Deadlifts legit changed my workout routine. I’d spent years developing my skills in cardio but wasn’t getting the results I really wanted.

Until then, I’d tried everything: yoga, Pilates, barre… I’d even dipped my toe into lifting weights at my local gym, but my knowledge was a combination of Google searches and a college gym class that produced few results.

The first exercise my trainer added to my workout routine? Deadlifts. Surely a single exercise couldn’t revolutionize my workout in a way years of trial and error had failed to? Fortunately, I was dead (heh) wrong.

So, should you be doing deadlifts? And how do you even start? Here are some basics to get you lifting.

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Deadlifts work your entire body

“The deadlift targets multiple muscle groups in a single lift, offering more bang for your buck than an isolation exercise,” says Zach Mayer, a master trainer at Burn 60 Studios (studio of choice for Reese Witherspoon, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Naomi Watts).

This move also relies on core strength to stabilize your body throughout the lift, which means you’ll be working your abs on top of everything else. Building muscle helps increase your metabolism, too, which in turn helps you lose more fat long-term.

Deadlift training produces a lot of muscle activation in your lower body. A 2020 review of studies confirmed that deadlifts do well at activating all the muscles of the legs, back, core, and hips.

Deadlifts help prevent injury

Some people might avoid deadlifts out of fear of back injury, but studies have shown that deadlifts can be beneficial for reducing low back pain in some cases.

Remember that building strength takes time, so don’t jump into too-heavy weights or complicated lifts before you’re ready. Be sure to watch your posture and technique to build muscle and ward off injury. When in doubt, talk with a doctor or physical therapist.

A traditional deadlift consists of lifting a barbell off the floor while keeping your spine neutral and trunk braced. There are tons of variations, but this one is back to basics.

How to do to a deadlift

Stand with feet hip-width apart. Reach down to grab the bar, with your knees bent and your butt back. Keep back straight and neck neutral. Keep your shoulders down, away from your ears.

Engage your core as you bend down. Drive your feet through the floor and squeeze your glutes to extend your hips and come to a standing position.

Here are some tips for getting great form in a deadlift:

  • Focus on using your glutes and hamstrings, not your back, to lift yourself.
  • Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  • Keep your spine and neck neutral. Don’t look up at a mirror or ahead.
  • Keep the barbell over the center of your feet.
  • Keep your shoulder blades over the barbell itself.
  • Push your butt back as you bend down.
  • Don’t feel the need to go into a deep squat. Keep your hips above your knees.

Kettlebell deadlift

A kettlebell works great for weight workouts in a small apartment.

Stand with the kettlebell between your feet. Bend down and grab the handle with both hands, keeping your back neutral and straight. Engage your core while you slowly rise up with the kettlebell.

Do 12–15 reps.

Romanian deadlift

In this deadlift variation, your legs are pretty straight, with your knees only slightly bent.

Stand with a bar or dumbbells in your hands. Slowly lower the bar, bending at your hips. Keep your back straight and lower the bar just past your knees. Use your legs to pull the bar back up.

Do 12–15 reps.

Single-leg deadlift

Stand on both feet with arms at your sides. Keeping hips facing forward and back straight, bend forward at your hips, lifting right leg backward and stretching your arms forward.

Return to the starting position by bringing arms down to your sides and right leg back to the floor.

Do 12–15 reps on each side.

Sumo deadlift high pull

Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands. Slowly bend your knees until thighs are parallel to the floor while lowering the kettlebell.

Engage your core as you raise yourself up using your hips and legs and bring the kettlebell up to chest level.

Do 12–15 reps.

Rear foot deadlift

Using a low bench or step, place your left foot comfortably behind you. Keeping your back straight and core engaged, lean forward, letting your arms fall forward toward the floor.

Slowly raise yourself back up using your legs and hips.

Do 12–15 reps on each side.

Deadlifts are the unicorn of the fitness world. They’re a great way to get a whole bunch of results without spending a lot of time in the gym, and even fitness newbies can do them.

You don’t need access to a barbell to do deadlifts, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. You can use dumbbells or kettlebells to do the exercise, especially for variations like the Romanian deadlift.

Deadlifts will save you time (compound exercises FTW!) and money (you can do them anywhere), and you’ll build strength that’ll make lifting groceries, babies, and your big German Shepherd that much easier.

Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. After graduating from Huntington University with a B.A. in history, she went on to receive a master’s degree in modern British history from the University of East Anglia. In her spare time, Sutton enjoys fangirling, running, and anything related to ice cream. Pluto is still a planet in her heart. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.