What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work? We Asked Personal Trainers

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?

Getty/Design by Cristina Cianci

Deadlifts may not be an exercise you perform on a regular basis (or ever), but adding them to your weekly exercise routine can have some serious benefits. Mainly, deadlifts work multiple muscle groups at once, allowing you to get stronger and fitter in less time—and who doesn’t want that? 

Deadlifts are also a functional exercise, strengthening muscles you need to perform tasks in your everyday life, like bending down to pick up groceries or lift up your kids. 

Below, a closer look at exactly which muscles deadlifts work, how to perform them safely, and how to add them into your weekly routine. 

Meet the Expert

  • Ashlee Van Buskirk is a personal trainer, a nutrition and wellness coach, BS of human nutrition, and a licensed nurse. She is the founder of Whole Intent in Denver, CO.
  • Alex Weissner is a personal trainer and co-founder of bRUNch Running.

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work? 

Deadlifts work the following muscles: 

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Lower back muscles
  • Upper back muscles 
  • Quads
  • Core

When performed correctly, deadlifts work muscles throughout the entire body, explains Buskirk. “The deadlift hits just about every muscle group in the body as your upper body holds the weight while your lower body raises it, making it a great strength-building exercise to integrate into practically any workout routine,” she says. 

How to Perform a Deadlift With Proper Form 

Deadlifts can be a challenging exercise to master, but it’s crucial they are done with proper form. That way, you can stay injury-free and get the most out of the move. Ask a trainer or exercise professional to watch and make sure you are performing them correctly if you aren’t sure. 

Buskirk and Weissner offer the following tips. 

  • Keep knees slightly bent: This helps to prevent injury.
  • Keep your core engaged and your back flat and straight: Your torso should be almost parallel to the floor.
  • Don't let your back curve over as you lift the bar or weights: Try to keep the bar or weights in close contact with your body throughout the entire movement.
  • Squeeze your glutes (booty) each time you stand up.
  • Remember to focus on controlling the weight at all moments of the exercise, so don't just drop the weights when you've reached the top. Slowly lower them back down to the ground while keeping your muscles engaged.

Adding Deadlifts to Your Weekly Workout Routine 

If deadlifts are new to you, start out slowly, recommends Buskirk. She suggests adding them to two of your weekly workouts. Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps to start. Once you master the move, you can increase the weight and/or perform them up to three times a week. Always give your body plenty of time to recover between strength workouts, though. 

Deadlift Variations to Try 

Deadlift variations work slightly different muscle groups. It’s important to mix up your workouts often so your muscles stay challenged and you avoid a plateau. Try adding these into your strength routine and switching it up often.

Sumo Deadlift 

This variation is beginner-friendly and allows you to have control over the weight throughout the entire movement. 

  • Place your feet slightly wider than a standard deadlift, with your feet pointed outward.
  • Keep your back straight as you grip the bar. Your hands will be on the inside of your legs, so remember to keep them there throughout the whole exercise.
  • Tighten your core, back, legs, and glutes to create full-body tension.
  • Slightly pull the bar and press your legs through the floor.
  • Take a breath and drive your body upward through your legs.
  • Keep your chest back and try not to let it fall forward. Keep pushing through your heels and squeeze your glutes for at least two seconds. 
  • Slowly descend back down, maintaining control and keeping your muscles engaged. 

Romanian Deadlift (Use barbell or dumbbells) 

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  • Hinge at the hips and sink back into your heels and glutes while keeping your spine extended and chest lifted up. 
  • Grip the bar or dumbbells in a grip that is comfortable for you. 
  • Push your feet into the floor and straighten your legs and lift your chest as you lift the weight off the floor. 
  • As you stand up, think about pushing your knees and hips forward. Keep your spine straight and tall with your shoulders relaxed and out of your ears.
  • Push your hips back and begin to lower the weight back toward the floor. Keep a slight bend in your knees.
  • The weight should graze your shins as you reach the weight back to the floor. Keep your spine straight and repeat with the desired number of reps. Aim to not release the weight as you go down.

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