By Ryan Unverzagt
This month’s featured exercise is the Dead-lift. Now don’t let the name frighten you away. In the sport of power-lifting, the dead-lift is one of three exercises along with the squat and bench press. It is one of the most functional exercises to learn because its technique can be applied to everyday life. You’ve all heard the saying, “Use your legs and not your back.” Well nothing rings more true than with the dead-lift.
To start, place your feet hip-width apart, toes underneath the bar. Bend at your knees and hips (Not your back!) to lower down to establish your grip. As you can see in Figure 1, my grip is outside my legs, my shoulders are over the bar as well with my butt down, back straight, torso upright, chest forward and looking ahead too! Whew, that’s a lot of cues to remember, but all are equally important to help protect your low back from potential injury.
When you begin to actually lift the bar from the floor, USE YOUR LEGS! Keep your low back “locked in” by not letting it round. The key to doing this is to push your feet through the ground and activate the butt muscles, leaning back slightly to keep the bar close to your body. Your hips should rise at the same rate as the bar. It is very common for the hips to come up first as the bar lags behind. This technique will certainly contribute to any back pain that you may have.
Once the bar is above your knees, continue to keep the bar close to your thighs. Finish the lift by bringing your hips forward, squeezing the gluteal (butt) muscles. You have just completed the concentric or upward phase of the dead-lift! Now you must carefully lower the bar back down to the floor. Drop your butt down as you lower the bar to maintain low back posture. This is the eccentric or downward phase.
Perform this exercise in front of a mirror with an empty barbell and a partner to watch your technique. Add some weights once you master the technique. If your hips rise faster than the bar, you probably have too much weight on the bar. The dead-lift will strengthen all the major muscle groups in your body which include the soleus, quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, abdominals, low back, latissimus dorsi, erector spinae, upper trapezius, forearms and shoulders.