Workout Tips

The Deadlift Encyclopedia

Everything you need to know about tugging heavy iron.

The Deadlift Encyclopedia


Ronnie Coleman has a big back. Big enough for eight Mr. Olympia titles, big enough that calling it big qualifies as an understatement and big enough for you to pay close attention to how he built it. Brian Dobson, Coleman’s longtime trainer, attributes Big Ron’s massive back to one factor that’s remained con- stint in his training programs through the years. “Deadlifts,” says Dobson, “are the king.”

Deadlifting forces you to use virtually every muscle in your body to take the bar from the floor to waist height. In the chain of muscles involved in this process, nothing is left behind and everything kicks in eventually.

Everything starts with your lower back. Nothing builds your spinal erectors like the repetitive action of bearing and moving a massive load. The deadlift isn’t just a lower-back exercise, though. As you move through your range of motion and transition from the lower part of the lift to the upper lockout phase, your lats, traps, and other upper- back muscles take over. At the top of the movement, you’re holding a very heavy weight in a dead-hang position—which places immense pressure on your traps. This is a very efficient combination of movements for building thickness in your upper back and shoulders.

In the bottom position, proper deadlift technique entails pushing through your heels to move the bar out of a static position. By focusing on this leg drive, you’re applying a tremendous amount of force to your quads, hamstrings, and calves. Dropping your ass and pushing through your heels with every rep will add mass throughout your lower body.

At the top of the deadlift, when you lock out your hips, your glutes act as the movement’s agonist—its prime mover—while your hamstrings are targeted as the synergists, or assisters. When it comes to developing your glutes and hamstrings through the application of force, there’s no better exercise than the deadlift.

The benefits aren’t limited to your lower body. Your arms come into play throughout your range of motion. When you’re both trying to hang onto a heavy load and move it upward, all the muscles in your arms are forced to contract, in addition to the obvious necessity for grip and forearm strength and mass development.

The routine provided here targets muscular hypertrophy with reps in the 6–15 range, as opposed to our strength routine, which focuses more on heavier sets for lower reps. Re- search by Dr. Eric Serrano has shown the importance of prolonging the time muscles are under tension during a set. Keeping your time-under- tension to 30–60 seconds—especially in the deadlift, where so many muscle groups are in play—will elicit the greatest muscle-building response from your resistance training. Keep your rest periods at two minutes or less for your main exercises each day, and take full advantage of the incredible growth hormone response deadlifting can produce.

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