Doing deadlifts is akin to pulling a boat out of the water and repainting its hull: Though no one may see it, that subsurface coating serves to protect the entire vessel from rot. Likewise, while you don't really use the motion of a deadlift to kick a ball, get up on a surfboard, or shoot a free throw, if one can't perform a deadlift, then something's wrong. And while deadlifting prowess doesn't guarantee athletic glory, it does act as a clean bill of health for those looking to take their sport to the next level. Here is our approach to getting the most from this wrongly maligned exercise.
Get Warmed and Balanced
Before you start the deadlift, you need to warm up. For 10 minutes, do something that is limbering and fun – shoot hoops, hit the speed bag, or strike a few yoga poses. Then, for another 10, hone your balance on a half ball, inboard, or with push-ups and side planks.
Now that you're limber, warm, and feeling balanced, it's time for the main event. Despite its name, when performing a deadlift you are not lifting the weight. That is, don't try to pull it off the ground, as it'll cause your lower back to round and you'll strain and wrestle with the weight. Instead, get in a good, low stance and think to yourself that you're instead standing up with the weight.
Here's the play-by-play:
1. Assuming a squat position, get your butt as low as you can.
2. Position your shins in a forward lean, at an angle to your foot approaching 45 degrees, not 90 degrees.
3. There are several grips for deadlifting and all have their merits. The one we like is the grip where one hand is over and one hand is under, the way you hold a hockey stick.
4. Be sure not to overgrip: Keep your triceps underneath your shoulders, which keeps the arms straight, with no outward bend in the elbow, and the arm totally locked out.
5. Take a deep breath. When you're in the down position, you have to use your hip flexors and push your quad muscles towards your knees. As the lift unfolds, the thigh muscles lift into your stomach. The end result is a vertical explosion.
6. Push through the feet and avoid leaning back at the top of the lift – there's no need to take on this advanced move.
7. Don't go so fast that you're off balance, but don't engage so much that you're tense. Not every lift will be perfect.
Unload the Lift
Go to the dumbbells after the lifts. Pick a weight you can just barely lift and hit 13, 8, and then 5 reps for each of these: Single arm bicep curls, single arm overhead press, and single-arm dumbbell bench-press on a flat bench. Then take 15 minutes for some balance work, take a break, and get some 15-pound dumbbells. Holding one in each hand, do 5 squat jumps without pausing. Go back to the balancing for about five minutes and you're done.