The deadlift is a strength exercise that involves lifting a stationary, or “dead,” weight off the ground. This hip-dominant movement works the glutes, hamstrings, core, back, and trapezius muscles.

Because they work so many different muscle groups, deadlifts are an effective exercise to incorporate into a workout routine. People may use them to target specific muscle groups or improve overall strength and athleticism.

An individual can perform deadlifts with various barbells, weights, and repetition ranges. When executed with proper form, deadlifts are a safe and effective exercise for building muscle and strength.

Read on to learn about how to do a deadlift safely, the muscles it works, the correct form, and more.

A woman deadlifting in the gym.Share on Pinterest
Manu Padilla/Stocksy

A deadlift has three phases: the setup, pull, and lockout.

Here’s how to do each one:

  1. The setup: A person should stand with their feet hip-width apart. They should focus on engaging the core muscles and squeezing the shoulder blades together and down to engage the lats. If using a barbell, the bar should be on the floor and touching the shins. The person should then hinge at the hips, spine extended and chest lifted. Grip the barbell with an over-under grip, with one hand facing palm-up and the other palm-down. Squeeze the bar and sink back into the hips.
  2. The pull: Push the feet into the floor, straighten the legs and lifting the chest and weight. Push the hips forward and pull the knees backward.
  3. The lockout: At the top of the movement, hold the shoulders back and straighten the spine. Pause, then lower the barbell by pushing the hips back and using the thigh and core muscles to slow the movement.
A person performing a deadlift.
Dima Bazak

It is important to note that the correct form can look different for different individuals depending on their body type and abilities. For example, if a person has very inflexible hamstrings, they may not be able to lower as much as someone with very flexible hamstrings.

The weight and number of repetitions a person performs depend on their fitness level and goals. It is critical not to use too much weight too soon before developing the proper lifting technique.

New lifters should focus on form first. They may want to practice the motion of deadlifting with no weight before adding resistance.

The deadlift is a compound movement that works several muscle groups. The key muscle groups targeted are:

  • Trapezius: This is a large, triangular muscle that extends from the base of the skull to the mid-back. It is responsible for stabilizing and moving the shoulder blades.
  • Glutes: These are the large muscles that make up the buttocks. The glutes are responsible for hip extension during the deadlift.
  • Hamstrings: These are the muscles on the back of the thigh. They extend the hip and flex the knee.
  • Core: The core muscles are in the abdominal and lower back regions. They work together to stabilize the spine as a person lifts the weight.
  • Hip: The muscles and ligaments that make up the hip joint are responsible for flexing and extending the hip.
  • Lats: The muscles of the upper and lower back work together to keep the spine stable during the lift. The latissimus dorsi (lats) are two large, triangle-shaped muscles on either side of the spine.

The deadlift is a compound exercise that works multiple joints and large muscle groups at the same time. This means it offers several benefits, including:

  • Muscle strength and size: The deadlift is an effective exercise for building muscle in the upper and lower body. As a result, it can help improve overall strength and athleticism. Increasing muscle mass can also increase a person’s metabolism.
  • Bone density: The deadlift puts healthy stress on bones, which can lead to increased bone density and a reduced risk of injury. Resistance exercises, including deadlifts, are particularly important for bone health, especially as people age.
  • Posture: The deadlift helps train the back and shoulder muscles to work together. This can improve posture.
  • Mental health: Strength training has been shown to improve mental health by reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Accessibility: Because the deadlift can be performed with various weights, it is accessible to people of all fitness levels and ages. People do not need to visit a gym to deadlift — they can do it at home with weights, resistance bands, or DIY weights such as water bottles.

When performed correctly, the deadlift is a safe and effective exercise. However, an incorrect form can lead to injuries. Individuals must understand the correct technique before attempting this exercise.

A deadlift involves grasping a barbell while in a squatting position, then elevating it by extending the hips, knees, and ankles. When the hips are fully extended, the lifting portion of the movement has ended.

Proper form requires hips with a good range of motion and a stable back and core.

A person should aim to keep their back flat as they pick up the barbell and focus on pushing their hips back to perform the movement. The weight must be kept as close as possible to the body throughout the entire motion to decrease stress on the lower back.

The deadlift can be performed in different ways to target different muscle groups.

Some variations include:

  • Romanian deadlift: This common variation targets the hamstrings and most posterior muscles. Instead of bending the knees, a person keeps their legs relatively straight throughout the entire movement.
  • One leg, one arm dumbbell deadlift: This exercise builds stability, balance, and core strength. It involves holding a dumbbell while leaning forward from the waist and extending the leg on the same side behind. Repeat the required number of reps before switching to the other leg.
  • Cable Romanian deadlift: This is a good option if a person lacks balance and coordination. It uses cables instead of a barbell or dumbbell. The movement is the same as the Romanian deadlift, but with cables providing resistance instead of weights.

The deadlift is a compound exercise that targets the muscles of the back, shoulders, and legs. When performed correctly, it can improve posture while helping build strength and muscle mass.

A person can modify the exercise to target different muscle groups, and it is appropriate for people of all fitness levels. For example, to make deadlifts easier, a person can reduce the weight used or eliminate the weight entirely.