The deadlift, like the squat, is one of the most complete lifts, yet one of the most dreaded and misunderstood. Its beauty lies in its sheer simplicity: picking up a weight from the ground. The move works major muscle groups such as the legs, lower back, glutes, arms and traps. It’s one of the best strength-building exercises, and particularly effective at preventing injuries by strengthening weak areas like the lower back and hamstrings.

A recent study examined the effects of 10 weeks of barbell deadlift training. The exercise was done just twice a week and lead to significant improvements in torque capacities in both the knee extensors and flexors. This is useful if you’re active in sports or do plyometric exercises, but it’s also crucial for maintaining your body’s capacity for functional movement.

Matt Stock of Texas Tech University, the study’s lead author, noted that deadlifts help you work the posterior chain, which are often overlooked:

“It [deadlifting] is particularly useful because it relies heavily on our often forgotten muscles of the ‘posterior chain’—the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors. Ignoring these muscles within an exercise program has potentially dangerous consequences, particularly as we age and for knee health during sports.”

How to deadlift properly:

  1. Stand in front of a loaded barbell.
  2. Starting position: While keeping the back straight and your lower back slightly arched, bend your knees, bend forward and while keeping your chin up, grasp the bar using a shoulder width, overhand grip.
  3. Hold the bar firmly and start the lift by taking a deep breath and pushing with your legs while getting your torso to an upright position as you exhale forcefully. In the upright position, complete the lift by sticking your chest out and contracting the back by rotating the shoulder blades back.
  4. Return to the starting position, lowering the weight slowly by bending at the knees while leaning the torso forward at the waist. Be sure to keep your chin up, back straight and lower back slightly arched throughout the movement. When the weights touch the floor, you have completed one rep and are ready to execute another repetition.

Caution: Use strict form and avoid rounding out the back, as this can cause injury. Be careful not to overload the bar with more weight than you can handle. When in doubt, use less weight.