Barbell Exercises: Barbell Deadlifts

Deadlifts can strengthen an entire muscle group in one exercise compared to a weight machine workout. Working with free weights requires that there is a person near you at all times to assist and encourage. In addition, an extended stretching routine before your lift will prevent injury. The barbell deadlift is one of the more popular deadlift exercises. However, keep in mind that if you have any serious back issues you should consult with your doctor before embarking on a barbell deadlift. Weight belts are always recommended.

Lightweight Bar

After a stretching routine, your barbell deadlifts should start with going over your form. Begin by using a bar with five or ten pounds added. It should be just enough to keep the bar off the ground so your feet can fit underneath it (see Form below). The bar itself weighs about 45 pounds, so with a light weight added it should work well for a warm-up lift.

Barbell Deadlift Form

Stand with the top of your feet underneath the bar, about shoulder width apart. Make sure your feet remain flat on the ground. Keeping your neck and back straight and your chin facing forward, squat down and grasp the bar with your hands about shoulder width apart. Holding the bar and without using your back muscles, push your feet into the ground, generating all your energy into your upper leg and gluteaus muscles. Straighten up to a full stance while holding the bar (the knees can remain slightly bent, but be sure not to overextend your lower back). Do not lift the bar with your arms; merely hold onto the bar while letting your arms hang. As you come to a full stance, roll your shoulders back and push out your chest. At this point it is okay if you bend your elbows slightly. As you bring the bar back to the starting position, be sure to drop your backside, distributing the weight into your legs. Do not strain your back. Note: When your form is mastered you can intensify your muscle burn by doing negatives. This is when you return the bar down; you continually resist, going as slow as possible.


It is important to breathe in your nose before you lift and out your mouth as you lift. On your release, the same pattern should be followed. Breathe in your nose, then release as you breathe out your mouth.

Amount of Weight

When you feel comfortable with your form, start the barbell deadlifts with one 25-pound plate on either side. Depending on how this weight feels will determine whether you remove the 25s and replace with 45-pound plates, or if you gradually work your way up to 45 pounds. You want to be aware of unnecessary strain on your lower back and knees.

Muscles Worked

Barbell deadlifts work the following muscles:

  • Erector Spinae – (The three sets of vertical muscles on both sides of the spine, running from the back of your skull to your sacrum)
  • Gluteaus Maximus
  • Adductor Magnus – (Inside upper thigh)
  • Quadriceps
  • Gastrocnemius and Soleus (Calf)
  • Hamstrings
  • Upper and Middle Trapezius (Mid/upper back and neck)
  • Rhomboids (Upper back)
  • Levator Scapula (Neck/upper back)
  • Rectus Abdominis – (Abs)
  • Obliques (Side abs)









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