Here is an important bit of perspective to consider before jumping into dead lifts.
I have friends and colleagues who think that dead lifts are awesome. There is no better single exercise for adding muscle to the frame of a human! Dead lifts are possibly THE key fundamental movement pattern for athletes to ingrain and develop strength through the posterior chair (hamstrings, hips, lower and upper back) as well as functional core stability that translates to optimal performance.
I also have friends and colleagues who think that dead lifts are terrible. They only see wrecked spines and pointless toil. Some orthopedic specialists advise all of their patients to avoid bending and lifting as much as possible.
So, who is right? Are dead lifts awesome for you or going to destroy you? The truth, of course lies somewhere in the middle.
Dead lift yourself!
Dead lifts – done correctly – absolutely do strengthen the supporting spine muscles. In nearly twenty years of working as a physical therapist, I’ve witnessed how one of the most valuable things that I have to offer clients with lower back issues is teaching them exactly when (timing in recovery), and how to lift well. Some can jump right into it while others need to practice a lot of foundational work to prepare them for a dead lift.
**It is my belief that any reasonably healthy person, given at least 6 months of training, can and should be able to easily dead lift their body weight off the ground. This is a great exercise in learning to use the entire body as a functional unit and stay healthy. We all have to lift, so we need to learn how to develop a strong back and hips, and to do it well.
Dead lift twice your weight!
Are you making a run as a serious, high level athlete? Dead lifts are a critical part of the formula to increase your size and strength. You will need to (eventually) be able to fairly easily dead lift twice your body weight. Strength/power athletes like baseball and football can often use a little more dead lift (than double body weight), and some endurance athletes a little less. But yes, even endurance athletes can and do benefit tremendously from the priming of the nervous system that dead lifting demands.
Now, is dead lifting twice your body weight healthy? I do know that staying super strong helps prevent other athletic (and general life) injuries. If will help you to function optimally. If programmed in a long-term, reasonable plan with reasonable repetitions, dead lifting that much can do little harm. But no, I do not claim that dead lifting twice body weight is particularly healthy.
The other half of the coin is that athletes can also use this as a general guideline to know when enough strength is enough. For example, if you want to get faster for soccer but can already dead lift twice body weight, you should not suspect that your speed issues are due to weakness. You may need to work on conditioning, mobility, or running technique, but additional strength is not likely to provide much payoff. If you are a pitcher and want to throw harder but can already dead lift 2.2 X body weight…trying to dead lift 2.6 X body weight is not likely to provide much velocity pay off. If you pitch and can lift only 275 lbs…well then, you will surely stand to improve performance by getting stronger.
Triple body weight and beyond…
Lastly, if you are seriously nuts about doing what it takes to make yourself as big and strong as possible, or you love competing in Olympic Lifting, Power Lifting, Crossfit, or Strong Man type competitions, then you will benefit from moving toward the rare air of a triple body weight dead lift. You can be smart about this, and pursue it in a manner that minimizes the damages. But don’t think for a minute that this is -good- for you. I mean, it’s a worthy and fun challenge in the same manner of gymnastics, downhill skiing, and steer wrestling. At some point it is definitely hard on the body. You will eventually hit your limit and strain something. Count on it.
So there you have some perspective on dead lifts.
For health? For optimal performance? For pushing the limit of size and strength?
As always, it’s your call.