Deadlifts. We all know they’re good for you – after all, they’re touted as one of the staple exercises in any strength training routine.
But ask any gym goer, fitness fanatic or exercise enthusiast which specific muscles deadlifts work and I guarantee the responses will be haphazard guesses about the back, the biceps and the abs.
In actual fact, deadlifts work around 9 different muscle groups! Different muscle groups also become more or less engaged depending on which variation of the deadlift you perform.
So that you can revel in just how beneficial deadlifts are for your body, here’s the complete run down as to what muscles deadlifts work.
The muscles that deadlifts work:
As I mentioned above, there are 9 different muscle groups that strengthen through regular deadlift training. They are:
- Abdominals and Obliques
- Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
- Erector Muscles
- Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Now we’ll see how they work in relation to a deadlift.
Abdominals and Obliques
In a deadlift, your rectus abdominis (the front of your abs) and the obliques (the side of your abs) help to maintain and stabilise the position of the spine.
Their role is to prevent your spine extending too far backwards – also known as hyperextension – by maintaining the tension of the erectors. This is important because if your spine was to extend too far backwards, your erector muscles could disengage potentially leading to injury.
2. Adductor Magnus (Inner Thigh)
Found in the inner thigh, your adductor magnus muscle works alongside your glutes to allow your hips to extend fully during the lock-out of the deadlift.
If in your deadlift you’re failing to bring the barbell past your knees to your hips in the lock-out position, it may be a sign that you have weak glutes and/or a weak adductor magnus.
3. Erector Muscles
Your erector spinae muscles are the long muscles that span the length of your spine and when you deadlift, they have two roles to play.
Their first role is to prevent your spine from rounding by working to keep your back extended. When you’re under load, this is especially important as rounding of the back could leave you at risk of disc herniation.
Their second role is to aid back extension and allow your spine to move from a horizontal to an upright position.
A lifter with weak erector muscles will see their back round in the start position as they pull off of the floor. If the back is mostly horizontal to the floor, lifters will also have to naturally use more erector muscles to move their spine into an upright position as they lock out, so these are 2 things to look out for.
The erector muscles — Source
The glutes have an important function in the lock-out of deadlift as they are responsible for extending your hips and ultimately bringing them closer to the barbell.
They become most active when you are moving into a standing position, as the hips move forward from their starting position behind the barbell.
Just like with the adductor magnus, if you’re lifting the barbell to your knee or just past them, but your hips are refusing to transition to the final horizontal position, you may have weak glutes so it’s advisable to do some extra glute focused training.
The hamstring is another muscle with two roles to play in the deadlift, and both roles revolve around supporting your glutes and knees.
Firstly, your hamstrings must act as synergists in order to support your glutes as they extend your hips during your lock-out. As your knees straighten into a standing position however, the hamstrings are at their most engaged, contracting a small amount as they help to bring your hips to the barbell.
In their second role your hamstrings will serve as a stabilising muscle to support your knee joint. When you begin a deadlift, your knees are bent in the start position to pull the weight from the floor. As you enact this pulling motion, the tension in your hamstrings stabilise your knee joints by counteracting the force of the quads in the extension of the leg.
6. Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
Throughout a deadlift your lats – the large, flat muscles that cover your middle and lower back – are important for maintaining an effective, and stabilised position.
The reason being that your lat muscles help to keep the barbell close to your body as you perform the lift.
In a deadlift it is crucial to keep contact maintained between the bar and your body. Should the bar drift off your body, then your glutes, inner thighs and hamstrings will be under an increased load to try to bring your hips back toward the bar for the lockout.
As well as this extra workload, if the bar does drift from your body you may also be at risk of losing your balance and injuring yourself.
The bar drifting from a lifters body is a key sign that they have weak lats. Whilst training focused on strengthening the lats will help this, another trick lifters use is to envision crushing an orange in their armpit! This trick helps to engage the lats.
Want more deadlift tricks and tips? Read my roundup blog of the best ones.
Your quad muscles, a group of 4 muscles found in your front thigh that connect to your knee, are engaged when they extend your knees in the bottom half of the range of motion.
This is where the cue, “push the floor away” originates from. By imagining yourself pushing the ground away, you engage your quads as you extend your knee.
A lifter with weak quads will struggle to pull the weight from the floor because their knees will not extend correctly. To compensate for this, the hip and back extensor muscles take the majority of the work which will result in the hips shooting up into a start position before the bar leaves the ground and placing the torso horizontal to the floor.
Whereas lifters who can pull from the floor without struggle and maintain their hip height throughout the starting range of motion have quads that are strengthened enough and working correctly. This is why it’s always vital to check form and perform isolated training on certain muscle groups.
An example of pushing the floor away.
Your rhomboids are the muscles found in your lower neck and upper inner back.
In a deadlift, their primary function is to support and stabilise the shoulders to help maintain the proper shoulder position. In this instance they’re similar to the traps, as they provide a supporting function and prevent rounding in the lock-out by keeping the shoulders looking upright.
If you’re failing to pull your shoulders back in the final stage of the deadlift, then your trap and/or your rhomboid muscles may need more strength training and conditioning.
Your traps are the large surface muscles found extending longitudinally from the occipital bone to the lower thoracic vertebrae of your spine, and then extending laterally to the spine of your scapula.
Just like the aforementioned rhomboids they help support your shoulder positioning through the deadlift movement, with a particular support to the lower and mid traps that run along your scapula – or your shoulder blade.
Again if your shoulders are rounding, and failing to stay in a neutral position throughout your deadlift it may mean that your traps need more strengthening.
Now you have the complete pocket-guide as to the true muscles worked each time you deadlift, you’ll have a better understanding of just how beneficial the exercise truly is to your overall body strength. To find out more about building strength, enrol in one of our classes today.