Exercise Review: Deadlift

One of the best and most often used exercises is the deadlift. However, it’s also an exercise that many people perform incorrectly for a multitude of reasons. A good rule of thumb prior to lifting, is to address posterior chain mobility. This can be done by assessing back, hip and hamstring mobility. Try the following test, see if you can touch your fingertips to the bar prior to performing the deadlift. Attempt this by keeping the legs straight and not rounding your back. If you can, you’re in good shape.

Exercise Execution

Starting Position

  • Begin with the feet flat, positioning them somewhere between hip and shoulder-width apart. Feet should be pointed straight or angled out slight (10-15 degrees), depending on your choice and experience. Note: some movement expert like Dr. Kelly Starrett suggest positioning feet straight ahead while others say turn the feet out slightly. Moreover, doing this engages more of the glute muscles like the glute medius. The question arises, however, can you brace your body and create the torque needed by “screwing” the feet into the floor when the feet are turned out?
  • Next, squat down until the hips are lower than the shoulders grasping the bar with a closed, alternated grip (one overhand the other underhand). Other grip choices include double overhand and hook grips. Please note, if you have trouble getting into this position – you’re probably not ready to perform the movement due to hip or back mobility issues.
  • Position the Olympic bar about 1-inch away from the front of your shins.
  • Make sure you check off the following items regarding your body position. Your back is “flat”, relaxed neck & trapezius area, retract your shoulder blades, and position shoulders over the bar.

Upward Movement

  • Pull the bar from the floor by extending the knees and hips.
  • This is key – do not let the hips rise before the shoulders.
  • Keep the elbows extended and shoulders over the bar during the execution of the lift.
  • As the bar passes the knees push the hips forward.

Downward Movement Phase

  • To return the bar to the floor, think about sitting back first. Allow the hips and knees to flex as the bar returns to the floor.
  • Maintain a flat back keeping elbows extending, looking straight ahead.
Deadlift Upward Movement: Pull Phase

Exercise Options

Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Hex Bar Deadlift

Dumbbell Deadlift

Muscle Groups Involved During the “Compound Movement”

PRIME MOVERS (Hip Extensors)

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Hamstrings

STABILIZERS

  • Quadriceps
  • Lower leg
  • Back
  • Core

REFERENCES

Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, 2nd Edition, NSCA, Baechle T. R., Earle R.W. Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL., 2000.

Becoming a Supple Leopard, Starrett K. and Cordoza G., Victory Belt Publishing: Las Vegas, NV., 2013.

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Compound Strength Exercises Work Best for a Strong Body

When you’re looking to increase muscle size and build strength, you should focus on using more compound strength exercises. Research over time has demonstrated compound exercises are superior compared to other types of exercise. In fact, a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Physiology looked at exercise subjects who used compound versus isolation exercises over an eight-week period. The study showed that the group who focused on compound strength exercises had greater gains in both strength and VO2 max. A second study published in 2019, also supports the use of multi-joint (MJ) over single-joint (SJ) exercises when looking to improve strength in this case, in the lower body. Researchers reported significant strength increases in both SJ and MJ groups, but the MJ group saw significantly greater increases in 1-RM for all leg exercises that were tested in the study.

What Are Compound Strength Exercises?

Compound exercises are multi-joint movements that work several muscles or muscle groups at one time (ACSM). An example would be a Barbell Squat which works many muscle groups like the core, legs, hips and back. Another example would be a Bench Press exercise which works the muscles that make up the chest, shoulders and arms. Compound strength exercises are a staple in many exercise programs because they are ideal for building strength and adding size. In addition, a compound exercise will recruit more muscle fiber and in turn burn more calories per minute than a single-joint or isolation exercise. Compound exercises can be performed using body weight, exercise bands, dumbbells or your best option a barbell. This is because the average gym-goer can lift 20% more weight using a barbell compared to dumbbells. Compound exercise are also important because they mimic activities of daily living (ADL’s).

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An example of a compound (or multi-joint) exercise: Pull-up

Examples of Compound & Isolation Type Exercises

Compound (Multi-joint) ExercisesIsolation (Single-joint) Exercises
SquatLeg Extension
DeadliftLeg Curl
DipsTricep Extension
Military PressDumbbell Side Lateral Raise
Pull-UpsBicep Curl
Bench PressDumbbell Chest Fly

What are Isolation Strength Exercises?

Isolation exercises work only one muscle or muscle group and only one joint at a time (ACSM). Examples of isolation exercises include the Biceps Curl or a Leg Extension exercise.

Combining both mult-joint barbell and single-joint dumbbell exercises in a workout has been shown to work well. This type of combination can be seen in the new Jefit program, Compound Strength Routine. Many machine-based strength training products are designed with isolation exercises in mind. Some research has shown, however, that an isolation or single-joint exercise, like a biceps curl, can increase muscle hypertrophy more than a multi-joint exercise.

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An example of an isolation (or single-joint) exercise: Bicep Curl

Jefit’s New Compound Strength Routine

A new advanced strength program designed around multi-joint exercises is the Jefit Compound Strength Routine. The 3-day, advanced, strength training program includes 9-10 strength exercises in each workout. The routine offers three different strength programs, using barbell and dumbbells, and includes 1-3 supersets in each exercise session. This type of program design makes for a faster workout and in turn keeps all the session times less than an hour.

To wrap things up, please read this great list of guidelines from strength expert, Charles Poliquin, that discusses the pro/con of using both compound and isolation type exercises. It’s definitely worth a read. Be well and stay strong!

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