For most of us, adding some lean muscle, dropping some body fat, and feeling good in our own skin are three reasons why we start lifting weights.
But what are the best movements to do to speed us towards our goals?
One movement to consider is the Deadlift.
Very simple: pick a barbell up and put it back down.
When it comes to pure strength movements, the deadlift is very approachable. Unlike olympic weightlifting movements (snatch, clean, and jerk) which are more complex and require more attention to technique, there are a lot less moving pieces to master to perform a heavier deadlift.
Given the simple nature of the movement, it provides an easy measure of success: you either lifted the weight or you didn’t. Being able to see progress over time fuels motivation and accountability to your goals.
Short on training time? Just deadlift. Legs, butt, back, shoulders, neck, arms….what doesn’t the deadlift work? If you are looking for a compound, multi-joint lift that hits a lot of muscle groups in a short amount of time, you will want to add deadlifts to your routine.
Do you have tight hamstrings or low back pain? Among other reasons, reduced range of motion in a joint because of muscle tightness is largely a result of the brain not sensing strength in a particular muscle. If the muscle isn’t strong enough to protect a range of motion for a joint, the brain will protect the body by reducing the range of motion a joint can be put through. Deadlifts are a great way to add strength in the posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back) and improve mobility as a result.
Getting stronger is important to a healthy, higher functioning life. Let’s be honest though: we all want to look good. Most folks aren’t trying to be professional body builders with big and bulgy physiques. Instead, they want a chiseled and toned body they can be proud of. When programmed correctly, deadlifts build total body lean muscle without the bulk AND burn excess body fat. It’s obvious that lifting really heavy deadlifts in sets of 1-2 reps will help build maximal strength. However, by increasing the body’s “time under tension” you focus more on the metabolic response (how your body’s energy systems process fuel) and less on the neuromuscular response (how your brain coordinates muscles to fire more efficiently).
For example, let’s say you do a set of 2 reps at a heavy weight as fast as you can. Each rep might last 2-3 seconds on the way up, 1 second paused at the top, and another 1-2 seconds to return back to the floor. That’s about 4-6 seconds of tension per rep and about 8-12 seconds of tension per set. Now, let’s slow the movement down. Increase the rep scheme to 6 reps per set. Include a forced 3 second ascent, a 3 second pause at the top of the rep, and a 3 second descent. You’ve just added 9 seconds of tension per rep. With the higher reps, you’ve added close to a minute of tension on the body per set! That’s a heck of a lot of muscular work and your energy systems will be working much harder to pull energy from your stores to help keep you moving over the course of your session and recover, post session.
Even more awesome is that after performing deadlifts, your body will continue to burn calories while at rest and stay in an anabolic (muscle building) state for hours after your workout.
When to NOT Deadlift?
Despite all of these great benefits, there are times when the deadlift might not be the best tool for the job. If improved athletic performance outside the sport of powerlifting is a goal, the deadlift is a less effective movement. Ball sport athletes, sprinters, jumpers, and throwers in track and field need movements that develop improved rates of force production and force absorption.
Given their slower nature, deadlifts cannot deliver in this area.
Better options for this skill development would be Olympic Weightlifting (snatch, clean, and jerk).
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