Deadlifts: A Brief Guide
Legend in the making.
If you’ve ever spent any conscious amount of your life in the gym, you would have heard of deadlifts. What are they? Should I be doing them? (Hint: Look at the picture above). How do I get started? Look no further; in this post I am going to discuss this legendary lift (I’ll explain in a bit) in detail.
The human body is a very interesting machine. Millions of years of evolution has made us the way that we are today. And each joint, tendon and muscle fits in like a cog in a big factory. After a few months of being born, babies have been known to deadlift stuff off the ground (image below).
Seriously though, babies are awesome deadlifters. However as we get older, we lose this natural gift.
Let me backtrack a little here. My first introduction to this legendary (wait for it) lift was in a gym where I saw one of my lifting buddies do it and another one commenting on how dangerous it was for the back. That’s like saying, don’t buy a car because there are thousands of vehicles which get into an accident every day; and so driving is dangerous.
Anyway, back to the article. So as we age, our bones and muscles grow bigger and stronger. We get taller and more muscular. On the contrary when we are kids, we have to optimize strength in order to lift something. This is why you will notice toddlers lifting things in the proper way —
- Bend your knees to get closer to the ground (not a squat)
- Position yourself as close to the object as possible
- Hold the object in your hands
- Lift with your legs (not your back; more details later)
As we get older, we stop doing these imperative motions to pick up things from the ground. We instead, prefer bending over our backs and lifting with the back instead of the legs. This takes a toll on our spines; which aren’t weak but if this motion is repeated, spinal injuries ensue.
So, in order to get started, stop bending over to pick up objects and bend your knees to get closer to the ground before picking anything up. This is the first step in learning how to deadlift.
Now going to the subject of who should deadlift. In the words of Jon Paul Sigmarsson —
“There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift.”
And that is where the lift becomes legendary. Jon Paul Sigmarsson was a legend of his time. During his short 32 year life, he won the World’s Strongest Man four times (a record at the time). He passed away doing what he loved the most — deadlifting. That didn’t kill him though, he had a heart defect which resulted in his undoing. So, the man was nothing short of a legend. Hence, deadlifting=legendary.
Why should anyone do deadlifts though? Are they really going to make that much of a difference? Don’t listen to me. Take it from Dean Somerset here.
To quote him —
“Deadlifts are a total body exercise, working muscles from your toenails to your hair follicles.”
“Your testosterone will spike with each 1 rep max, roughly 13246% your regular walking around levels, which means you’ll be more likely to impregnate casual observers with nothing more than an icy stare, disrupt gang fights with your mere presence, and become the next supplier of Red Bull by bottling your urine.”
Alright, enough with the jokes (still an awesome read). Deadlifting has been scientifically shown to release testosterone (muscle building hormone) and HGH (human growth hormone). Don’t worry ladies, you cannot deadlift yourself to look too muscular unless you’re completely going insane on steroids. Deadlifting has also been shown to recruit almost all of the muscles in the body which means it is truly the definition of a total body workout.
If there was one movement which I could do for the rest of my life; it would be the deadlift. Pick up the weight from the ground and put it back, easy.
Now that I’ve got your attention, you must be asking; what is the proper way to deadlift. Here are some tips
- Get as close to the barbell as possible. Your shins need to be touching it before beginning the lift. (Hint: Wear long socks if you don’t fancy scratched up shins)
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Bend at your knees and reach down such that your shoulders are just a tad past and over the bar. Do not squat down all the way, this is not a reverse squat. Your hands on the bar should be just outside your legs.
- Keep your spine neutral. This is the most important part which will save you from injury and you’ll come back and thank me. This is the hardest part to teach a new lifter and it comes with time. Start really light so that you can learn the form before you go heavy. If I were to place a stick at the top of your head, it should run down your spine straight while touching your entire spine all the way down to your butt. Kinda likes this —
No deadlift post is complete without a Yo Elliot video. I am a big fan.
Here are some more tips and tricks which will help you in your deadlifting journey —
- Don’t ever use gloves. They can cause issues and you won’t be developing your grip strength. If the bar slips or your grip is not strong enough, use chalk.
- Wear long socks as mentioned above. Unless of course you want to get scratched up shins.
- Wear good lifting shoes. I recommend converse chuck taylors. They are the best deadlifting shoes you can get on the market. Don’t deadlift in your cross-trainers or running shoes. They have padding which can make you unstable while lifting from the ground. In order to get maximum push from the ground, you want a flat soled shoe like the chuck taylors.
- Now for the grip. I started out with a double overhand grip which is standard. Which means your palms are facing your body while lifting. As I went heavier, I noticed my grip strength wasn’t keeping up with my deadlift strength. So, I switched to mixed grip. Which means; one palm facing you and second palm facing away. A lot of lifters lift this way and I have nothing against it. However, I don’t recommend it. When you use a mixed grip, your body is not completely aligned because of the hand position. If you feel your grip is not keeping up with your deadlift strength, you can do two things. Either slow down on your progression and train your grip with pull ups and other pull movements; or suck it up and go hook grip on deadlifts. If you do the latter, make sure you tape your thumbs and get used to lifting like this with lighter weights because it is agonizingly painful. However, with time it gets better when you get used to it.
Enough of me blabbering about deadlifts. Go lift some weight!