The Deadlift is an integral, yet often missing component of a strength building program. That’s not to say that everyone should be performing this movement or one of its variations, but the benefits of the Deadlift for a power or strength building program are innumerable.
The Deadlift is a compound exercise targeting several muscle groups including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spinae, gluteals, hamstrings, quadriceps, and psoas (hip flexors). Your forearm muscles, which are involved in gripping the bar, are used to a lesser degree, as well as muscles involved in trunk stabilization such as your obliques.
The Deadlift has many benefits. As a compound exercise, the movement spans three joints with extension occurring at the hip, knee, and ankle joints, thus utilizing several large muscle groups.(2) When compared to isolation exercises, compound movements that involve larger muscle groups elicit a hormonal training response that results in greater strength gains.(1) The dynamics of the lift itself may also lead to greater gains in hypertrophy. (1)
The Deadlift also has possible rehabilitation benefits. It has been hypothesized that the moderate to high hamstring activity elicited during the Deadlift may help to protect the Anterior Cruciate Ligament during rehab.(2)
The movement of the Deadlift translates well into real life as it mimics bending and lifting. Anyone who has a toddler is quite familiar with the motion of the lift already.
Biomechanics of the Sumo and Conventional Styles
There are two basic styles of a bent-leg Deadlift; sumo and conventional. The key difference between the two styles is the placement of the feet and the width of the grip. In the sumo style, the grip is medial to the feet; that is the grip is on the inside of the legs. The feet in the sumo style are at about a 45-degree angle pointing outward. This style utilizes a slightly wider stance than the conventional method.
In the conventional style, the grip is lateral to the feet (on the outside of the legs) and the feet are only slightly turned outward.
The sumo style has gained a reputation as decreasing the stress placed on the lower lumbar by as much as 10% when compared to the conventional Deadlift.(2) It also
seems to be favored among those who are leaner and have longer than average torsos. Since the sumo style requires less hip flexion and a more upright trunk position, this may benefit people of this phenotype by reducing the torque on the lower spine. We also know that the sumo style Deadlift requires much larger knee and ankle moments; more flexion of these joints is required when compared to the conventional style. (2) This implies that the quadriceps may be more active in the sumo style.
Furthermore, because of the wide stance utilized in the sumo style, this method requires less mechanical work than the conventional.(2) It is important to note however, that world records in powerlifting have been established using both styles.
Performing the Lifts
Points to Remember
As in all exercises, the Deadlift is not for everyone. If you are working with a client with special needs such as lower lumbar injuries or any other joint injuries, it is important to get there doctor’s or chiropractor’s release before adding this lift to their regime.
The Deadlift itself has many variations. You can use barbells for lighter weights or use a limited range of motion if the situation calls for it. There are also specialized bars that some people find more comfortable such as the Combo Bar or Trap Bar.
Because of the wide range of muscles the Deadlift targets, some people use it as a warm-up lift before their workout. In whatever form you use, the Deadlift should play an important role in your training program.