By Brenda Anderson
In my humble opinion, the deadlift is the King (or Queen ;) ) of lifts. There’s something so satisfying about loading up a bar, and (after a really good warm up) just lifting a butt-load of weight. I hit a 200lb deadlift a couple of years ago, and still have the video of it saved on my phone, I was that proud of it. My best ever was 220lbs. At 130lbs, moving that kind of weight feels powerful and super-strong. There’s little-to-no “finessing” of a deadlift. While I love the more dynamic Olympic lifts, too, nothing in the gym makes me quite as happy, lift-wise, as seeing that it’s deadlift day. Raw strength at it’s best.
A deadlift is basically lifting something from the floor (in the gym, it’s normally a barbell, but it can be any object), and stopping when you have reached full extension (standing up nice and tall). When holding a barbell, your arms are nice and straight, hanging down just in front of your sides. While there’s more to a good deadlift, that’s basically all it is. No “whip” of the bar, no “catch position”. Just pick it up and stand up tall. The nitty-gritty is in the placement of all your parts. The bar should be over your mid-foot (about where your shoes lace up), your shins should be vertical, and your knees should be splayed out just a bit. Starting with your knees in this position will help keep your hips below your shoulders in the beginning of the lift, and will help cue you to keep those knees out all the way through. Your bum should be below your shoulders (always, always, always) and reaching away from the bar (your bum, not your shoulders). When you start to feel a gentle pull in your hamstrings (the muscles up the backs of your legs), there’s a good chance you’re there. Think about it like you’re reaching your butt back towards the wall behind you, until your shins are nice and straight, and your hammies are stretching. There ya go! Keep tension in your core because you should never lift anything heavy with a loose core. Your abs support your back muscles, and vice versa. So, bracing all the muscles in your core (front and back) will offer you stability and help prevent injury. Shoulders should be out in front of the bar until you’re almost locked out (full extension), and your arms should stay straight all the way through. “Hey, Brenda! What about my head?” Great question. This is the one and only lift that your coach isn’t going to be yelling at you to look up. We want you looking down at the floor, keeping your head in a nice, neutral position. This will keep your neck feeling good, and it’ll keep your head out in front of the bar, where it should be, to counterbalance the weight of the bar. After all that, it’s “just” a matter of lifting the bar. Keep a nice even pressure on the bar, and through your whole foot. Make sure you don’t shift your weight into the balls and toes, as that will likely pull your bar forward, and you won’t be using the appropriate muscles. This lift doesn’t need to be quick. I read somewhere that a Clean should happen in a second; some world record deadlifts have taken up to 8 seconds to stand up with. Just keep a nice, solid pressure on the bar. Don’t try jerking it off of the floor, and don’t give up if you can’t stand it up in the first one or two seconds. A good deadlift can take some time.
All the time, people say that they don’t need to know how to deadlift. Some people can’t see the practicality of being able to lift heavy objects. It holds no appeal for them, which I admit, I can see both sides of the coin here. When, in your normal, everyday life would you need to lift something that weighs as much as you do, or double your bodyweight, or even triple??? Well, outside of the gym, maybe never. But you may want to do some landscaping one day. Or what about if you have to move; those boxes aren’t going to lift themselves. Even if you’re convinced that making many trips to get all the groceries out of the car is a sign of weakness. All of these movements contain a deadlift, and potentially a heavy one. So train it well, and train it often. Get comfortable with the deadlift, and you should see your overall strength go up, given all the muscle groups it works. Think of the groceries! Now, get out there and start lifting! All hail the King!