If I had to choose one lift to do for the rest of my life, it would be the deadlift. Humans were built to bend over and lift things up from the ground. This move trains you to be better at it.
The Nature of the Deadlift
Believe it or not, humans evolved to pick things up.
There is totally correct and safe technique to lift heavy loads, which also resonates with how we evolved – and that is the deadlift.
Lots of exercises spring up from someone in the gym thinking about how they can apply this new gimmick, device or pulley system, but how many moves are just as raw and native to us as picking something up from the ground?
Now, there is a time and place for a single-legged dumbbell shoulder raise while standing on a wobble board with a weighted vest – but, yeah, just master the basics first.
The Deadlift Can Be a Very Uncomfortable Move To Learn
I learned how to deadlift by holding a PVC pipe. No weight whatsoever. I’m a tall guy with a long torso and I had very tight hamstrings. Just getting me down to the starting position of a deadlift required a lot of drilling and sweating – while holding a freaking PVC pipe in my hands that weighed less than one pound.
This is, by far, the best method to teach. I am a bit like Mr. Miyagi in this sense. It is good to work through each and every gradient before jumping into the next. It is exhausting and tedious. But in the end you master the movement and can deadlift twice your body weight.
Having a good coach for this is priceless. Most guys feel weird putting their backs in the proper position for a deadlift. They feel like they are “sticking out their butts.” Years of slouching in school rooms and on couches has left them with no lumbar curve.
Here’s a video that shows what I mean:
For some people, there is a runway to being able to do a deadlift with actual weight. I was one of those and having gone through every little tedious movement made me a form Nazi.
You never would have guessed that there was so much involved in picking something up from the ground.
How the Deadlift Improves Posture
I have found no single move that benefits posture like a well-trained deadlift.
You have all of these little muscles along your spine to keep you upright. For most people, these got muscles got really lazy from slouching at a computer, leaning over texting, etc.
They are such small muscles and it is hard to grab a dumbbell and train them like you do your biceps. It isn’t that obvious when they’re well trained, hence, they often get neglected.
But the benefits in posture are nothing short of jaw dropping. After I learned how to deadlift I became known as “the guy with good posture.” I wasn’t ever trying to stand up tall, it just felt natural. The other day I walked into a doctor’s office for a routine check and a woman asked if I was military, I said no and asked what made her think that. She said “You have such great posture.”
Training the Deadlift Boosts Your Testosterone and Builds Muscle
Because so much of your muscle mass is activated at one time and because you are able to load it up with heavy weights, the deadlift is the ideal exercise for increasing testosterone and building muscle.
The best rep range is from 7-10 repetitions of heavy weight if you want to get the biggest response in testosterone and human growth hormone levels. You don’t get the same hormonal response from working out only one muscle group. You’ve got to have a “compound movement” like the deadlift that utilizes many different muscle groups.
Which brings me to my next point…
Biggest Bang for Your Buck
The whole reason I say that if I had to pick one exercise for the rest of my life, this would be it, is because it works out so many things at once.
It is so freaking efficient. You get an amazing posture, maximum boost in your testosterone and HGH and build the most muscle all in one move.
Why Isn’t the Deadlift Trained More Often?
Frankly, I consider it slightly criminal that so many gyms don’t have an exclusive “deadlift station.”
There are several gyms still in existence that have no barbell to do deadlifts.
CrossFit actually made functional training more mainstream and I’ll always thank the founder and that whole community for what it did. That movement changed gym design from the old “packed full with rows of machines” to more open spaces.
Then there is also the injury factor. There are many, many ways to get injured doing a deadlift as opposed to doing a biceps curl. But the actual risk isn’t that much. CrossFit taught everyone that.
For a deadlift, the big scare is of not having a flat back because it is a serious injury if you slip a disc. This can be a game-ending move. Surgery, pain, bedridden, etc. But if you know a few things about the form and take it on a gradient, you’ll be fine.
In twenty years in the gym, I’ve never seen a disc issue from someone doing a deadlift. Not in CrossFit environments, small personal training studios or big commercial gyms. Maybe that is because I was always teaching the move and teaching it properly, but it hasn’t happened around me.
The deadlift gets short shrift because it isn’t “chest and biceps.”
Chicks don’t look at a guy and say “Damn, I bet he can deadlift 2X his body weight.”
But it is becoming more and more of a thing for your average Joe to deadlift instead of the move being exclusive only to professional athletes.
Once you’re through the beginner stage and you’re lifting heavy weights, it is a very satisfying move. It’s primal. You reach down and you pick something up from the ground.
That’s also why this move is my #1.