My Favorite Exercise for Building Total Body Strength
There are different schools of thought as to how to continue to build muscular strength called resistance training. There is the use of body weight exercises only as a form of resistance and there is the use of weights as a means for adding more resistance. Within the weight lifting community there is many more differences. However, whatever your personal beliefs if you don’t use it, you do lose it. This is especially true as we grow older and in my experience of lifting thus far, my overall favorite exercise for building total body strength is the deadlift.
The reasons why I love deadlifting are many, but one of the most important reasons for my loving the deadlift is that it teaches us how to safely lift an object from the floor, which in turn can be transferred to a real life scenario. If you have ever attended an ergonomics training session, there is usually a short explanation of how to safely lift an object without hurting your back, which is basically the same form from a movement perspective of how to safely perform a deadlift.
Lifting from a dead stop, as in deadlifting is definitely not easy, but with gradual progressions in weight and good technique I believe the majority of people can learn how to deadlift safely. Deadlifting is a bilateral exercise, meaning both sides of your body should be worked equally. There is no “good side” in a deadlift. Every muscle in your body needs to be engaged before lifting. At the start of a deadlift your feet should be about shoulder width distance apart, the barbell set at the middle of your feet, shoulders need to be down and back pulling the bar in towards your shins, your leg muscles must be engaged, your abdominal and back muscles should be braced (proper bracing took me a while to learn, but it is so important for protecting our spine), a breath of air is held to help with the bracing, your chest must be lifted, your head in a neutral position, the slack is then taken out of the bar and you are then able to deadlift the weight from the floor. As the barbell is lifted from the floor, it should skim your shins on the rise up to standing. The reason for the barbell to skim your shins on the lift upwards is because the closer you keep the barbell to your body the more it is balanced over your center of gravity, hence helping to make the lift more efficient. Once you know how to safely perform a deadlift, you then know how to safely lift an object off of the floor, which surprisingly not many of us know how to do. Hence back injuries are incredibly common in the workplace!
The deadlift helps to strengthen the muscles of your back (your spine should be in extension and not flexion – spinal flexion is what happens to your spine when you sit at a desk or look at your phone for too long and your spine gets rounded forward), your hips, your ankles and your shoulders. A deadlift if it is performed correctly is a full body exercise. And in my opinion nothing has come close to strengthening my back muscles more. It is not for the faint hearted and when I execute a really great deadlift I feel like I accomplished something. In other words I feel great.
I don’t need to lift especially heavy to still get a great benefit from deadlifting. The most I have comfortably lifted with good form is 105 lbs for about 4 reps. 105 pounds is nothing, as far as competition weight goes. However keep in mind that I am a 5’4”, 140 lb female with scoliosis in my mid forties and that is not too shabby. We all have to work with our bodies as they are now and the older I get I realize life is a marathon, not a sprint. If the weight I am lifting sounds high, keep in mind that I started with a low weight and gradually over several months built up the strength to comfortably accomplish that lift with good form. I also only lift heavy one time a week. The remaining other training days during the week I lift lighter.
Strength unfortunately decreases with age. Look up sarcopenia. We naturally lose muscle as we continue to grow older. If we do nothing fitness related until we hit our mid 60’s we may no longer be able to comfortably get out of a chair. That depresses me greatly. I intend to enjoy a good quality of life as I continue to grow older. I definitely do not want to be a grandparent (no pressure on my daughter), that is not able to enjoy running around after my grandkids. I want to keep active as long as I possibly can so I can continue to enjoy a varied life. The best way to help build muscle mass and combat sarcopenia is to lift weights. Until scientists can come up with a pill that can stop sarcopenia, our only way to combat it is strength training. However if you have limited time to work out, learning how to deadlift is a wonderful way to get a full body workout without having to waste a lot of time in the gym.
You also will get the added benefit of helping to increase your bone density when performing a deadlift. Unfortunately bone density also naturally decreases as we age. Lifting weights such as deadlifting is also low impact on your joints. There is no jumping around or bouncing on your joints during a deadlift therefore as long as you build up the weight in a gradual way with great form, deadlifting should be safe to do. I love free weight lifting, which is any lifting without utilizing a machine because it most often mimics real life. Therefore for the aforementioned reasons I particularly love the deadlift as one of my favorite lifts for building total body strength.