The Deadlift

            Deadlifting is perhaps one of the most popular yet most difficult types of weight training exercises. In fact, most weightlifters consider it as an art form as much as it is a physical activity. This is because this power lifting would involve the effective use of different muscles, ligaments, and tendons in order to lift or carry the loaded trap bar. Apart from sheer strength, the athlete or the lifter should also have a laser-like focus, will, and determination in order to endure the massive weight of the barbell.

            The combination of physical and mental strength involved in this movement consequently, produce numerous benefits and advantages. This includes overall muscle development as well as an increase in strength, balance, endurance, and stability control. However, it must also be noted that improper execution of the deadlift can lead to serious physical injuries and even death.

            This paper aims to introduce, discuss, and analyze deadlifting in relation with biomechanics. Aside from this, it will also tackle the overall benefits as well as the dangers of this weight training exercise. This research work will also give various suggestions and recommendations on how to improve deadlifting.

The deadlift is a type of weight training exercise that involves lifting a loaded trap bar or barbell. The movement requires the athlete to raise the barbell using a combination of his arms, shoulders, legs, and back muscles. The torso, hips, and abdominal muscles also plays an essential role in the proper execution of this exercise.

The earliest traces of deadlift were during the Ancient times. In this time, different culture competed at lifting the heaviest stone in order to test their strength. Today however, the stones where now replaced with metal plates. Depending on the strength and the ability of the lifter, the trap bar maybe loaded with plates with varying weights. In a competitive setting, the women’s classes commonly involve plates weighing from 48 kilograms up to over 75 kilograms. On the other hand, the weight on the men’s division would range from 56 kilograms up to over 105 kilograms.

The current world record is held by the Iranian weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh who cleaned and jerked a staggering 263.5 kilograms or about 581 pounds at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens (BBC Sport, 2004). Herman Goener is also a record holder when it comes to one handed deadlift. In 1920, he deadlifted over 595.5 pounds with just two fingers on each of his each. Andy Bolton, an English weight lifted also successful made a record by carrying 457.5 kilograms or about 10008 pounds.

In the women’s division, South Korean weightlifter Jang Mi-Ran holds the world record. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, Mi-Ran lifted a record of 186 kilograms or about 410 pounds (ABC, 2008).

Performing the deadlift can be quite a difficult task. Athletes such as Rezazadeh and Jang Mi-Ran trained for years in order to condition and develop their body for such strenuous physical activity. Despite of their experience, these weightlifters still makes it a point to practice the proper way of deadlifting regardless whether they are training or competing.

The proper and most common way to perform the deadlift is to stand on a flat ground with feet parted on shoulder width. The bar is likewise placed about two to four inches away from the shins. From there, the lifter would grip the bar with his hands about 51 centimeters apart. It is essential that the lifter maintains both his arms and back straight as he lifts the bar off the ground. Once the weight is lifted the hips and the knees are locked to ensure balance and stability (Hatfield, 2008).

Lifters who practices deadlift typically uses two basic types of grips. This includes the pronated or overhand grip and the underhand grip. These two types of grips are often used with variation. By simply combining or mixing the two grips or by repositioning the fingers in a different angle allows the lifter to maximize or minimize his grip strength.

The overhand grip uses the muscles on the forearm for strength. Olympic lifters commonly use the overhand grip with their thumbs inside. This variation of the overhand is referred to as the “hook grip”. This type of bar hold allows lifter to keep his elbows and shoulders in a symmetrical position. This hand grip variation also prevents the bar from rolling of the hand while lifting it.

The overhand-underhand grip is also a deadlift grip variation that is often used for larger or heavier weights. Although this method proves to be uncomfortable for the thumbs, it is still able to reduce stress off the joints. The combination of mixed and hook grip is the perfect grip combination for heavier load. However, there are very few weightlifters who utilize this grip technique.

Apart from grips, there are also various styles of deadlifting when it comes to stance. This includes sumo deadlift, conventional deadlift, Romanian deadlift, Beyond the Range or BTR deadlift, snatch grip deadlift, suitcase deadlift, and trap bar deadlift. Among all of these styles, the most popular types are the sumo, conventional, Romanian, and the Bulgarian deadlift. These techniques are commonly used in training as well and competitions. The key differences between these three styles lie in the stance or posture of the lifter as well as in the positioning of the feet and the grip.

The sumo deadlift is a popular variation of deadlift. The name comes from the stance that somewhat mimics the sumo posture.  In this deadlift stance, the lifter positions and balances himself with legs spread wide apart each other. Meanwhile, the hands are placed on the side hanging down. In order to effectively and properly carry the loaded barbell, the lifter uses his leg muscles and glutes instead of the back. Aside from this, the sumo stance involves the use of the hips as well as the joints in the knee and ankle.

This type of movement results to a decrease in stress on the athlete’s lumbar vertebrae. In fact, researches show that unlike the conventional method, the sumo deadlift stance reduces as much as 10 percent of strain and force on the back. As such, weightlifter with relatively longer upper extremities or torso and shorter arms prefers using this deadlift stance.

The conventional grip on the other hand, is the ideal choice for first time dead lifters. This is because the conventional grip is the basis of the proper deadlifting execution. Apart from this, the conventional method is known to be used by various deadlifting world record holders.

This stance involves the lifter standing on a flat ground with feet slightly apart each other. From there, the lifter must lower his hips which resemble a deep squat position. The back is also straightened to avoid injuries. Strength from the muscles and gluteals are also needed in order to properly execute this movement. During the initial pull, the lifter should also be aware that his back and shoulders are still flat and straight.

 Similar to how the sumo style reduces stress in the lumbar area; the conventional deadlift stance decreases stress and strain on the lifter’s ankle joints and knees. Instead, the athlete will draw strength from both his gluteal and hamstrings.

Other common type of deadlift stance is the Romanian deadlift. This deadlift stance is often used by Olympic lifter as it is allows them to develop strong glutes and hamstrings. This exercise begins as the lifter stands with his feet about shoulder-width apart from each other. While keeping his heads up, the lifter must now grip tightly on the bar. The shoulders as well as the chest should be kept out and straight.  Next, the athlete must lean forward from the hips while moving the bar from the mid shin level up to the thighs. Knees should be slightly bended during the initial pull (Casselman 2005, p. 36).

This type of exercise gathers strength mainly on the glutes and hamstrings. The enector muscles or the muscles on the lower back are also used when pulling the barbell’s weight (Hatfield, 2008).

Unlike the first three stance, the Bulgarian deadlift features one of the most difficult and awkward positions. This is because the lifter will balance the weight of the barbell using only one leg. Although this may sound hard at first, the Bulgarian stance will help the lifter develop various muscle groups.

This deadlift position begins by simply standing in front of the barbell. The lifter must remember to place the trap bar just near his toes. A knee-high bench should also be a few feet away from the lifter. Next, the athlete must place his right foot just behind the bench with his left knee slightly bended. In order to grab the bar, the lifter must lower his back until he gets a hold of the barbell. The hands should be positioned in such a way that it is shoulder-width apart from each other. Next, the lifter would then slowly pull the bar while balancing with his left leg. The back should still be on its natural arch while the knees are kept straight.

Despite of its obvious difficulty, various lifters still continue to use the Bulgarian style. In the article “The Bulgarian Dead lift”, author McGarr, (2005) explained that this is because the Bulgarian stance allows lifters to “develop control, strength, and stability. This position activates the body’s natural stabilizer, which in turn, controls and balances the movement” (McGarr, 2005, p. 22).

Numerous studies and researches have been conducted to analyze and compare these four deadlift postures. Such studies do not only allow analysis on the movement but it also determines and explores which areas should be improved or developed.

In the research work entitled “A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlift” (Escamilla et al., 2000), the authors tried to explore the capability and efficacy of this exercise when it comes to rehabilitation and training regimens. The analysis also showed main difference of the sumo and the conventional deadlifting styles by utilizing a three dimension analysis (Escamilla et al., 2000, p. 1265).

Similarly, the paper “Biomechanical analysis of the deadlift during the 1999 Special Olympics World Games” (Escamilla, 2001) explored how improper execution of lifting techniques can lead not only to risks and injuries but also to a decrease in performance (Escamilla et al., 2000, p. 1345).

Although the conventional, sumo, Romanian, and the Bulgarian deadlift differ when it comes to stance and posture, it is still undeniable that all four features the effective use and coordination from various muscle groups. This includes the torso, abdomen, oblique, back, leg, quadriceps, hamstrings, biceps, gluteal muscles, and forearms among many other. The use of such muscles makes deadlift an essential part of many strength building programs. It also promotes numerous benefits on the muscles as well as on the overall strength and fitness of the lifter.

As a weight training workout, deadlifting is considered as one of the most effective ways to build body mass. In fact, numerous body builders refer to this activity as the “king of mass gaining exercise”. This is because such activity allows the use of the body’s different muscles, particularly, the core muscles. In the leg alone, this activity makes use of the quadriceps muscles such as the Vastus intermedius, Rectus femoris, Vastus lateralis, and the Vastus medialis. In the hamstrings, the involved muscles include Biceps femoris muscle, Biceps femoris muscle, Semitendinosus, and the Semimembranosus.

Likewise, the body’s back utilizes muscles such as teres major, levator scapulae, intertransversarii laterales lumborum, serratus posterior inferior, latissimus dorsi, splenius cervicis,longissimus, quadratus lumborum, rhomboideus major, serratus posterior superior iliocostalis, and the trapezius muscle.

The muscles in the hips also play a huge part in deadlifting. Muscles used include the gluteal muscles the pinformis, the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus, and the superior gemellus. When it comes to arms and torso, the body uses the abdominal muscles and the obliques, as well as the forearms’ Flexor digitorum profundus.

According to researches, exercises the uses large muscle groups do not only result to a mass gain, but it also develops other essential qualities and skills that any lifter or athlete needs. This includes strength, balance, coordination, and even stability control. Apart from this, the lifter’s metabolic rate also increases which in turn, allows him to burn body fat at a much faster rate (Hatfield, 2008).

Consequently, the lifter also benefits mentally from this exercise as it allows them to develop their focus on the task at hand. In fact, sheer muscles or brute alone are not enough. World record holders are particularly known, not only for their muscles but also for their laser like focus and concentration.

Deadlifting also presents other health benefits such as enhancing the natural production of hormones while boosting the body’s immune system. It also aids in detoxification and urination. This physical activity also improves the lifters respiratory system while promoting better cardiac functionality.

Although deadlifting promotes numerous health benefits, this exercise is also notoriously responsible for countless injuries and accidents. Most of the recorded cases of injuries come from the improper execution of lifting styles. In the article “Deadlift: The forgotten Exercise”, the author explained that much like other exercise, “deadlift is not for everyone” (Disa Hatfield, 2008).T his means that since not all bodies can endure such strenuous activity, a thorough and proper training is required before one can engage in deadlifting.

An incorrect posture in deadlifting automatically means potential risks and injury and at the same time, it can also aggravate already existing injuries. It is important to remember deadlifting involves the use of sensitive and useful muscles. The sheer weight of a loaded barbell can also easily cause stress on the spine. Incorrect posture is the main culprit in such risks and dangers in deadlifting. This often occurs among beginners or inexperienced lifters. However, professionals and experienced weight lifters can also encounter injuries during weightlifting. Thus, extra care and precautionary measures should be observed (Stoffani, 2009, p. 324).

In the lumbar area for instance, is usually the one that bears the compressive forces during a lift. If the weightlifter fails to maintain a neutral spine or the proper posture, deadlifting can cause the internal fluid to compress. This can eventually lead to herniated disks. Herniated disks or “slipped disk” is a condition wherein there is a tear in the invertebral disc. Depending on the location of the injured area, the person may feel symptoms such as muscular weakness, back pain, pains in the knees and thighs, delayed reflexes, and even paralysis.

Further, the weight of the barbell can also cause the spine or the lumbar area to squeeze the roots of the spine which can result to sciatica or lumbago. Lumbago or lower back pain involves damaged soft tissues. This causes an acute pain on the person. Sciatica on the other hand, is a condition in the nerves usually caused by the compression and irritation of the nerve roots. Symptoms such as muscular weakness, numbness, and pain are often felt on the body.

Inexperienced or un-trained individuals can also have bone fractures. Even an improper grip could result to damage in the muscles as well as rupture on the ligaments and tendons. Take note that it is essential that only professional weightlifters should participate in such strenuous exercise. Apart from this, it is also important to have a fitness training who can teach proper stance in deadlifting (Diesel Crew, 2004).

Individuals with heart and lung problems should likewise refrain from practicing this physical activity. This is because the heavy weight of the barbell can increase blood pressure which can lead to a serious heart attack.

Because of the numerous potential injuries and risk brought about by this physical activity, it is only fitting that proper precautions are observed before and during the execution of a deadlift. Following such measures will ensure the safety of the lifter.

Physical training and mental conditioning are two of the most important factors to consider when deadlifting. Athletes and professional weightlifters practice for years in order to ensure that their body is in its perfect form. Aside from developing their strength, lifters should also develop their power, coordination, control stability, grip control, and balance.

These skills along with strength training, preps up and conditions the body for the arduous task of deadlifting.

            Proper posture should also be observed. This means using the right muscle groups to support the weight of the barbell. Depending on the types of grip and deadlift stance, the lifter should be constantly aware about his form and stance before, during, and even after the lift.

            Correspondingly, the lifter should also prepare mentally. Remember that lifting a barbell weighing more than 500 pounds can be an exhausting physical task. As such, it is important that the lifter is trained to endure the heavy load physically but he should also use his will and determination to accomplish this task.  Seeking the help of a professional trainer would probably be the best way to train for deadlifting. This ensures that proper postures and stances are executed.

            Using the right gear and equipment are also a must in deadlifting. Footwear for instance should not possess a sole with a shock or spring. This will only cause you to lose balance while lifting. Beginners or first timers can use special deadlifting belts to stabilize their lower back. These belts also said to remove the pressure and strain off the abdomen.

            The weight of the plates or the barbell should also correspond to the strength and skill of the lifter. Beginners should begin with light weight and then from their, move on to a heavier category.

            Gyms and fitness centers should post precautions and reminders about weight lifting. Posters and information about deadlifting should be readily available to anyone. Likewise, a professional gym trainer or consultant should educate the lifter about the different pros and cons of deadlifting.


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Escamilla RF, Francisco AC, Fleisig GS, Barrentine SW, Welch CM, Kayes AV, Speer KP,

Andrews JR (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts By, Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise [Med Sci Sports Exerc], Vol. 32 (7), pp. 1265-75;

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