What muscles do deadlifts work?

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The deadlift allows you to lift heavy and is quite tiring. Yet it is sometimes difficult to say which muscles you have trained exactly. Many coaches speak of a full body exercise. In principle, that is correct, but there are certainly muscles that do the most work during a deadlift.


Based on various studies, we can state that you primarily train the following muscle groups with the deadlift:

  • erector spinae;
  • glutes;
  • trapezius;
  • hamstrings;
  • core;
  • forearms.


To a lesser extent, the following muscle groups also come into action:

  • latissimus dorsi (lats);
  • shoulders;
  • quadriceps;
  • calves.

Seen in this way, the deadlift is not an all-round back exercise: you mainly train the thickness (or depth) of your back and not so much the width. Which is certainly not a disaster, because the lats are already covered enough in pull exercises. It is often precisely the thickness of the back that is lacking.


And which muscle groups do you train with the various deadlift variants? We list them.

  • Romanian deadlift: slightly more hamstrings and glutes, slightly less back and quadriceps;
  • stiff-leg deadlift: slightly more hamstrings, glutes and lower back, slightly less quadriceps;
  • sumo deadlift: slightly more quadriceps and slightly less back;
  • trap-bar deadlift: slightly more quadriceps, slightly less lower back and hamstrings;
  • rack pull: slightly more upper back and glutes, slightly less legs.


For those who want to get stronger, the deadlift is an absolute must. But if you go to the gym purely to build muscle, the role of the deadlift is somewhat debatable.

The exercise has a relatively unfavorable Stimulus-to-Fatigue Ratio (SFR). This means that although you create a large stimulus (for muscle growth), there is a disproportionate amount of fatigue. The latter can be at the expense of your recovery. In addition, the deadlift is a relatively difficult exercise to perform correctly, with the associated injury risks. For those reasons, muscle growth expert Brad Schoenfeld does not consider the deadlift optimal for pure muscle growth.

According to coach Mike Israetel, it just depends on what your training program looks like. If you follow a schedule with relatively little volume and a low training frequency, the deadlift can easily fit into it. However, advanced users with high training volumes may be better off doing the conventional deadlift exercises with a more favorable SFR instead of the conventional deadlift. That can also be some deadlift variants, such as the Romanian deadlift and rack pulls.

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