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1. The deadlift is one of the contested events in the sport of powerlifting.

If you look it up on YouTube, you will see large hairy men yelling loudly as they pull enormous weights from the floor. The current record in the deadlift is in excess of 1,000 pounds, the women’s record is over 600, and both lifters walked safely and proudly away from the platform. So, calm yourself. Be not afraid. The same movement you see at the powerlifting contest can be safely used by anyone to develop a stronger back and legs. You just have to start with a lighter weight.

The barbell deadlift is safer than picking up a three-year-old kid, because the bar can be placed directly over the middle of the feet, the body’s center of balance. The ability to keep the barbell balanced directly over the mid-foot as you pull it from the floor up to the lockout position enables very heavy weights to be safely handled. And heavy weight is what makes people strong.

A barbell is 1.25 inches in diameter, is engraved with a knurled pattern, and the weight plates slide onto sleeves on the ends of its seven-foot length. It therefore fits nicely in the grip, and can be centered directly above the middle of your foot, the natural balance point against the floor. Kept in this position during the movement, the load exerts no net leverage on your balance while the bar travels up and down. The deadlift is therefore a mechanically efficient, safe way to lift a weight.

A correct deadlift is performed with the back in “extension” — the normal anatomical position of the spine, which looks “flat” from the side during a deadlift. It is held rigid in extension by the back muscles, the abdominals, and all the smaller muscles that lay between the ribcage and the pelvis that form what is essentially a cylinder of muscular support around the spine. These muscles get so much work during the deadlift that most people have no real reason to do situps or any other back exercises.