Deadlift exercises are weight-lifting exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the back of the body, particularly the glutes in the posterior hip and the hamstrings in the posterior thigh. These muscle groups are responsible for hip extension, the action of lifting the leg behind the body from the hip joint or straightening upward through the hips from a bent-forward position. Deadlifts are considered a preferred method of strengthening these muscles because they require the straightening the body from a bent-over position to lift a weight. Performed standing and holding weight in front of the body, deadlift exercises may be differentiated from one another by the form chosen, such as bent or straightened knees, or the equipment used, such as a barbell, dumbbells, or a kettlebell.
Traditionally, three kinds of deadlift exercises can be performed by varying the degree of bend in the knees. A conventional deadlift involves holding weight in front of the hips with the arms and legs straight and then driving the body weight backward into the heels and pushing the hips back, lowering the weight towards the floor while bending the knees until the thighs are nearly parallel to the ground, and then squeezing the glutes and hamstrings to straighten back up. The Romanian deadlift is a variation on this movement, different in that the knees are kept nearly straight but not locked. A third variation is the stiff-legged deadlift, which is performed with knees locked, though the first two techniques are more commonly recommended in the interest of safety.
Another method of varying deadlift exercises is by selecting different weight equipment. Deadlifts require that the body be loaded with external resistance to be challenging, so almost any type of weight equipment may be used effectively. As the deadlift is a power-lifting exercise that has traditionally utilized a 44-pound (20-kilogram) bar with weight plates added for additional resistance, barbells remain the most popular equipment for performing deadlift exercises. Also in common use are dumbbells, although when attempting heavier weights many weightlifters switch to barbells, which are easier on the hands and shoulder joints. The kettlebell, which is a ball-shaped iron weight with a large handle on top, also works well for deadlifts as it can be held with both hands.
All deadlift exercises should be performed keeping in mind the following technique. The arms should be straight so that the weight held in the hands is not absorbed by the upper body. In other words, the bar hangs from the upper body as “dead weight,” hence the name deadlift. To ease stress on the lower back, the weight should be held as close to the legs as possible throughout the entire range of motion. The chest should remain lifted and the shoulder blades held back and together so that the upper back does not round forward while lowering through the hips, which similarly places stress on the spine. Lifting the tailbone toward the ceiling and driving the hips back as far as possible also ensures that the leg muscles do most of the lifting and not those of the lower back, which will absorb much of the weight if the tailbone is allowed to curl downward.