Lift for Life. The Essential Deadlift

Photographer: Jason Morrison

Though it sounds like the skill of a mortician or mob “cleaner,” the deadlift is one of the best exercises for developing overall strength and improving physical appearance, both for women and men. Earning its name in honour of the weight that must be lifted without the aid of momentum, this compound movement is supremely simple and always satisfying, whether your ultimate goal is to build lean body mass, increase strength, burn fat and calories, or improve your functional fitness.

Deadlifts are traditionally popular with bodybuilders, and they’re appearing in CrossFit boxes around the world; many people complete the movements required within them every day—outside the gym. If you’ve ever picked up a box, a bag of groceries, or your child off the floor, you’ve deadlifted. And once picked up, you must put down! Said simply, the ability to deadlift is as essential to day-to-day functionality as the ability to stand, run, jump, or throw, with one significant bonus: it rewards those who practice it with the athletic advantage of improved general physical ability.

If you want to increase overall strength, work on your deadlift. If you want to improve your grip, work on your deadlift. If you want to build core stability, strengthen your spine, rehab your back, improve your posture, and look better in a bikini . . .  you got it, work on your deadlift. The compound movement directly targets every major muscle group in your back, midsection, and legs. This includes the spinal erectors, lower back, middle and upper trapezius, lats, abdominals, obliques, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Doing one deadlift is almost like doing leg presses, a back extension, prone leg curls, abdominal crunches, grip strengthening, straight-arm pull downs, and shrugs all at the same time. It’s truly an unbeatable compound lift. Unfortunately, though, many people fear deadlifts (especially those who are new to fitness). But the fear is groundless. When performed correctly, a deadlift will protect your back from injury, not be the cause of it. When you start adding deadlifts to your routine, trainers recommend higher reps with lower weight, even if this means lifting the 45-pound Olympic bar alone. The repetition will enable you to perform the deadlift correctly as a beginner without tiring to the point of sloppiness during your last set. As you advance, you can add weight incrementally. Deadlift near max loads once a week, be patient, and celebrate your best. The rewards are worth the effort, whether you use your newfound strength to impress the ladies (and gentlemen), rearrange furniture, or move a body.


Proper form is essential. It all begins with legs that are shoulder-width apart and no wider.  Next is the squat. For squatting you grab the bar symmetrically, with the hands placed where they won’t interfere with your legs during the pull. Then use the powerful muscles in your legs to raise the bar in one smooth and controlled movement as you slowly straighten your back. The bar must remain close to your legs and travel straight up and down. You then slowly bend your back and return to squat position, lowering the bar to the floor once again.


  • Place a barbell in front of you on the ground
  • Place your feet flat on floor with the bar touching your shins
  • Grab the barbell with a little wider than shoulder width grip
  • Hands placed outside the legs
  • Reverse grip, thumbs around the bar
  • Arms straight, elbows slightly touching the legs
  • Take a deep breath at the start of the movement
  • Head up, chest up and out
  • Looking straight ahead or slightly up
  • Back straight, shoulders back
  • Hips low, below the shoulders
  • Thighs parallel to the floor
  • Exhale as you complete the movement
  • Bar lifted slowly
  • Pulling is done by extending legs and hips – push feet into the floor
  • Arms remain straight
  • Back remains straight
  • Hold contraction for a second and slowly bend your knees and low back as you return to the starting position and repeat.

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