The king of all exercises is the dead lift. It allows you to lift a crazy amount of weight, even for beginners. Just look at any strongman, martial artist, or hardcore lifter’s workout routine – the dead lift is almost always there. The reason is that it works the entire body, from the neck down to the feet. Let’s break down the dead lift so you know exactly how it works, why it has such a great effect on your body.


Dead lifts will work your entire body hard.

Dead lifts will work your entire body hard.


The prime movers, or the main muscle groups used in the dead lift are the thighs and lower back. Given a shorter range of motion than squats, the quadriceps can move a lot more weight with a little help from the gluteus muscles.


The core needs to be rigid and engaged properly in order to lift heavy weight and avoid injury. This means the abdominal muscles are also getting a good workout, especially at heavy weights.


The upper back is also engaged, since the dead lift is a pulling exercise. Just keeping a heavy barbell in your hands engages your entire back musculature. And of course, it engages your biceps and forearms as well.


With this many muscles involved, you can use a lot of weight. More weight means stronger contractions required to move it. By giving your muscles such a challenge, they will try to adapt. When they’ve contracted at a certain level before, they can contract at that level again in the future, maybe a little harder too. This is what is commonly known as muscle memory. You can use this to your advantage in many ways, the first being able to almost effortlessly maintain your strength levels by just doing a heavy dead lift session or two each week. This will allow you to progress even with a hectic schedule – heavy sessions should only last a few minutes. If you could only do one exercise and could not do a clean and press properly, the dead lift is your best option. There are many benefits of Olympic Lifting, but the dead lift is a good alternative.


The benefits of dead lifts go beyond the physical – moving a weight twice your bodyweight is mentally challenging and seemingly impossible when you look at it before you train. However, once you dead lift regularly and get used to moving heavy weights, you’ll quickly realize that a dead lift with twice your bodyweight is not that hard at all.


It will also toughen you up to go through very difficult situations. Sticking points in the dead lift are not very common, but when they do happen in the middle of the lift, it’s a life-or-death battle between locking it out and dropping it back to the floor. Once you’ve been lifting regularly you’ll know when to keep pushing hard and when to let it go. More often than not, it’s safe to keep pushing.


Finally, dead lifts will make you realize your weak points. You’ll know if you have a weak grip, if you have a weak back, weak legs, or weak arms. The movement just won’t go as smoothly if you have a glaring weak point. Finding and eliminating your weak points will make you harder, better, faster, and stronger.


Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici,