What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work? Fitness Trainers Explain

Are you curious about what muscles do deadlifts work? Deadlifts are one of the most effective compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, understanding the muscles involved in deadlifting can help you maximize your gains and avoid injuries. In this article, we’ll dive into the details of what muscles deadlifts work, how to perform them correctly, and some tips for getting the most out of this exercise.

What Are Deadlifts?

Deadlifts are a weightlifting exercise that involves lifting a barbell from the ground to a standing position. There are several variations of deadlifts, including conventional deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, and Romanian deadlifts. Deadlifts are considered a compound exercise because they involve multiple joints and muscle groups working together to complete the movement.

What Muscles Do Deadlifts Work?

Lower Back Muscles

The erector spinae muscles in the lower back are heavily engaged during deadlifts. These muscles help keep your spine stable and straight as you lift the bar off the ground and stand up with it.


Your glutes are the largest muscles in your body, and they play a significant role in deadlifts. Activating your glutes helps you maintain proper form and generate power as you lift the barbell.


Your hamstrings are located at the back of your upper legs and are used to bend your knees and extend your hips. During deadlifts, your hamstrings work to extend your hips as you lift the bar off the ground.


Your quadriceps, also known as quads, are the large muscles on the front of your thighs. They help you straighten your knees and extend your hips as you lift the barbell.

Core Muscles

Your core muscles, including your abs and obliques, are heavily involved in deadlifts. These muscles help stabilize your spine and prevent it from rounding during the movement.

Forearm Muscles

Your forearm muscles, particularly your grip strength, are essential for holding onto the barbell during deadlifts. Weak grip strength can limit the amount of weight you can lift, so it’s important to train your forearms regularly.

Benefits of deadlifts

Strengthens Multiple Muscle Groups: Deadlifts engage a wide range of muscles, including the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, traps, lats, and core. This comprehensive muscle activation promotes overall strength development.

Enhances Functional Strength: Deadlifts mimic real-world movements like lifting heavy objects from the ground, making them highly functional exercises that improve your ability to perform daily tasks and reduce the risk of injury.

Builds Core Stability: Deadlifts require a stable core to protect the spine and maintain proper form. Regular deadlift training can lead to improved core strength and stability.

Increases Bone Density: The high mechanical stress placed on bones during deadlifts can help increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis and promoting long-term bone health.

Boosts Hormonal Response: Deadlifts stimulate the release of growth hormone and testosterone, which can contribute to muscle growth and fat loss when incorporated into a well-rounded workout routine.

How to do deadlifts

Deadlifts are a compound strength exercise that can be broken down into three main phases: the setup, the lift, and the lockout. Proper form and technique are crucial to perform deadlifts safely and effectively. Here’s a step-by-step guide to each phase of a deadlift:

Phase 1: Setup

  • Choose the Right Equipment: Start by selecting a barbell and adding weight plates to each side. Make sure the bar is positioned at the correct height on the rack.
  • Foot Placement: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, with your toes pointing slightly outward. The barbell should be over the middle of your feet.
  • Grip the Bar: Bend at your hips and knees to lower your body and grasp the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing you) or a mixed grip (one palm facing you and one facing away). Your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
  • Hand Placement: Position your hands so that your arms are just outside your knees. This grip width may vary based on your body proportions and comfort.
  • Set Your Back: Before lifting, engage your core and set your back in a neutral position. Your lower back should have a slight natural arch, and your chest should be up. Keep your shoulders back and down.
  • Engage Your Lats: Slightly pull your shoulder blades together and engage your lats (the muscles on your back) to create tension in your upper body.

Phase 2: The Lift

  • Stand Up: While keeping the barbell close to your body, push through your heels and lift the weight by extending your hips and knees simultaneously. Keep the barbell in contact with your legs as you lift.
  • Maintain a Straight Path: As you stand up, the barbell should move in a straight line, not swinging away from your body.
  • Hip Extension: Focus on driving your hips forward to engage your glutes and hamstrings. Keep your back straight and maintain the neutral spine position.
  • Stand Tall: Fully extend your hips and knees until you are standing upright. At this point, your body should be in a straight line from head to heels.

Phase 3: The Lockout

  • Finish the Movement: At the top of the lift, stand tall with your shoulders pulled back. Your chest should be up, and your hips should be fully extended.
  • Hold for a Moment: Take a brief pause at the top to ensure you have control of the weight.
  • Lower the Bar: To lower the bar, reverse the movement by bending at your hips and knees. Keep the barbell close to your body as you lower it back to the ground.
  • Return to the Starting Position: Once the barbell is back on the ground, release your grip and stand up straight.
  • Reset for the Next Rep: If you’re performing multiple reps, repeat the setup and lift phases for each repetition.

Deadlift Variations to try

Sumo Deadlift

In the sumo deadlift, your feet are placed wider apart, and your hands grip the barbell inside your knees. This variation places more emphasis on the inner thighs and may be more comfortable for individuals with limited mobility.

Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Romanian deadlifts focus on the hamstrings and lower back. Unlike the conventional deadlift, you start with the bar at hip height, not on the ground. You bend at the hips while maintaining a slight knee bend, keeping the bar close to your legs as you lower it down and then stand back up.

Trap Bar Deadlift (Hex Bar Deadlift)

The trap bar deadlift uses a hexagonal bar, which allows you to stand inside it. This variation can be more comfortable for some individuals and places less stress on the lower back while still working the same muscle groups as a conventional deadlift.

Comparisons with other exercises

Compared to other exercises, deadlifts are one of the most effective at working multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Here’s how deadlifts stack up against other weightlifting exercises:

  • Squats: Squats primarily work your quads, glutes, and core muscles. While squats are also a compound exercise, they don’t work your lower back and forearms as heavily as deadlifts do.
  • Bench Press: The bench press primarily targets your chest, triceps, and shoulders. While it’s an effective upper body exercise, it doesn’t engage as many muscle groups as deadlifts do.
  • Pull-Ups: Pull-ups are a great exercise for developing your back and biceps , but they don’t work your lower body or core muscles as heavily as deadlifts do.

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Deadlifts

Warm up properly

Before starting your deadlift workout, make sure to warm up your muscles and joints thoroughly. Dynamic stretches and light cardio can increase blood flow and prepare your body for heavy lifting.

Focus on form

Maintaining proper form is crucial when performing deadlifts. Keep your back straight, shoulders pulled back, and core engaged throughout the movement. Avoid rounding your spine or jerking the barbell off the ground.

Use appropriate weight

Start with a weight that you can lift comfortably with good form. As you progress, gradually increase the weight while keeping proper form. Don’t sacrifice form for heavier weight, as this can lead to injuries.

Vary your routine

Mixing up your deadlift routine can help prevent boredom and plateau. Try different variations such as sumo deadlifts or Romanian deadlifts, or change up your reps and sets.

Rest and recover

Allow your muscles time to recover after a deadlift workout. Adequate rest and recovery can help prevent injuries and promote muscle growth.


  1. Are deadlifts a good exercise for building a strong core? Absolutely, deadlifts are excellent for strengthening the core muscles, including the abdominals and obliques, as they are essential for stabilizing your spine during the lift.
  2. What role do the erector spinae muscles play in deadlifts? The erector spinae muscles, located along the spine, are heavily engaged during deadlifts to maintain proper posture and provide stability to the spine.
  3. Can deadlifts help with glute development? Yes, deadlifts are one of the most effective exercises for targeting and strengthening the glute muscles, contributing to improved hip strength and shape.
  4. Do deadlifts engage the muscles of the grip and forearms? Deadlifts place a significant demand on grip strength, which helps develop the muscles in the hands and forearms.
  5. Are there variations of deadlifts that target specific muscle groups? Yes, there are variations like sumo deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts that may emphasize different muscle groups to varying degrees.
  6. Should I include deadlifts in my workout routine if I want to build overall strength? Deadlifts are an excellent compound exercise that can contribute to overall strength development, making them a valuable addition to many workout routines.
  7. Can deadlifts help with posture improvement? Yes, deadlifts can contribute to better posture by strengthening the muscles that support your spine and teaching proper lifting mechanics.

Final Takeaway

Deadlifts are one of the most effective compound exercises for building overall strength and muscle mass. By understanding what muscles deadlifts work and how to perform them correctly, you can maximize your gains and minimize your risk of injury. Incorporate deadlifts into your workout routine and see the results for yourself.