (optional)
You can use a lifting belt to support the lower back during heavy deadlifts.
- Check equipment
Inspect the barbell, weight plates, and floor before lifting to ensure they are stable and in good condition.
- Use proper footwear
Wear flat-soled shoes that provide stability and a solid base for lifting.
- Clear the area
Ensure there is enough space around you to perform conventional deadlifts safely without obstacles or tripping hazards.
- Know Your limits
Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for your current strength level.
Gradually progress as your form and strength improve.
- Warm up properly
Always warm up your body before deadlifting to increase blood flow to your muscles and improve mobility.
- Warm-up exercises
- General cardio warm-up
Start with a short light cardio session, such as jogging, cycling, or jumping rope, to raise your heart rate and body temperature.
- Hip mobility exercises
Perform hip circles, hinges, and leg swings to improve hip mobility and flexibility.
- Dynamic stretching
Include dynamic stretches like leg swings, arm circles, and bodyweight squats to warm up your muscles and joints.
- Glute activation
Engage your glutes with exercises like glute bridges or banded side steps to activate the muscles.
- Hamstring activation
Perform hamstring stretches and hamstring curls to activate and warm up the hamstring muscles.
- Light sets of deadlifts
Start with a few light sets of deadlifts with just the bar or very light weights to practice your form and get your body accustomed to the movement.
- Core Activation
Engage your core with exercises like planks or bird dogs to stabilize your spine during the lift.
- Strengthening your grips
Perform grip exercises like farmer’s walks or grip squeezes to prepare your hands and forearms.
Conventional deadlift – Common mistakes
Several common mistakes can occur when performing conventional deadlifts.
Knowing these mistakes can help you avoid potential injuries and ensure you get the most out of conventional deadlifts.
- Rounding your back
One of the most dangerous mistakes is rounding your back during the lift.
That can place excessive stress on the spine and increase the risk of injury. Always maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
- Lifting with your back
Using your back to lift the weight instead of engaging your hips, glutes, and hamstrings can lead to strain on the lower back and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise.
- Starting with hips too low or too High
Improper hip positioning can impact the mechanics of the lift.
Starting with your hips too low may lead to a less efficient lift. On the other hand, starting with your hips too high can place extra strain on your lower back.
- Not keeping the bar close.
Allowing the barbell to drift away from your body during the lift can increase the load on your back and make it more challenging.
- Using an improper grip
Too narrow or too wide a grip can affect your stability and make it harder to lift the weight safely.
- Neglecting core engagement
Failing to engage your core and brace your abs can compromise your spine’s stability and increase the risk of injury.
- Hyperextending at the top
Overarching your lower back or leaning too far away at the top of the lift can strain the lumbar spine.
- Not lowering the weight under control
Dropping the weight from the top can be dangerous.
Instead, lower the barbell under control back to the floor.
- Ignoring proper breathing
Breathing irregularly or holding your breath throughout the lift can reduce core stability and performance.
- Jerking the weight
Trying to lift the weight too quickly or using jerky movements can increase the risk of injury and reduce your lifting efficiency.
- Lifting too much weight
Attempting to lift too much weight without proper form can lead to injuries, especially for beginners.
- Lifting with bent arms
Your arms should be straight during the deadlift. Using bent arms can put unnecessary strain on the biceps and forearms.
- Not warming up
Neglecting to warm up before deadlifting can increase the risk of muscle strains and other injuries.
- Ignoring recovery
Conventional deadlifts are demanding on the central nervous system and muscles.
Failing to allow adequate time for recovery between deadlift sessions can hinder progress and increase the risk of overuse injuries.
Conventional deadlift limitation
Conventional deadlifts are highly effective and popular compound exercises, but they have some limitations.
- Risk of injury
Conventional deadlifts, especially with heavy weights and improper form, can put pressure on the lower back, leading to injuries such as muscle strains, herniated discs, and other spinal issues.
Prioritize proper form and progressively increase weights to minimize the risk of injury.
- Technical challenge
Conventional deadlifts require good technique and form.
It may take time and practice to master the movement correctly.
Improper form can reduce the exercise’s effectiveness and increase the risk of injury.
- Not suitable for everyone
Some athletes with pre-existing back issues or mobility limitations may find conventional deadlifts uncomfortable or unsafe.
Always consult a healthcare professional or fitness expert if you have doubts.
- High CNS demand
Conventional deadlifts place significant stress on the central nervous system (CNS).
Thus, they require enough recovery time between sessions, especially when lifting heavy.
Overtraining or not allowing sufficient recovery can lead to fatigue and reduced performance.
- Grip strength limitation
Grip strength can become a limiting factor for some lifters as they increase the weight. Using straps or grip-specific training exercises can be beneficial.
- Limited leg emphasis
While deadlifts involve the legs, they are a hip-dominant movement.
Other exercises like squats might be more suitable if your goal is to emphasize the quads and front of the legs,
- Longer recovery time
Conventional deadlifts might require more extended recovery periods due to the intensity of the movement.
Listen to your body and allow sufficient time for recovery between workouts.
- Equipment Requirement
Conventional deadlifts require a barbell and weight plates, making them more equipment-dependent than bodyweight or dumbbell exercises.
Access to proper equipment is essential for performing deadlifts safely and effectively.
- Not ideal for cardiovascular endurance
Deadlifts are more strength-focused and anaerobic in nature, so they may not provide the same cardiovascular benefits as exercises with higher repetition and lower weight.
- Form fatigue
Maintaining proper form becomes more challenging as you fatigue during a deadlift session.
This fatigue can increase the risk of improper technique and potential injury.
It is essential to manage fatigue effectively and not compromise on form.
- Despite these limitations, conventional deadlifts can be an excellent addition to a strength training program. They engage multiple muscle groups simultaneously, enhance overall strength and power, and contribute to functional fitness.
Are conventional deadlifts worth it?
Conventional deadlifts are worth it and offer many benefits to many athletes.
Below are some reasons why conventional deadlifts are considered valuable exercises.
- Full-body strength
Conventional deadlifts are compound exercises.
That makes them highly effective for building strength and power.
- Functional fitness
Deadlifts mimic real-life movements like picking up heavy objects from the floor. They promote functional strength, which can help with everyday activities and sports performance.
- Increased metabolic demand
Conventional deadlifts are challenging exercises that require significant energy expenditure.
That can help increase metabolic rate, making them excellent for weight loss and fat burning when combined with a balanced diet and other exercises.
- Posterior chain development
Conventional deadlifts target the posterior chain muscles.
Strengthening those muscles can improve posture and help prevent lower back pain.
- Building muscles
Deadlifts can help stimulate muscle growth, making them valuable for athletes looking to build and gain muscle mass.
- Time efficiency
Deadlifts allow you to work multiple muscle groups in one exercise, maximizing your training efficiency.
- Progressive overload
Deadlifts lend themselves well to progressive overload which is essential for continuous strength gains.
You can incrementally increase the weight as you get stronger.
- Mental toughness
Deadlifts can challenge your mental toughness. They require focus, determination, and confidence to lift heavy weights off the floor.
Conventional deadlift variations
The conventional deadlift is the most popular version, but several other variations can add variety to your training and help target different muscles.
Below are some popular deadlift variations to consider adding to your workout regimen.
- The variation involves the lifter taking a wider stance, with feet pointed outward.
- They then grip the barbell with their hands inside their legs and lift the weight to a standing position.
- The variation targets the hamstrings and glutes.
- The lifter begins by standing with their feet shoulder-width and the barbell in front of them.
- They then hinge at the hips, lowering the weight downward to mid-shin level before lifting it back up to your starting position.
Trap Bar Deadlift
- The variation uses a hexagonal bar that the lifter stands inside.
- That can be an easier and more comfortable option for those with back issues. It also targets the quads more than the conventional deadlift.
- The variation involves standing on a platform or box, which raises the lifter’s starting position and increases the range of motion.
- It is an effective way to improve lower body strength and power.
- Similar to the Romanian deadlift, this variation also targets the hamstrings and glutes.
- However, the lifter keeps their legs straight throughout the movement, focusing on hinging at the hips and lowering the weight downward to mid-shin level before lifting it back up to the starting position.
- As the name suggests, this variation involves performing the deadlift on one leg at a time.
- It can help improve balance, stability, and coordination while targeting the hamstrings, glutes, and core.
- In the suitcase deadlift, the lifter picks up a weight (usually a dumbbell or kettlebell) with one hand while keeping the other arm free.
- The asymmetrical lifting challenges the core and lateral stability.
Who should do conventional deadlifts?
- Strength and power athletes
Conventional deadlifts are popular among strength and power athletes, including powerlifters, weightlifters, and strongman competitors.
Deadlifts can help develop strength and power. They are essential for those sports.
- General fitness enthusiasts
Deadlifts can benefit exercisers looking to improve their general fitness and strength.
They engage multiple muscles and promote functional strength.
- Individuals Seeking Muscle Mass
Conventional deadlifts can help target and build several muscles, making them valuable for any muscle-building program.
- Athletes from other disciplines
Athletes from different sports can benefit from deadlifts as they contribute to strength and power development. That may enhance performance in various activities.
- Individuals focused on functional fitness
Conventional deadlifts mimic real-life movements, such as picking up heavy objects from the floor, making them useful for individuals aiming to improve functional fitness.
- Weight loss and fat-burning
Compound movements like conventional deadlifts can help increase metabolic rate and contribute to weight loss and fat burning when combined with a balanced diet and fitness programs.
- Improving posterior chain strength
Deadlifts target the posterior chain muscles.
Strengthening these muscles can improve posture and help prevent lower back pain.
- Advanced and experienced lifters
As athletes progress in their strength training journey, conventional deadlifts become a staple exercise to continue challenging and developing their strength levels.
Incorporating conventional deadlifts into a full-body strength training program
Incorporating conventional deadlifts into a full-body strength training program can be a great way to enhance strength, build muscle, and improve functional fitness. :
Start with a dynamic warm-up to prepare your body for the workout.
Include exercises like leg swings, arm circles, hip circles, and bodyweight squats to increase blood flow and mobility.
- Compound Movements
Consider including other compound exercises such as squats, bench press, overhead press, bent-over rows, and pull-ups/chin-ups for a full-body workout.
- Deadlift Variations
Include different deadlift variations to add variety and target specific muscle groups differently.
- Sets and Repetitions
The number of sets and repetitions will depend on your training goals and experience level.
For strength and muscle building, 3-5 sets of 4-8 repetitions with heavier weights are typical.
For more muscular endurance, 3-4 sets of 10-12 repetitions with lighter weights should do.
- Rest Intervals
Take adequate rest between sets for sufficient recovery, especially for heavier lifts.
Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets of heavy deadlifts and 1-2 minutes for lighter.
- Core Exercises
Include additional core exercises like planks, Russian twists, or hanging leg raises to strengthen and stabilize the midsection.
- Assistance Exercises
Include assistance exercises that complement the deadlift and target specific muscles.
Good options include lunges, step-ups, lat pulldowns, and bicep curls.
- Cooling Down and Stretching
After your workout, take time to cool down and stretch your muscles.
Focus on stretching the hamstrings, hip flexors, quadriceps, and lower back to promote flexibility and reduce post-workout soreness.
- Training Frequency
Deadlifting once or twice a week is sufficient for most exercisers.
The deadlift is a demanding exercise that requires adequate recovery time between sessions.
Progressively increase the weight you lift over time.
Track your progress and set performance goals to help you stay motivated and continue to challenge yourself.
- Listen to Your Body
Always listen to your body and adjust your training as needed.
Consult a fitness professional or healthcare provider if you experience pain or discomfort.
The role of deadlifts in fat loss and weight management
Conventional deadlifts can play a significant role in fat loss and weight management when incorporated into a well-rounded fitness program and combined with a balanced diet.
Below are ways conventional deadlifts can contribute to your fat loss and weight management goals.
- Caloric expenditure
Performing deadlifts require lots of energy and can contribute to higher caloric expenditure during and after the workout. That can help create a calorie deficit, helping with weight loss.
- Muscle building
Conventional deadlifts are excellent for building muscle, especially in the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and core.
Increased muscle mass raises your resting metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories even at rest.
That can support fat loss in the long term.
- Elevated metabolism
High-intensity compound exercises like conventional deadlifts can elevate your metabolism for hours after the workout, a phenomenon known as the “afterburn” effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
That means you continue burning more calories after your workout.
- Hormonal response
Compound exercises, including conventional deadlifts, can increase the release of hormones like testosterone and growth hormone.
These hormones can help with fat metabolism and muscle building.
- Functional fitness
Deadlifts improve functional strength, making everyday tasks more manageable.
That can help with calorie expenditure and weight management.
- Boost in confidence and motivation.
Conventional deadlifts can be empowering as you challenge yourself to lift heavier weights over time.
This boost in confidence and motivation can help you stay committed to your fitness and weight management journey.
- Total body engagement
Deadlifts engage various muscles in the upper and lower body.
This total body engagement can lead to a balanced physique and improved fitness.
- Improved Posture
Conventional deadlifts strengthen the muscles that support good posture, helping you stand and move more efficiently.
That can positively impact your appearance and reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal issues.
- Muscle definition
Your body composition may improve as you lose fat and build muscle through deadlifts. That can lead to more defined muscles and a leaner appearance.
Deadlift progressions can help beginners, intermediate, and advanced lifters gradually improve their deadlifting technique and strength.
Below is a breakdown of the progressions for each level
Deadlift progressions for beginners
Newbies should focus on learning proper form and building a solid foundation. Start with lighter weights and gradually progress.
Here’s a beginner deadlift progression
- Bodyweight hip hinge
Practice the hip hinge movement without any weight.
Stand with your feet at hip-width, hinge at the hips, and lower your torso while keeping your back straight.
Focus on engaging your glutes and hamstrings.
- Kettlebell or Dumbbell Deadlift
Use a kettlebell or dumbbells to practice the deadlift movement.
Hold the weights with a neutral grip, perform the hip hinge, and lift the weights off the floor.
- Barbell Romanian deadlift (RDL)
Perform Romanian deadlifts with a barbell.
Keep the weights light and focus on the hip hinge, lowering the barbell to knee level while maintaining a straight back.
- Conventional deadlifts
Progress to the conventional deadlift as you gain confidence and proficiency.
Start with an unloaded barbell and gradually add weight as your technique improves.
Deadlift progressions for intermediates
Intermediate lifters have some experience with deadlifting and can handle heavier loads.
Focus on strength and technique refinement in this stage.
Below is an intermediate deadlift progression
- Conventional deadlift with progressive overload
Increase the weight on the barbell continuously, challenging yourself with progressive overloads.
Stick to the conventional deadlift form and maintain proper technique.
- Sumo deadlift
Introduce the sumo deadlift, which involves a wider stance and a grip inside your knees.
The variation may be more comfortable for some lifters and targets the muscles slightly differently.
- Deficit deadlift
Perform deficit deadlifts by standing on plates or a low platform to increase the range of motion.
- Paused deadlift
Add a pause just below the knees during the upward phase of the conventional deadlifts.
That can help improve strength off the floor and reinforce proper positioning.
Deadlift progressions for advanced lifters
Advanced lifters have considerable deadlifting experience and substantial strength levels.
Focus on refining technique, incorporating variations, and challenging your strength limits.
- Heavy Conventional Deadlifts
Continue to challenge your conventional deadlifts with heavier weights.
- Sumo deadlifts with heavy loads
Progress your sumo deadlifts with heavy weights to strengthen different muscle groups.
- Romanian deadlifts with heavy weights
Focus on Romanian deadlifts with heavier loads to target the hamstrings and glutes.
- Snatch grip deadlift
Try the snatch grip deadlift, where you grasp the barbell with a wider grip, emphasizing upper back and grip strength.
- Block pulls
Perform deadlifts from blocks or a rack set at varying heights.
That allows you to lift heavier weights and target different parts of the lift.
Final words from LiveLIfe
The transformative power of conventional deadlifts on your body is undeniable.
Incorporating deadlifts into a full-body strength training program will allow exercisers at all fitness levels to experience remarkable body changes and fitness.
Conventional deadlifts are not just an exercise. They are a transformational journey for both the body and the mind.
As you embrace the challenge of conventional deadlifts, you’ll witness your strength, confidence, and physique undergo remarkable changes.
Remember, consistency, patience, and dedication are the keys to unlocking the full transformative power of deadlifts. Embrace the barbell, set your goals, and let conventional deadlifts reshape your body and elevate your fitness journey to new heights.
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- Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. 2020. Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLoS One. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229507