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updated: 3/4/2013 8:26 AM

Dead lifts can be a total body workout, if done correctly

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  • Improper form for a dead lift.

    Improper form for a dead lift.

  • Proper form for a dead lift

    Proper form for a dead lift

  • Proper form for a dead lift

    Proper form for a dead lift


When it comes to getting the most bang for your buck, there aren't too many exercises that can beat the dead lift.

This total body exercise demands strength, power, cardiovascular efficiency, and postural control. When performed correctly, the dead lift works the entire posterior chain -- including the hamstrings, glutes, low, mid and upper back, as well as muscles of the quads, core, shoulders and arms.

The dead lift is great for total body strength and conditioning as well as improving your muscular and cardio vascular endurance. A set of dead lifts may leave you more winded than a 100-yard sprint, and the muscle overload and fatigue will elicit gains in strength and muscle density.

To perform

Step up to a weighted barbell with shins nearly touching the bar and feet hip-to-shoulder width apart. Squat down toward the bar as you keep your heels firmly planted while maintaining a natural curve through the back. Grasp the bar slightly wider than shoulder width and tense your body. As you lift the weight, push your feet into the floor while exhaling. Be sure to keep the bar close to the body as you lift. Maintain your posture throughout the lift, keeping tension through your shoulder blades as you rise to the top position. Control the weight back down to the floor and repeat.

Mistakes to avoid

The most common mistake with the dead lift is not getting the hips fully involved. If you are rounding forward over the top of the bar rather than squatting down to the bar, you are compromising your low back as well as missing out on all the benefits of efficient biomechanics. A forward-rounded posture further accentuates common muscle imbalances, but proper form will help to improve these imbalances and minimize your chance for injury.

How to incorporate

Include the dead lift in your weekly workouts by treating it as a total body exercise. If you're doing a split routine, include it as either a leg or a back exercise. By sticking with light to moderate weights and high reps, you will greatly improve your muscular endurance and cardiovascular efficiency, while heavier weights will help build muscle density and overall strength. Try lighter weights one week and aim for higher reps, then follow it up the next week with a heavier load and less reps.

Once you realize all the benefits of the dead lift, you'll be ready to include it in your weekly workouts. For more exercise and nutrition tips, visit our website at or find us on Facebook.

• Joshua Steckler is the owner of Push Fitness, a personal training studio located in Schaumburg specializing in weight loss, muscle toning, and nutrition. Contact him at

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