The Deadlift, Friend or Foe?

The deadlift is considered the grand-daddy of the gym and strength and conditioning world. If you want a bigger snatch or bench… get deadlifting. If you want to run faster, jump higher.. Get deadlifting.  The hype about the deadlift is warranted. It is one of the most bang for your buck exercises and if executed well can give you big rewards in performance.  But if this lift is so good why are deadlifts kryptonite for some lifters? Some people avoid deadlifting like the plague. Even just looking at a bar on the ground will make their stomach churn and send their back into spasm. So why is there such a love-hate relationship with the deadlift? Well the way we see it there are some key areas where the deadlift can break down and cause some major problems:

The Grand daddy Deadlift

The Grand daddy Deadlift


- You are too quad dominant:

The quads should be strong, but they shouldn’t dominate everything. An easy way to figure out if you are quad dominant is to think about where you feel/or what muscles you feel working when you deadlift. Or where do you pull up sore after a deadlifting session? When the quads dominate a deadlift your hamstrings and glutes tend to get lazy and head overseas on a holiday.


- You lift your big toes:

We have probably all heard the cue “weight in your heels” when deadlifting. But this cue can be taken too far causing the big toes to lift of the ground or the foot to roll out.  Once this happens in throws your center of gravity out and forces your lower back to  hyper-extend and actually deloads your hamstrings and glutes. This reduces your strength in your deadlift massively and in power based movements like cleans and snatches zaps your force production.


- Your hips are tight

Tight hips limit your ability to engage your glutes and hamstrings when pulling off the floor. This also affects your shin position. Generally the more vertical your shin the more you load your hamstring and glutes. The more your shin angles forward the more you load your quads and your lower back has to take up the load, whilst the glutes and hammies are on holiday.


- You have no idea how to activate your glutes

We have all heard the cue “squeeze your glutes” whilst deadlifting. But there is a difference between squeezing your glutes to get lock out and hip extension and forcing your back into hyper-extension.


The pic on the left will overtime jam finishing the deadlift in an anteriorly tilted position will force the lower back into hyperextension and this will load the quads and lower back more… Not what we are after.  The picture on the right the spine is in a much better position by posteriorly tilting my pelvis which is key to activate your glutes and hamstrings well! This means in the deadlift should make them light up like a christmas tree! If trained well this will allow you to lift more weight and less jamming through the lower back, winner!


- You think the deadlift is only a lower body exercise.

This is where the deadlift gets cool. The deadlifts primary purpose is to engage the posterior chain. What’s that? Well, it’s a highway of muscle and fascial connections from the bottom of your big toe all the way up the back of your body to the top of your head.



Notice the direction of the fibers of the lats and glutes in picture b. They connect via the thoracolumbar fascia and create diagonal or oblique slings across the back.  If you can utilise the lats in your deadlift set-up this creates load and tension from head to toe, tension that you can use to rip heavy as of the floor. Essentially the more big muscle you can engage the easier the lift and most likely stress on your lower back.

The deadlift can be a complex beast. Generally, if we can simplify it and apply some specific individual cues and rehab exercise we should be able to make it your new best friend! If you are having trouble with it, or pulling up sore after a session there is generally a reason, and it is usually very fixable. Don’t stress about it, just jump into the clinic and see one of us! We are always here to help and love helping clients achieve PR’s!

Whilst you're at it. Throw in some of these variations. The trap bar deadlift and the banded deadlift. Here's Peta and Alex showing you some of these versions! Happy lifting. Bayden


Bayden is one of the new generation. Motivated, driven and skilled beyond belief. He adds youth to our ageing side and has just been awarded the VAFA trainer of the year award in 2016 (No biggie). He works as a Physio with us Mondays, Wednesdays, Friday and Sat mornings. You can book in with him here