My home gym has swelled with equipment but these days, I find myself returning to the simple barbell. And more specifically, the deadlift.
I’ve written about this exercise before, but it deserves more digital ink because it is awesome.
Let me start with a quick story—a real quick one. This weekend, kids in the street, dad following along, dad feeling springy and spry, chasing kids—sprinting, shuffle steps, jumping…you get the picture. I was feeling athletic and powerful. That’s what the deadlift does for you.
It’s a power that is hard to describe but it starts with a killer grip. Just picture it, you’re holding onto a heavy weight. Your entire arm is tensed as a foundation for your grip around the bar. You’re squeezing with everything you’ve got. That’s the recipe for a killer grip.
The killer grip is useful in many ways. Think about carrying groceries out to the car. Or shoveling and working with tools. Or manhandling jars that other people struggle with.
In a Pavel Tsatsouline video on Youtube, someone asked him what areas of the body had disproportionate ROI (return on investment) in terms of overall strength. If you develop your hands and abs, Pavel said, it’s like amplifying the strength everywhere else. It’s ridiculously easy.
A strong back—there is nothing like it
The deadlift works all the muscles on the back side of the body, the posterior chain. Man, these muscles are super-important and when they are developed, you feel strong and vital.
I remember when I was deadlifting 5 days per week and played basketball with some old friends. I and another guy grabbed the ball at the same time—I ripped the ball out of his hands. If you ever want to pick and exercise to feel strong for every physical task in life you’re likely to perform, the deadlift is the exercise for you.
A rock-solid midsection
Proper deadlifting involves every part of your body and you need to fire off those abs when your deadlifting to support your back. Your stomach will become a wall of steel with proper deadlifting. I return to what Pavel said about strength and you see that the deadlift judiciously develops strength in key areas that give you that overall strength.
Bruce Lee said the stomach was an amplifier in terms of strength. It is. So now with the deadlift you have strong abs and strong hands. This leads to that strong feeling. Nothing can replace this feeling. From moving a couch to pushing a car to carrying your oversized work laptop around—the deadlift makes it easier.
The deadlift is something you do all day long in various ways. Now you are making it easier for yourself to do. You are always picking stuff up off the ground. Deadlifting makes this movement better, more efficient. You’ll feel it all day long. And it’ll feel good.
The deadlift also teaches you how to use your hips. A simple statement but this is where a lot of your newfound power will come from.
Office life isn’t very physically intense. It’s all mental. So we sit and work at our computers and don’t unleash that primal physicality that is within all of us. Deadlifting lets you explore that side. It’s therapeutic. It’s invigorating. Just think of the description: dip, grip, and rip. Deadlifting is straightforward and intense—it requires focus and delivers results.
Cautions with the deadlift
It’s tempting to pack on weight with the deadlift without doing the requisite focus on form. This is something I’ve finally learned. Spend several months working on form with a small weight. Then when it feels right start adding weight.
Watch out for uneven floors. Basement floors have drains and there is typically sloping towards the drain.
When adding weight with the deadlift, be careful with other grip-intensive exercises like weighted pull ups.
Some tips about deadlifting
A little bit goes a long way. Especially with the deadlift. Start light and hone your form. Don’t mess around.
Take the long view. It’s an important lesson in training and in life. The long view. You are better off doing something, than nothing. You are better off being consistent than sporadic. You’ll get results. Don’t try to pack on weight. Discipline yourself to stay within appropriate boundaries.
Buy Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to the People. It’ll teach you everything you need to know about strength training and the deadlift.
Focus. Do the exercise with your mind, heart, and soul. Pay attention. Drill in deep to the movement. Practice it without weights.
Kettlebell swings are a good warm up and so is light jogging.
My preferred style of training with the deadlift is to do it 5 days per week with low volume, as described in Power to the People. Then, I like to strip down everything else in my training. Maybe something like doing deadlifts, presses, squats, dips, chins. Keeping to those basics but done with high quality and concentration.
Another way I like to practice the deadlift is as part of a 3-5 exercises, 3-5 reps, 3-5 days per week approach. So, deadlifts, dips, and chins two days per week and pistols, dips, and pull ups another day.
A final way I do the deadlift is in a 5 sets of 5 approach. Two sets of progressive warm up, three sets of weight that you can handle for 5 reps, increase the weight when you can do 3 sets of 5.
A wrap up
The deadlift gives you a useful strength that you’ll notice all day long whether you are going up stairs or picking up a work bag off the floor. If you have to help someone move, you’ll definitely notice how useful the deadlift is.
It’s an exercise that requires learning. And concentration and focus. That’s good. It also teaches patience and punishes imprudence. Also good.
If you buy your own bar and weights (hint: look on craigslist) you can have a minimalist home gym for super-cheap and its super-effective.
Enjoy the strength. If you’ve never deadlifted before, you will feel stronger than you’ve ever felt in your life. If you have, relive the glory days.
By the way, if you’re not going to deadlift, kettlebell swings and snatches are an excellent substitute.
Here are some great benefits of other top notch exercises: