Exercise Series 2: The Deadlift

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  • Exercise Series 2: The Deadlift

In the first exercise series post covering the squat, we discussed a number of reasons you, as a gym owner, should know the major exercises your gym members will be doing. Enforcing higher safety standards, knowing red flags to look out for when you’re on the gym floor, and understanding what equipment your gym members will need are all essential things you can handle when you know the basics of each exercise. 

Today’s post will cover another major movement: the deadlift. 

Benefits of the deadlift

A compound movement that uses several major joints and large muscle groups, the deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do for optimal strength and fitness. Deadlifting, especially with heavy weights, recruits so many muscles and uses so much energy that it’s a favorite movement among professional bodybuilders and anyone looking to burn calories or sculpt an athletic physique. The performance benefits you can achieve from regular heavy deadlifting include a stronger posterior chain, from the upper back all the way down the body to the lower back, glutes, quads and hamstrings. Athletes deadlift for overall body strength, explosive power, and resistance to injuries.

Because the deadlift uses most of the body’s major muscle groups, including the back, it is absolutely imperative that it be done with good form to avoid serious injuries. This is especially important for anyone deadlifting for muscle growth by using extremely heavy loads. Some high-level athletes deadlift several hundred pounds at a time, so the potential for injury can be high if the movement is not done properly. 

Done with good form, however, deadlifts accomplish so much toward building muscle, burning calories, sculpting a desirable body shape, and boosting athletic strength and performance that they are absolutely worth the risk for the average exerciser. Even people with existing back injuries can often do deadlifts safely under the direction of a qualified personal trainer or physical therapist. Doing so often helps these clients build enough strength and core stability to eliminate pain from their injuries and improve their functional fitness in everyday life.

Proper deadlift form

Until you’ve mastered great deadlifting form, it’s best to perform this exercise with lighter weights than you might normally use. Under heavy loads, form tends to suffer. Usually, the back and knees are the weakest links and will be at higher risk for injuries. 

For most people without pre-existing injuries, starting with an empty barbell elevated on a platform at shin level should be sufficient as a starting point for learning basic deadlifts. Placing the bar on a raised platform will mimic the height at which the bar would start if you were using large weight plates. It is not advisable to do deadlifts with the bar sitting directly on the floor, because it is much more difficult to keep the spine in a safe, neutral position when you must bend that low to grab the bar. 

To begin, position your feet under the bar at roughly hip-width. The middle of your foot should be directly under the bar as you look down from a standing position. 

Grab the bar and place your hands approximately shoulder-width apart. Push your hips back and straighten your spine to a neutral position. You want your back to be straight, not curved forward or backward. You’ll know you have the position correct when your shins brush against the barbell. 

Now, you’re ready to lift the bar. 

Keeping your back straight throughout the entire movement, drive your weight down through your feet and into the floor. The barbell should touch your shins all the way up until it’s above your knees. 

Stand up straight, holding the bar at thigh level with your back still in a neutral position. If you can, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, and “lock” your hips and knees at the top of the movement. 

Hold that position for a moment, and then slowly lower the weight by reversing these steps. 

What kind of deadlifting equipment should your gym provide?

For most users, barbells will be the equipment of choice. 

Because advanced lifters will likely use very heavy loads, consider providing a few extra weight plates in areas of your gym where you expect people to do deadlifts. This will eliminate the problem of users having to share weight plates and wait for each other to finish sets. 

Always make sure safety clips are readily available and in good working order. Some people are tempted to perform deadlifts without clips holding the weight plates onto the barbell. This is a huge safety issue! If one side of the barbell dips lower than the other, the plates will slide off and there is huge potential for injury and property damage. 

Beginners, and clients focused more on mobility rather than strength or muscle-building, might prefer dumbbells over barbells. Deadlifts can be performed with either type of equipment, but some people find dumbbells much less intimidating than barbells and will be happier with that choice. 

If your gym has the space, you may be able to provide machinesfor users who would prefer them over free weights. However, these are often more of an added bonus rather than a necessity in your gym setup. 

What safety red flags should you look out for?

Because your trainers are responsible for the safety of their clients, and you in turn are responsible for your trainers, your first consideration should be making sure each trainer performs his or her job well. 

Pay attention:• How do your trainers teach deadlifting form to their clients? Do they start with light weights before progressing to heavier loads? Do they go over the basics thoroughly before their clients perform any lifts?• Do your trainers enforce proper form once their clients are comfortable with deadlifting? There can be a temptation to stay hands-off and be shy when correcting minor imbalances, but this hesitation can lead to injuries. Watch closely to make sure your trainers are proactive at preventing mishaps. 

Once you are confident your trainers have everything under control, you can turn your attention to other issues you may notice:• Are deadlifting areas clear of clutter that could get in the way and cause an accident? Loose weight plates, bar clips, lifting belts, etc. can all be dangerous trip hazards when strewn across a workout area. • Are patrons who exercise without trainers still adhering to safety guidelines? Do they use bar clips for every set? Do they keep their backs straight and avoid lifting loads that cause their form to suffer?

Though the benefits of deadlifting are undeniable, many gym owners prefer not to allow patrons to perform this exercise. Properly executed deadlifts are wonderful, but the fear is that one mishap or serious injury could become a huge liability for your company. 

Consider posting signage in barbell and rack areas warning that your gym assumes no liability in case of injury. You may also choose to restrict the maximum amount of weight a patron can lift or enforce mandatory spotter rules as a moderate measure rather than banning deadlifts altogether. 

Your gym, your rules

At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide what you do or do not feel comfortable allowing in your gym. However, with proper safety precautions and clear no-liability signage, there are very few reasons to be afraid of offering such a beneficial exercise to all of your gym members.

Sources

Exercise Series 1: The Squat

https://www.livestrong.com/article/505424-deadlift-machine-vs-deadlift-barbell/

https://startingstrength.com/article/squats-presses-and-deadlifts-why-gyms-dont-teach-the-only-exercises-you-need

How to Deadlift with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

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