BY PAUL ROBERTS
Every personal trainer is used to hearing the phrase “I don’t want to get big” when they ask prospective clients what their goals are. And every time a trainer hears this, they’re working overtime to suppress a laugh. Lifting weights doesn’t work this way. You can’t gain too much muscle mass through some fluke of programming; there’s no combination of exercises and volume that could ever be so lethal as to spontaneously add muscle to your frame overnight. Trust me, if this were possible, bodybuilders and athletes everywhere would have exploited it a long time ago.
But myths and old wives’ tales are powerful things, and persist despite widespread proliferation of better training information. New trainees have more and better information at their disposal at this point in history than at any other. Nevertheless, certain exercises, such as the bench press, military press, and deadlift carry with them a stigma that they are only for guys who are trying to get big. This is nonsense, pure and simple.
WHY EVERYONE SHOULD DEADLIFT:
REASON NUMBER ONE
Consider what the deadlift is. You’re bending your knees and flexing your hips to grab a bar off the floor and stand up. You are literally—to paraphrase the old Planet Fitness ad—picking things up, and putting them down. Of all the exercises in existence, the deadlift has more direct carryover to real-life situations than any other.
REASON NUMBER TWO
It builds muscular strength everywhere in the body. When done properly, the deadlift engages the muscles of the legs, back, core—even your arms by increasing grip strength. If you’re someone who’s always saying that you don’t have enough time to work out, the huge bang-for-your-buck efficiency of the deadlift should be enough to get you on board.
REASON NUMBER THREE
The deadlift is an incredible conditioning tool. Never mind the strength the deadlift can build; if you’re trying to get a great cardio workout and burn some fat, the deadlift needs to be front and center in your program. When you hold up the deadlift against isolation exercises like biceps curls and leg extensions, there’s no comparison. The isolation exercises only require blood flow to the muscles being worked, which is a relatively small area when compared to the deadlift, which is using virtually every muscle. You want to burn more calories? Then you need to make the heart work. The deadlift does just that.
REASON NUMBER FOUR
Deadlifting is incredibly valuable as you age. I use deadlifting with every single personal training client of mine, and I train everyone from teenage boys to octogenarian women. In the case of the latter: one older woman came to me with a low bone density issue. After a steady stream of deadlifting and squatting, we didn’t just halt her bone density loss, we sent it in the other direction. That’s because heavy loads don’t just force muscles to respond by increasing in strength, it forces the bones to fortify themselves so they can handle the load.
You don’t need to put a ton of weight on the bar. You don’t need to grunt and groan, drop your weight on the floor, or clap up a big chalk cloud before you get started. You just need to learn proper form and get started. Period. Check out the workout below and rethink what you’ve been told about what is hands-down the best exercise in the world. If you do, a stronger, fitter, and healthier you is on the other side. I guarantee it.
DIRECTIONS: After a warmup, do the following workout as a circuit, making 4-5 trips through the circuit. Don’t rest between exercises and rest only for 1-2 minutes at the end of each circuit. When finished, cool down with 5-10 minutes of cardio. As your conditioning and strength improve, you can add more trips through the circuit.
EXERCISE X REPS
Barbell Deadlift X 10
Reverse Curl X 15
Skull Crushers X 15
Squat-to-Press X 10
Inverted Row X 10
Pushup X 10
Plank X 60 seconds
BARBELL DEADLIFT: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of a loaded barbell. Squat low to grab the bar with an alternating grip—one hand overhand, one hand underhand. Keep your back flat and eyes forward as you drive your heels into the floor to stand up.
REVERSE CURL: Grab an EZ-curl or straight barbell with a double overhand grip and let your arms hang down to your waist. Curl the bar up using only your biceps, then slowly return to the start.
SKULL CRUSHER: Load an EZ-curl bar and lie on a flat bench with the bar in your hands. Keeping your elbows extended, set your arms at a 45-degree angle behind your head—this is the starting position. Keeping your elbows fixed in the starting position, bend your elbows to lower the bar to the top of your head. Contract your triceps hard to extend your arms and return to the starting position.
SQUAT-TO-PRESS: Stand up straight holding a pair of dumbbells at your shoulders. Squat low to the ground (the top of your thighs should get at least parallel to the floor) and drive through your heels to stand up. As you reach the top position, press the dumbbells straight up overhead. As you lower the weights back to your shoulders under control, descend into the next rep, initiating the move by flexing your hips backward.
INVERTED ROW: Lie in the base of a power rack with the bar resting on safety pins that have been set about 2-3 feet above the ground. Grasp the bar with both hands and pull your chest up to the bar, keeping your back flat and your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your hips and ankles. Pause for a second at the top of the movement, then slowly return to the start.
PUSHUP ON BARBELL: Load a barbell with 25- to 45-pound plates and set it on the ground. Get into a pushup position with your hands shoulder-width apart on the barbell. Lower your body until your chest touches the bar, then push yourself back up. Note: You can do regular pushups on the floor, but doing them on the barbell adds a stability component, forcing the muscles of your legs and core to work harder to keep the bar steady. In other words, this exercise is more bang-for-your-buck in that it burns more calories.
PLANK: Get down on the floor in a pushup position with your elbows and forearms propping up your body. Keep your shoulders, hips, and ankles in a line and squeeze your abs, breathing behind the brace, as you hold for the allotted time.
Romanian deadlifts are a variety that emphasize glute-hamstring development.