A woman bending over with a barbell in hand to do a deadlift

What muscles do deadlifts work? Expert trainers why deadlifting is so good for you

Posted by for Strong Women

Everything you need to know about deadlifts, from the muscles they target to why they’re so good for building strength.

When it comes to perfecting the fundamentals of strength training, many people focus on their squat form or the number of press ups they can do. What they may neglect, however, is the ultimate posterior strength builder: deadlifts. They may sound intimidating to some, but nailing your deadlift form can be crucial to improving your overall functional movement.   

On the surface, deadlifts may look like they just involve picking up and putting down a pile of metal – but there’s more to it than that! Performing the deadlift with perfect form and control will actually make you stronger, fitter and healthier

That’s why the Strong Women team asked personal trainer and strength training coach Tess Glynne-Jones to explain everything you need to know about building strength and muscle with deadlifts.

What muscles do deadlifts work? 

“Deadlifting is a compound movement meaning it works a lot of muscles, but they mainly target the posterior chain – the back side of the body – including your glutes, hamstrings and back. People tend to worry if they feel the movement in their lower back, but as long as your back isn’t taking the majority of the load and it doesn’t feel painful, it’s usually OK,” Tess says. 

In order to get the most out of your movement, make sure you brace your core, keep your neck and spine neutral and dig into your heels while squeezing your glutes. 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DEADLIFT?

The deadlift is a hinge exercise which, Tess explains, is an essential movement pattern for most people. That’s particularly true for people who either a) spend a long time sat down or b) have active jobs that include a lot of lifting. 

“At our desks, the back half of our body becomes quite inactive and we tend to be rounded through the back. When we then go to pick things up off the floor, we can get injured, as our bodies aren’t trained to move that way. If you move a lot, you also need to have the proper strength and range to do so. By deadlifting, you’re making sure you don’t lose strength through the hinging movement pattern, which makes your body more robust,” Tess says. 

Do deadlifts build muscle? 

“Every resistance exercise and any movement that includes load will build muscle if you’re doing it at a high enough intensity and with enough load. You want to be working at a heavy enough load in the eight to 12 rep range so you can build muscle really efficiently,” says Tess. 

One of the benefits of a deadlift is that you can choose a pretty challenging weight, whether that’s using a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell, and work through lots of different variations to challenge your body. Remember to start at a comfortable weight for you while you work on your form before loading up the bar even more. 

Keen to improve your form? Check out our How To library to see exactly how the experts do over 100 of the most common strength training exercises.

Images: Getty

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).

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