The deadlift is a multi-joint functional movement that has tremendous value and carryover to everyday life and athletics. When hearing the word “deadlift,” people are often worried about this crazy sounding exercise that sounds like it may kill them on the spot. But, no need to worry about the name itself, since the exercise provides so many benefits to functional movement that it should be a staple in every exercise program.
Let’s start not by telling you why the deadlift is so valuable, but why our bodies are so messed up. It really all comes down to posture and the harmful seated position. It’s inevitable not to suffer some type of detriment as a result of gravity throughout our lifetime. But, now throw on top of that sitting for extended periods of time and we have magnified the problem. We all know how posture changes throughout our lives and have seen plenty of older folks displaying that posture as seen below. This posture screams, “Help ME!”
So, why the deadlift? The deadlift, when done properly, works on reversing all those postural faults we accumulate over time. Obviously, extreme cases also need some good manual therapy, but in terms of exercises this may be the ONE. While holding a weight, we begin retracting the shoulder blades back, which reciprocally opens up those tight chest muscles. We drive through the hip extensors, which reciprocally stretches the hip flexors that are shortened from hours each day sitting at a desk or in the car. All of this is done while maintaining a neutral or slightly arched lumbar spine which promotes spinal stability/strength and fights against that rounded upper back seen above. Wait… So, you can help offset poor posture all in one movement? That’s right, in terms of effectiveness, the deadlift may be the most valuable exercise you can do.
I have always been a fan of the straight leg deadlift version, which places a greater eccentric load and lengthening on the hamstrings. Who doesn’t need that, right? Remember, the motion is driven by the hips. not the lower back. I often cringe when I hear people say they did lower back in the gym and state the deadlift was the reason. Yes, we are working the lower back and entire erector spinae group to control spine position, but the gluteus maximums is the muscle primarily used to create movement. Here’s a quick video of the straight leg deadlift:
Now that I’ve made you more aware of how your posture might suck, I hope you add the deadlift into your program. Work on getting the body back to it’s best form because most things in life are more harmful then beneficial in terms of posture. Planes, cars, couches, and computers, while mixed with gravity, can break you down until you’re looking like that old woman above in no time. After you’ve perfected the bilateral version, try the more advanced reaching single leg deadlift, and single leg straight leg deadlift to get all those valuable benefits, but also improve balance and hip stability.
Garrett McLaughlin is a healthcare and fitness professional in the Greater Nashville area. He uses exercise and soft-tissue manual therapy to help people improve movement quality and recover from injury. For more information or questions, please contact Garrett.