The Deadlift: Exercise friend or foe?
If you know what deadlifts are, there is a good chance you will have heard a few scary things said about them. There has historically been a stigma regarding the exercise, with some people thinking they are dangerous, or that if you do deadlifts you will damage or injure your back. However, we can debunk this negative myth and show you that deadlifts, if done correctly, can be your friend and ally.
Understanding the Deadlift
There is an increasing body of evidence in the strength and conditioning world that the deadlift might be one of the best, if not the best, strength exercise you can do. The deadlift is a simple free weight exercise. It involves lifting a stationary weight from the floor in a continuous motion. The ‘dead’ refers to the fact that the weight is still at rest, so no momentum is used during the exercise.
The deadlift is classed as a compound exercise, which means that it works multiple muscle groups at the same time rather than working a specific muscle in isolation. This makes the deadlift a very efficient and functional exercise. The muscles worked during a deadlift include your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, abdominal and lower back muscles (including your trunk and core muscles), mid back, upper back, neck and shoulders. It also works your forearms so it will increase your grip strength as well.
The deadlift is excellent for developing whole body strength, endurance, stability and power. Deadlifts particularly target the posterior chain, which are the muscles on the posterior aspect of the body. These muscles are involved in hip, knee and back extension (straightening).
Interestingly, deadlifts are also good for teaching optimal hip function. Hip function can be reduced due to our increasing use of stationary seated positions in work and leisure. Improving the strength of the posterior chain muscles and learning how to synchronise the movement of the ankles, knees, hips and back into one pattern, helps to optimise hip function and encourages these joints to form good functional movement patterns. With this we can minimise the strain on, and increase the resilience of these key structures in the body and therefore reduce the risk of developing injuries and pain in these areas.
If you already have low back pain (particularly, mechanical low back pain), deadlifts may actually form an important part of a strengthening programme guided by your physiotherapist. They can be very effective in helping to reduce pain and disability, and increase both your activity and physical performance. Deadlifts have also been shown to be effective at improving pain related fear of movement in patients with low back pain.
And of course, with postural-based issues being relevant for many, deadlifts can also help improve your posture. By strengthening the posterior chain and core muscles, deadlifts increase the strength and endurance of your posture muscles, helping you sit and stand with a more optimal posture.
Highly Functional and Adaptable
The deadlift is a very functional exercise and its benefits transfer well into sports and normal daily activities. When you are stronger and more resilient your ability to do everyday tasks such as picking heavy objects off the ground e.g. groceries, children or suitcases etc. is enhanced. Deadlifts can also help develop a level of strength that can be used for a number of other exercises and improve performance in activities requiring significant levels of hip and core strength e.g. running and jumping.
The deadlift can be performed in a number of different ways with a variety of equipment. Different types of deadlifts will target the body in slightly different ways. The right type of deadlift for you will depend on your performance goal. Remember you can be resourceful with your equipment as well. When dedicated equipment isn’t available, deadlifts can easily be performed at home with a suitable object around the house e.g. a bag of groceries or a backpack with weights inside.
If done correctly, the deadlift is considered one of the safest weightlifting exercises to perform. You can’t get stuck under the weight and it can’t pull you over. If you get into trouble you can just drop the weight on the floor. If people do get injured while doing deadlifts it is typically linked to poor exercise technique, lifting too much weight for their capabilities, or progressing the load too quickly. It is therefore very important that if you want to start adding deadlifts to your exercise regime, you see a professional who can teach you the correct exercise technique and guide your progression safely.
If you have technique questions or would like further support, get in contact with us here at Ponsonby Physiotherapy.
Article by Max Jackson, Physiotherapist