Without a doubt, the deadlift ranks among the very best exercises you can do. No exercise intensely involves so much muscle. It works muscles of both a pull and a squat. It earns its place with the other two exercises forming the big three, the bench press and squat.
Many powerlifters and other trainees consider it the only pulling movement needed. It can develop the entire lower body. It works the pulling muscles of the upper body as well. It serves as one of the best complete back exercises. This includes the lower back, rhomboids, rear deltoids, trapezius, and even the lat muscles. Since so much muscle works in unison, the indirect effect appears greatest.
Despite all this praise, I rarely use it. Why would such a good exercise not play an important role? The simple answer: other exercises fulfill their specific purposes even better. It misses some essential features. It does not work as a complete movement. It can feel unsafe and redundant.
- The dead-lift overemphasizes the posterior muscles versus a proper squat.
This comes from the mechanics. You have to bend more at the hips relatively than you do at the knees and ankles. This fails to allow the quadriceps of the front thigh and the calves to contribute much. It also forces the resistance to reside further from the lower back. This can place stress on the spine by overloading the lower back. It invites harmful forces similar to breaking your spine like you would a pencil. Most trainees find it impossible to keep a strong arch. You risk injury otherwise. This occurs especially with a barbell. The trap bar can remedy this somewhat. The body position on any deadlift still leans toward too much hip extension though.
In contrast, the barbell squat allows you to achieve a position that balances the stress on all the lower body muscles. Some justify adding a deadlift as a hip hinge movement. This is a lower body exercise that emphasizes the hip extensors. They then deem all squats as knee break movements. These are lower body exercises that focus on the knee extensors. With this logic, they suggest one from each category. This means use both a deadlift plus a squat. In reality, a barbell squat with the correct back placement works equally as a hip and knee movement. The lower body does not have the push and pull distinction of the upper body.
The elbows flexors, such as the biceps, do not receive much work. Very little movement through a range of motion occurs. They also perform at weak muscle lengths. This means that the barbell squat develops the lower body better, and a row or pull-up addresses these muscles more completely. These pulling motions address the same muscles as the deadlift. They include movement at the elbow too, along with more intense core work. Otherwise, the elbow flexors would receive little stimulation if focusing on only the big three.
- The squat and a pull with the elbows achieve the same purposes better.
Powerlifters recently have focused mainly on the squat. They find their deadlifts still increase, as long as they include some pulling movements. This shift occurred despite the deadlift as a competition lift. This occurs as the deadlift has the greatest draining effect. The central nervous system experiences great fatigue. This comes from coordinating so many muscle groups to work at once. Athletes find it hurts their overall training when used too often. This leaves the deadlift with no unique role.
Should you include this exercise? There is no clear answer. If you can barbell squat with a low bar position, then I would say you do not need it. Some trainees like some variety and include both. Some trainees find the barbell squat irritating to the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints. Holding the weight below you reduces the burden on these joints. I find it can build the muscles of the squat until the trainee perfects it. These concerns show some practical reasons for the deadlift. Some may find the indirect effect alone justifies its place in their routine.
The stimulus for the upper back muscles comes unparalleled. Even if the elbow flexors have less involvement, you may implement it due to the effect on every back muscle. You can always cycle the movements. Keep in mind though that training should always be as efficient as possible. This allows you to recover best. If you do not need the deadlift, do not use it.
Consider Removing the Deadlift
Either choice you make, I suggest using a trap bar. This distributes the load across the working muscles. If you decide to squat and deadlift within the same program, rotate them or perform the deadlift less often. Both too often can lead to too much fatigue for most trainees, especially within the same workout.
Personally, I never found an essential reason to include the deadlift. I find that a barbell squat and a dumbbell row or underhand pullup addresses all the muscles involved in the deadlift. Still, I cannot argue against its possible value. It remains tested through time. It ranks infinitely higher than the vast majority of useless exercises most use.
Balance the pros and cons. Decide for yourself if it belongs. Use the trap bar version should you decide in favor of it. In some cases, it may serve as the safest squat option. You may judge its benefits unique and find a place for it. The deadlift certainly earns its rank among the best exercises you can perform. Just make sure it has a clear purpose for you.