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By Bruce Burke and Ryan Burke

Last Updated: 5/14/23

Most fitness programs include some type of deadlift—and for good reason. The deadlift is a functional movement that requires hip mobility, glute/hamstring strength, and trunk stability. It is one of the fundamental movement patterns of our daily life, as well as an ultimate expression of full-body power. Including deadlifts in your fitness program can help strengthen other exercises performed in the gym and help you achieve a variety of workout goals. This week’s Focus Point will concentrate on how and why to perform deadlifts.

Why deadlift?

The common benefit offered by the deadlift is simple: hip activation. Most of us spend far too much time sitting, a posture that deactivates our hips. To compensate, we tend to use our hamstring and back muscles. This can lead to problems such as increased hip weakness, poor posture, chronic tightness/muscular imbalance, and even injury.

Deadlifts activate our hips and retrain our bodies to use the glutes for lifting and athletic motions. When performed correctly, deadlifts can help you reach almost any fitness goal. This functional movement can be used for rehabilitation, injury prevention, and performance gains by generating increases in hip power, bone density, fat loss, muscular balance, and strength. Most importantly, this movement pattern trains the body to move through space while keeping the spine safe.

Deadlifts vs. Squats

A deadlift is a hip hinge movement where the spine remains in a neutral position as the hips exert force to stand up tall. Deadlifts can be performed standing on one or both legs, with or without additional weight. Although they can look very similar to squats, there are important (though subtle) differences. Squatting lowers your hips and torso as though you are sitting on a chair, with significant bending of the ankle and knee joints. Deadlifts use more of a hinging motion, pushing the hips back with less motion in the ankle and knees.

The following tips will ensure that your deadlifts are safe and effective:

  • Begin by standing in a tall, vertical plank position.
  • Position your feet shoulder width apart, with your weight slightly towards your heels.
  • As you initiate the movement, fold your hips back to create a triangle between your head, hips, and knees.
  • Throughout the exercise, keep your shoulders down and back, away from your ears.
  • Keep your knees aligned with your ankles and hips throughout the movement (i.e. don’t let your knees cave in or bow out).
  • Maintain a neutral spine throughout the entire movement.
  • As you finish the rep, push your hips forward into the same vertical plank position you started with.

This week, focus on your deadlift technique. Consider how hip activation can help your body grow strong and balanced!