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Are deadlifts the greatest test of strength?

Well, yeah! Just

because it just is! Right?

As a Strength and Conditioning (S&C) coach I get asked (more than you might think) what I believe to be the ultimate test of strength. Usually I won’t let the asker get away with such a ‘cut and shut’ question and will ask for what reason, sport, demographic etc. This isn’t to be awkward but more to get an understanding of why the person, or indeed who, needs to be strong.

The truth is, if pressed for an answer, a deadlift. So, simple in its principals (pick as heavy a weight from the floor as possible to full lock out at the knees, hips and spine) but incredibly complex in its execution. The deadlift is one of a very select few exercises which works almost every muscle in your body, certainly it hits every muscle group.

I’ll group off some reasons for deadlifting and elaborate below (so you can get to the good bit that applies to you quickly!)

Why a deadlift?

You must have immense grip strength to hold onto the bar, but if using a mixed grip (One hand under and the other over the bar), you’ll need to have immense stability under rotation at the torso, be able to squeeze and fire through your lower back, glutes and hamstrings whilst driving upwards with your chest and quads. As well as all of this (and more) you must have the mental resolve to be able to ignore the “oh f*ck, this is heavy” voice in the back of your head whilst you hoist the weight up from the floor to your hips.

Personally, I don't like a mixed grip, I like to use a double overhand with hook grip (Thumbs locked under index and middle finger) because 1) It is specific to weightlifting and 2) there is virtually no risk of tearing the bicep (Which is significantly increased with the under arm grip of a mixed grip)

Hook grip

This leads me nicely on to the point that you simply can’t ‘cheat’ a deadlift, you either lift it or you don’t. If the weight leaves the floor but doesn’t end up in lock out at the hips, knees and back, you didn’t lift it. Simple!

Typically, whatever variation (more on variations in another post!) of the deadlift you do, you will use every muscle group in your body:

  • Your hands and forearms to grip the bar and ensure it stays in the correct position and stable throughout the lift

  • Your shoulders and traps to hold the weight and stabilise your shoulder girdle

  • Your back and trunk to keep your entire body braced and to keep your spine secure

  • Your posterior chain (muscles behind the centre line of the body) and legs are used to drive the weight from the floor.

For this reason alone, the deadlift must be the greatest test of ultimate strength! You can bounce at the bottom of a squat to give a little momentum to get the bar back up again, you can squeeze the angles on a bench press to give more muscle activation or 'heave' the bar from your chest to help with the lift, you can use a little drive at the legs in an overhead press to get the bar moving initially and get some momentum. You can do none of these things in the deadlift, if you have nothing to bounce it off, no momentum to build, only pure raw strength and good technique!

Strength benefits

“Sounds horrible Charlie, I’m fairly new to the gym, I’ll sit this one out until I am strong enough…” TOSH!!

Anyone and everyone can (and should) be doing deadlifts and as many variations of them as possible, such as; conventional, sumo, split stance, stiff legged, single leg etc. The reason for this is because everyone needs strength, whether an elite athlete or your nan carrying her shopping, we all need to have a base level of strength to avoid injury and maintain a level of uprightness (definitely a word!)

The deadlift isn’t and shouldn’t be reserved for big baldy bearded men (ahem) in the weights area, I make sure that all of my clients can deadlift well, this gives them great range of motion at the hips, knees and ankles, as well as teaching them to properly brace through their trunks to avoid the whole ‘dog pooping’ spine arch (fairly large can of worms, not to be opened here, but on another post!) and potential injury.

Also, it strengthens the lower back which in turn helps to alleviate or totally get rid of back pain, “my back is weak/sore” is a reason TO DO deadlifts, not to avoid them.


Deadlifting builds strong and powerful glutes, who doesn’t love a good butt! For your abs, I don’t think any number of crunches or side bends will offer the same hypertrophy benefits as learning to properly brace the trunk for heavy deadlifts.

Growth hormone

Your body produces growth hormone in huge amounts when stressed. The highest amounts are released on the back of maximal training using great amounts of musculature. (as mentioned earlier, a deadlift uses most every muscle in the body under extreme stress, grow baby grow!)

Any other reasons?

Well, yeah actually, lots! Aside from making you strong as hell, helping to lean you out and build solid muscle mass, you’ll be at lower risk of injury from other activities, able to move better from all the new lower body mobility you’ll gain which you can show off whilst looking incredible! You are also able to move incredible amounts of weight around which is good for competition between you and your gym partners, good for bragging rights or more specifically, great for transfer onto other aspects of strength training.

Mainly though, I love to deadlift and have now set PB’s because there is no feeling quite like the feeling at the top of your heaviest ever deadlift, when you feel like your head is about to pop, your hands are being ripped from your arms, your glutes feel bigger than Kim K’s and you have a nose bleed, but you just lifted more weight from absolutely nothing to your hips than you have ever done before! What a feeling that is, if you’ve never felt it, go lift!

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