What Do Deadlifts Work?

Summary: What do deadlifts work? It works almost every muscles in the body that's why it's considered the king of all exercises. Find out why!


Have you heard of the saying, "Deadlifts is the king of all exercise?" If you have never tried doing deadlifts, of course you wouldn't know. But ask all the serious lifters and you will hear the same thing:

"Deadlifts is really the king of all exercises."

Deadlift Workout

Why is it the king? Because it is an exercise that works almost every part of your body--from your neck down to your heels. No wonder it's the very staple of any workout program for athletes, bodybuilders, powerlifters, or just an average Joe who wanted to get strong.

Deadlift is also the foundational exercise in very powerlifting competition, because this is, no doubt, the exercise where we can all lift the most weight. Having to deadlift hundreds and even thousands of pounds is such an incredible and respectable feat of strength.

Deadlift Mechanics

Deadlift Exercise

Deadlifts, an exercise that looks very basic, because you only required to lift the bar on floor with your back straight. That's it. Sounds very easy right? It's pretty basic but it's quite challenging when you start to pile on weights.

Unlike other exercises, deadlift should be done with its proper form kept in mind all the time. You can't do a "cheated deadlift" like a "cheated curl," because doing so is inviting trouble. With its tremendous muscle building and strength benefits lie the high risk of injury when poorly executed, so make sure form precedes ego.

This is the proper way to do the exercise. Watch the deadlift form carefully:

That is the conventional form of the deadlift. There are many other variations like the sumo deadlift, the stiffed-leg deadlift, and the trap bar deadlift, all used depending on the individual's training needs.

When devising a deadlift workout program, you should only focus on 1 type of deadlift variation. You can't do more than 2 deadlift exercises anyway because that would be too much for the body.

Now that we've seen the mechanics of doing deadlifts, let's now find out why it is considered the king of all exercises.

What Do Deadlifts Work?

As I've said, deadlifts work almost all the muscles from neck to toe. Let's specifically point each of them. These are the "deadlift muscles":

Back Muscles

Back Muscles

The deadlift exercise mainly works the back, specifically the erector spinae which when trained, aims to make your whole back bigger and stronger. The three muscles of the erector spinae -- iliocastalis, longissiumus, and spinalis -- starts from the neck all the way down to the lower verterbrae. During the deadlift, these muscles help extend and pull back the torso as you stand up.

The lats and other back muscles work hard by keeping the muscles needed contracted and intact, so that you can hold the bar as you extend and stand up. Keeping your back straight once the weight gets heavy is very challenging.

Gluteus Muscles

Gluteus Muscles

The glutes, or butt muscles, are also targeted when doing deadlifts. Our glutes are large and powerful muscles that run from below the lower back down to the outside of our thigh. It attaches to the pelvic bone and sacrum on to the other end of the femur, the thigh bone.

The glutes are activated almost throughout the exercise. It is responsible for the extension of the hips, then it moves the top of the pelvic bone back as you stand up to the contracted position. Other muscles worked in this area are the pelvic and hip muscles.

Leg Muscles

Leg Muscles

While Squats and its variation is the king of leg exercises, deadlifts should come in 2nd place. Deadlifts work the leg area almost similar to squats, but the back, as the primary muscles during the exercise and a weaker muscles compared to the legs, makes it harder to really exhaust the legs.Deadlifts target both the quadriceps, the muscles in front of the thighs, and the hamstrings, the muscles behind the thighs. However, unlike squats, the hamstrings during the deadlift movement acts only as stabilizers.

The primary movers are the quadriceps. But just because the hamstrings are mostly just stabilizing doesn't mean it doesn't work as hard. In fact, you will notice that your hamstrings will get fried after doing the deadlift, and it would be one of the most sore body parts tomorrow.

Arm Muscles

Arm Muscles

During deadlifts, all arm muscles, including and especially the forearm, are contracted during the ascension part of the movement. You can be sure that all big deadlifters have grips that can crush a hand.

Shoulder Muscles

Shoulder Muscle

Especially in the downward movement of the exercise, the traps and shoulder muscles are pulled back to prevent your neck and back from rounding. Big deadlifters have massive traps and shoulders.

I know lots of bodybuilders who never did any direct trap exercises because deadlifts already work their traps muscles very hard.


I'm sure you're now very aware how awesome deadlifts is and why is it called the king of all exercises. If you're still not doing it, it is now time to incorporate it to your training regimen.

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