Many lifters consider deadlifts to be the ultimate expression of strength. The concept of the exercise is simple: pick the heaviest load possible up off the ground. Repeat as desired.
But there’s more to the deadlift than just brute strength, and actually performing the movement properly and safely is more complicated than just bending over and pulling up on the bar. Some people even avoid deadlifts entirely on the grounds that they consider the exercise to be too dangerous to include in their workouts. That type of avoidance is more of a personal preference linked to individual anatomy than a hard line for everyone—performed properly, deadlifts can be safe and effective for just about any type of person who wants to get get bigger and stronger. But even if you’re not concerned about deadlifting, you should absolutely understand how to do it properly.
Deadlifts are a multi-joint movement, which means you recruit several muscle groups to work together. The exercise helps you to build muscle in your legs, back, and the rest of your posterior chain while putting a big strain on your central nervous system, too. Since there’s so much involved in the deadlift, threading the component parts of the exercise together takes more focus than you might expect for a move with such a simple outcome.
Before you approach the barbell (or dumbbells or hex bar) and prepare to pull, there are a few things you should know to deadlift properly (and therefore, safely). First lesson: if you’re just starting out, leave the accessories at home. You might have seen more experienced-looking lifters kitting up with belts and wrist straps before they pull heavy weight. Gear like this can be helpful when your goal is to pile as many plates as possible onto the bar—but if you’re a beginner, you should have different goals. Namely, establishing the proper form.
Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.