Deadlifts are a staple exercise for many gymgoers. Deadlifts are a multijoint compound exercise that build maximal muscle throughout the upper and lower body.
Here, we’ll cover the exact muscle groups used in deadlifts and explain how to increase muscle activation by deadlifting with proper form.
Table of Contents
- 1 Deadlift Muscles Worked
- 2 Deadlift Muscles Worked Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- 3 Other Exercise Posts
- 3.1 Hack Squat Muscles Worked and Benefits
- 3.2 How to Squat with Perfect Form
- 3.3 How to Perform the Overhead Press with Proper Form
- 3.4 Barbell Row Benefits, Muscles Worked, and Form
- 3.5 Bear Crawls: Benefits, Proper Form, and Muscles Worked
- 3.6 The 5 Best Benefits of Planks
- 3.7 How to Do a Lat Pulldown with Proper Form
- 3.8 Front Squat Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.9 The Top 6 Muscles Worked by Glute Bridges
- 3.10 The Landmine Press: Muscles Worked, Benefits and Form
- 3.11 The Top 5 Bench Press Muscles Worked
- 3.12 Leg Extension Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.13 How to do Bulgarian Split Squats with Proper Form
- 3.14 Romanian Deadlift Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.15 Decline Bench Press Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.16 Hammer Curl Benefits and Muscles Worked
- 3.17 The Top 10 Pull-up Muscles Worked
- 3.18 The 6 Best Gym Machines For Weight Loss
Deadlift Muscles Worked
- Spinal Erectors
- Scapula Stabilizers
For a visual overview of which muscles are worked by the deadlift, here’s a great video from Dr. Gains:
The glutes are one of the main muscle groups engaged when doing deadlifts. Squeeze glutes the entire set for all deadlift variations. Deadlifts are primarily hip-extension movements that require glute muscle activation to help stand the barbell up.
The glutes stabilize your pelvis and upper body when doing deadlifts and work to bring the hips forward when locking out each rep.
Deadlifts are an excellent exercise for building powerful hamstrings, known as the biceps femoris. They engage the hamstrings through eccentric, concentric, and isometric contractions.
When lowering the hips and bending the knees during the initial phase of the deadlift, the hamstring muscles contract eccentrically to control the downward movement of the weight. This eccentric contraction helps to build muscle strength and stability in the hamstrings.
The hamstring muscles contract to push the hips forward and straighten the knees. This concentric contraction generates significant force and helps build muscle mass and strength in the hamstrings.
Deadlifts also engage the hamstrings isometrically to maintain stability. During the deadlift, the hamstrings contract isometrically to keep the hips and lower back stable. If your hamstrings are weak or failing during deadlifts, check out our list of the best ways to grow underdeveloped hamstrings.
The conventional deadlift primarily targets the posterior chain muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. However, this compound exercise also targets the quads, particularly during the initial (concentric) phase.
The quads are the primary agonist muscle for your knee extensors. The quads work to extend your knees to deadlift into a standing position. As the lift progresses, the load shifts more towards the posterior chain, but the quads remain active in stabilizing the movement. Check out our list of the best outer quad exercises to grow stronger, bigger quads. The outer quad is the largest of the four quad muscles, so building its strength and size is a great way to improve your deadlift form.
The conventional deadlift primarily targets the lower body but activates upper body muscle groups, including the lats. The lats stabilize the spine to prevent it from rounding during the lift. The lats contract to keep the bar close to the body and the torso upright. This engagement of the lats during the deadlift helps to develop overall back strength and stability. The lower lats are essential for protecting your mid-lower spine. Check out our list of the best dumbbell lower lat exercises to use as accessories to strengthen your deadlifts.
The conventional deadlift activates the trapezius muscles (traps) to keep the scapula (shoulder blades) stable and retracted during the lift. The traps also engage during deadlift exercises to maintain a neutral spine and keep the barbell close to the body.
The trapezius muscles work isometrically to ensure your hips and lower posterior chain pull the barbell from the ground, not your spine. If you have weak traps limiting your deadlift strength, check out our list of the best ways to grow underdeveloped trapezius muscles. You can also find a list of the best lower trap exercises and middle trap exercises to isolate any weak spots in your back muscles.
Deadlifts are a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the spinal erectors. The spinal erectors, also known as erector spinae muscles, run along the spine to keep it stable and in a neutral, upright position.
When performing any deadlift exercise, the spinal erectors contract to keep the spine straight.
Deadlifts engage the core muscles, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and erector spinae, to stabilize the spine and transfer force between the upper and lower body. During a deadlift, always brace your core muscles before pulling the barbell off the ground and contract your abdominal muscles before initiating each rep.
Deadlifts are a great full-body exercise that hits multiple muscle groups. The muscles and tendons in the forearms are essential for building grip strength. Any deadlift variation will test your grip strength. You can use lifting straps or chalk to prevent your grip from failing.
The scapula stabilizers are an accessory muscle group that supports the spine and keeps the shoulder blades in place during a deadlift. The rhomboids and serratus stabilize the scapula and prevent the spine from rounding during the deadlift lockout.
Deadlift Muscles Worked Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Each deadlift variation targets the glutes slightly differently. The conventional deadlift is an excellent exercise for targeting the glute muscles with heavy loads.
The sumo deadlift is also great at targeting the glutes because of the wider stance and slight turnout of the feet. If glute development is your primary focus, some exercises, like the hip thrust have been found to trigger more glute muscle activation than the deadlift. For more information, check out our hip thrust vs glute bridge comparison.
The best glute exercise depends largely on your biomechanics, experience level, and unique preferences. Check out our list of the best cable glute exercises for more ways to build bigger glutes.
The sumo deadlift is not necessarily easier than the conventional deadlift, although the range of motion does tend to be shorter. Sumo deadlifts work many of the same muscles as the conventional barbell deadlift. The main difference is that sumo deadlifts use a wider stance, allowing for greater leg drive.
The conventional deadlift uses a narrower stance and places more strain on the posterior chain, the abdominal muscles, and the erector spinae to maintain an upright position and protect the spine.
If you deadlift correctly, you should never feel pain in your lower back. The erector spinae will experience tension when performing deadlifts, but there should never be compression or intense discomfort. If you find the conventional deadlift hurts your back, there are multiple deadlift variations to try out.
The trap bar deadlift is easier on the spine than the conventional deadlift as it requires less of a forward lean and allows the torso to maintain an upright position, reducing shear forces and stress on the lower back.
The sumo deadlift also reduces strain on the low back by allowing the torso to remain upright. The sumo deadlift uses a wider stance which can shorten the range of motion required to lock out the deadlift.
The Romanian deadlift emphasizes hip hinging and involves less knee flexion. This deadlift exercise can reduce low back pain as it has a shorter range of motion, making it easier for some lifters to perform with a neutral spine.
The stiff leg deadlift is similar to the Romanian deadlift in that it emphasizes the hip hinge and minimizes the activation of the knee extensors. Both deadlift variations are effective at targeting the posterior chain. Whereas the Romanian deadlift is done with a soft but generous bend in the knees and has a shortened range of motion, the stiff leg deadlift involves only a slight bend in the knee.