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In Weight Lifting, what is a Deadlift?

By Nychole Price
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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In weight lifting, a deadlift is an exercise that is performed to increase back strength. Due to the amount of people who perform the exercise incorrectly, it has a bad reputation and is often feared by beginning body builders. When done properly, the weightlifter will develop his back muscles, as well as the muscles of the legs, arms and glutes. With this weight lifting exercise, the lifter keeps his back straight while the weight of the barbell tries to bend it, building back strength. There are two versions of the deadlift exercise; barbell, also known as Romanian, and hex-bar.

The barbell deadlift is the most popular amongst weight lifters, due to the fact that it strengthens the back muscles in the fastest time frame. To perform this exercise, the weight lifter stands with his feet shoulder width apart, and the bar resting 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) in front of his shins. He looks forward while gripping the bar, keeping his arms straight and his hands 20 inches (51 cm) apart. With his back straight, he lifts the bar by pushing from his heels and squeezing his gluteal muscles. The exercise ends when the knees and hips are locked.

The hex-bar deadlift is done using a 56 inch (1.4 meters) hexagonal shaped bar. The weight lifter steps into the middle of the hex bar and stands with his feet slightly shoulder width apart, toes pointing forward and knees aligned over the toes. The lifter than squats down and places his hands on the grips located on both sides of the hex-bar. Using his legs, he lift the hex-bar straight up. Like the barbell version, the lifter must look forward, and keep his back straight, throughout the exercise, to lessen the risk of injury.

There are a couple of variations to the deadlift. Standing on a 3 inch (7.6 cm) box, so the bar starts near the top of the shoe, and performing the deadlift, allows the exercise to work the hips as well as the back. Keeping the legs semi-straight when performing the exercise will work the quads, hips and hamstrings in addition to the lower back. These versions add to the already existing hazards of this weight lifting exercise.

It is advised to always have a spotter when performing the deadlift. This will help assure the proper posture is kept throughout the exercise. Improper posture can result in hernias, hyper-extension of the back, bicep tears, and spinal disc injuries.

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Discussion Comments

By Emilski — On Nov 25, 2011

@stl156 - You have it right. The hex bar is a hexagon shaped bar that you step in the middle of. It has raised handles on the sides that you grab onto. Instead of the weight being more in front of you like a normal deadlift, the hex bar puts the weight on either side of you. Whenever I have used the hex bar, I think it offers a little bit more control in terms of lifting. Some people like them, too, because they give you a little more clearance for your knees.

On the other hand, I am a smaller person, so a lot of times the handles are too far apart. For that reason, I am always afraid to use too much weight. It really just comes down to preference.

I was curious about the deadlift record, so I looked it up. The most weight lifted was a little over 1,000 pounds. That is a lot of weight!

By stl156 — On Nov 24, 2011

@JimmyT - Whenever I started with my deadlift workout, I was always just told to use an empty bar (45 pounds) until you get used to having proper form. After you are sure you have the right form, I would just add whatever weight you need until you get to the normal amount of resistance you notice from other exercises.

I am not familiar with the hex bar that the article mentioned. It makes it sound like it is some sort of a circular thing that you stand in the middle of. Is it that or is is just a bar like you would use for the normal deadlift except it has six sides? Assuming it is the first one, does that mean that the bar comes up on all sides of you?

By matthewc23 — On Nov 24, 2011

I think remembering to keep your head looking forward during the deadlift is one of the easiest ways to make sure you have the proper deadlift technique. If you are looking at the bar when you begin the lift, you have your back bent, and that is the wrong way to go.

Another important tip that is similar to not arching your back is making sure you don't extend your legs forward after they are locked. Whenever I am at the gym, I always see a lot of people who get the barbell past their knees and immediately jerk up and arch their back, since that is the quickest way to get full the full extension. That will give you a lot of back problem in the long run, though.

I had never heard of the hamstring deadlift before I read this. I might have to look into adding that into my routine sometime.

By JimmyT — On Nov 23, 2011

@lonelygod - I agree. I had a friend who tried to do a deadlift workout with too much weight and bad form, and he ended up throwing out his back on the first rep. Something else that should be mentioned is that you should be wearing a lifting belt if you are doing deadlifts. A lifting belt will help keep your back properly aligned and keep the rest of your body in good form.

Besides the proper technique, it is important to know how much weight you should be trying to lift. I know when I started doing it, there was some type of formula that gave you a good baseline to start with, but I don't remember what it is. Just like every other exercise, once it starts to feel like you aren't getting any resistance from the workout, go ahead and add on a little bit more weight.

By letshearit — On Nov 22, 2011

Does anyone know what the world deadlift record is?

I am currently working on my own deadlift form and I would love to know what the human body is capable of with enough training. I really think deadlifts are one of the best exercises you can do to get a really cut physique. Though, it is certainly not an easy task.

I find the most difficult exercise to be the hamstring deadlift. For some reason it makes my legs ache like nothing else. I wonder if I am doing it wrong? I have worked with a trainer a few times and I know my form is good. Perhaps there is something else I can try. Does anyone have any suggestions to replace my hamstring workout?

By lonelygod — On Nov 21, 2011

If you are going to start doing deadlifts a good idea is to get a trainer at your gym to show you proper form before you get started. While it is easy to watch someone else do something like a squat deadlift, it is entirely another thing to perform the same deadlift squats without hurting yourself.

Your gym should always have someone available who can teach you about the equipment and demonstrate proper form to you. I think the worst thing about doing deadlift workouts wrong is the pain of pulled muscles or worse. Don't be shy and ask for help.

By backdraft — On Nov 21, 2011

There is a guy at my gym that can deadlift probably 500 pounds. Honestly, there are so many plates at the end of those bars that I'm not sure exactly how much is up there.

It is nuts. He can only do it a few times and he looks like he is going to burst when he does it but he manages to pick up that weight. Once after he was done I went over and tried to move the bar with my foot, just roll it off to the side. I couldn't even move it. Guy is a beast.

By jonrss — On Nov 20, 2011

Deadlift training is one of the best ways to build total body strength. The deadlift works the legs, arms, back and the core in ways that almost no other exercise does. And what I love most about it is that it is a practical movement. Think of how many times in your life you have to mimic the movement of the deadlift?

But the most important thing to remember when you are doing this exercise is to keep proper dealift form. Deadlift technique is crucial to maximizing the effectiveness of the workout and keeping yourself from getting hurt.

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