Are Deadlifts Bad For You? [The Proper Answer]

Whether you are a seasoned lifting expert or fairly new to strength training, the deadlift is an exercise that is known by everyone!

Popularised by the strength pioneer Herman Goerner in the 1800s, this is a compound movement which helps target the big muscles in your posterior chain – namely your hamstrings, glutes, back and hips, plus plenty of stabilising muscles.

Despite all the muscles involved, deadlifts are considered to be difficult since they require proper technique, good grip and intense focus to get right. Furthermore, this range of motion and movement itself can put a heavy toll on your body, particularly your lower back. 

Let’s find out whether or not deadlifts are bad and if this exercise should be a part of your workout.

Deadlift: At a Glance

Muscle Groups Targeted Lower back
Glute muscles
Hip/pelvic muscles
Upper back & trapezius
Difficulty level Intermediate to advanced
Variations Conventional
Sumo deadlifts
Stiff-legged, Romanian deadlift or RDL
Trap bar deadlifts
ProsBig compound lift – Multiple muscles are worked together
Excellent for building mass and brute strength 
Improved posture
Better core strength 
Cons Over-training is quite likely
Can fatigue the CNS quickly
Greater recovery time
Additional Gear RequiredStraps
Weight lifting belt
Training shoes
Pulling socks 

Deadlift Benefits: Here’s What You Should Know 

This full-body movement is known to be the king of all exercises. Especially for strength training. As it’s such a big movement, getting the deadlift right can positively impact other areas of your training.

From taking your core strength to a whole new stratosphere, to helping you achieve better definition in your upper back muscles, here are 6 reasons why this exercise should be on top of your gym hit-list.

1. Increased Strength 

Ever wondered why powerlifters always go for personal records in squats, bench press and deadlifts only? 

Research suggests that physiological benefits of deadlifts are passed on to the whole body. Contrary to other exercises which involve multiple muscle groups, deadlifts are the greatest in enabling you to lift a heavy weight, which helps to maximise strength gains. The movement strengthens your hip-hinge position and neurological strength too. I know for me that the most free weight I’ve ever shifted has been via deadlifting.

On top of this, these strength gains also come in handy in movements like barbell squats and bench press. 

top of deadlift movement good for you

2. Steel Grip

Importance of having a good grip is known to all.

Whilst you’re nailing down the form, it’s best to begin deadlifting without any wrist wraps. Your hands will then eventually adapt to the weight you lift (yes, you will get little pads at the bottom of your fingers) allowing for a stronger grip which lasts for a longer time. 

If your hands are a little clammy, I’m a big fan of using weight lifting chalk.

Your grip and forearms are what will help you pull big weights and move things around in the gym. Think about exercises such as the barbell row, pull down, shrugs, and even pull ups. So having a good grip will be a huge asset! 

3. Calorie-burner 

Powerlifting increases the ability of our body to lift a heavy weight in a short amount of time. Furthermore, since deadlifts require considerable effort and put resistance on multiple muscle groups, they can help you burn a large number of calories too. 

Deadlifts help increase your basal metabolic rate (BMR): the number of calories you burn at rest. This is good for conditioning your body without loosing strength and muscle.

4. Stronger Back Muscles

Would you like to be rendered incapable of picking up something from the floor when you’re older? Of course not!

As a matter of fact, having weak core and back muscles is one of the primary reasons why people feel back pain at later stages of their life. This compound movement targets your posterior chain and latissimus dorsi (lats). This is the key to gaining some serious size while simultaneously strengthening your back. 

5. Relatively Safe

With the deadlift, you are no longer under the risk of getting pinned under a heavy weight (unlike with the bench press or squat). As long as your form stays tip-top, this exercise doesn’t have to be any more dangerous than other big move free weights. That being said, I’ve injured my lower back whilst going for heavy deadlifts (relative to my strength), which puts your body and form into unchartered territory.  

It is also worth noting that performing a conventional deadlift puts about 8% more shear force on your lumbar spine as compared to other variations. So, if you do suffer from lower back trouble, try a different deadlift variation, such as sumo or block deadlifts.

6. Real Life Application 

We all lift objects from the ground quite often, be it a lightweight ball, shopping bags or a heavy box. Therefore, powering yourself using muscle memory and extra strength will give you the ability to do these tasks effortlessly.

The deadlift movement helps keep your back and spine straight, thus fostering a better overall posture. Due to the emphasis laid on keeping a straight back throughout the movement, you will be accustomed to keeping your back straight in daily life. 

Lastly, another benefit of the deadlift (and probably my favourite one) is that you cannot cheat! You know how we do those half-way movements during barbell and bicep curls on lazy days? Say goodbye to all that when doing a deadlift. This is the real deal!

Did you know? This exercise is called a ‘deadlift’ because you are lifting something which lies dead/immovable on the ground with zero momentum. This exercise was previously called ‘dead weight lift’ which later got shortened to deadlift. 

man heavy deadlift

Disadvantages of Deadlifting: Debunked

All that brute force, sudden pressure and heavy weight does raise a question: Is deadlift good for your back?

If executed properly, then a deadlift has few side effects. It activates all the muscles and your spine should stay in a neutral position. However, there are still many cases of back pain and back injury too. This was especially true for me when training in the morning as my body was not up to full temperature and CNS not fully activated.

According to Stuart McGill, PH.D, even if a person approaches a light weight with poor posture, their spine may start to break down overtime and become weak due to additional pressure on joints. A sub-par deadlifting technique doesn’t mean that you will feel pain immediately, but in the long term instead. 

Before you move to a deadlift, you can work on your hip-hinge pattern by doing some cable pull-throughs, inch worms and RDLs. You can also bolster your core with planks. If you still cannot get the posture right, consider hiring a good personal trainer who can teach you the right technique.

Here are 5 common deadlift mistakes that you must avoid at any cost: 

  • Keeping your back arched 
  • Trying to squat while deadlifting 
  • Not engaging your lats and relying just on your arms 
  • Standing far away from the bar 
  • Positioning your hips too high
  • Keeping your chest low

Proper Deadlift Form: Here’s How To Do It

Now that you know the benefits, here is how you can perform a deadlift correctly and reap maximum strength gains: 

  1. Stand while keeping your feet at shoulder-width, midfoot beneath the loaded barbell and shins touching the bar.
  2. Lift your hip slightly, straighten your back and bend over to grab the bar with shoulder-wide grip. 
  3. Take a deep breath and activate your core.
  4. Keeping your chest up, looking forward and core as tight as possible, lift the bar up in a straight line.
  5. Bring the barbell as close to your body as possible with your hips extended at the top of the motion. Don’t rock back and hyper-extend your lower back!
  6. Slowly lower the weight down to the ground. Do not drop it!
  7. Take the starting position and repeat. Beginners may also ask training partners to check if you have a good form. 

Bonus: Have a look here to see how much you should be able to deadlift

Final verdict on deadlifts

No, deadlifts are definitely not bad for you!

Like with all resistance training and physical activity, you’ll gain both mental health and fitness benefits. Compound movements like deadlifts have been known to supply impressive amounts of strength to your core, glutes and back. The only hurdles that may come in between is improper posture and overloading. 

Here is a video which gives proper insight on correct deadlift posture. 

As long as you keep the points mentioned above in mind and lift with a good posture & muscle-mind connection, the benefits of deadlifting will surely outweigh the minor cons.