When I think about most people’s goals of fat loss or changing the shape of their body, one thing I think about is enlisting an exercise that will contract as many muscles as possible all at the same time. While there are several exercises that can accomplish this, let’s focus on two of the most well known – the dead-lift and the squat. Goals, technique and form are all factors when making the decision to use one or the other.
Squats are great and help with improving mobility and function around the hip and knee joints. Muscles of the hip are often left out when talking about core strength and stability which is not limited to just your abs and back. However, too much squatting with a load/weight on your back can contribute to injury due to the repetitive motion and improper alignment (poor bio-mechanics). In addition we have no use for loading weight on our backs, then moving up and down during our normal daily activities. Whether it is because of injury, limitation issues, or an inability to perform the correct form due to femur (thigh) tibia (shin born) relation, or muscular imbalance and weakness, it isn’t necessary to squat with weight on your back unless you have the goals of power lifters, athletes and bodybuilders.
Now let’s examine the dead-lift. The dead-lift exercise is one of the best core and overall full-body exercises for any fitness goal, since we all get into a dead-lift position many times per day (and all muscles are needed for a proper formed dead-lift). Since dead-lifts activate muscles throughout the entire body you will quickly realize that dead-lifts can and will put you in a state of being a major caloric burning machine. The dead-lift is a great exercise for maximizing strength, enhancing sports performance, strengthening the lower back/core muscles as well as accelerating fat loss. But all of the benefits only come when this exercise is performed properly. The technique will change in speed, reps and weight for the specific goal in mind.
Everything from the calves, hamstrings, glutes, erector spinae (low back), trapezius, and deltoids are active with a proper dead-lift. If you lift very heavy weight during the dead-lift, all pairs of muscles in the entire body are activated at once. Name the muscle and it is used when lifting heavy dead-lifts. The activation of all of those muscles allows us to put on more lean muscle which will increase your metabolism and create the “mirror changes” that many of us are looking for. I call it mirror changes because that is what we should be looking for, not just something you step on that shows a number.
I also like the dead-lift because it emulates ADL (Active Daily Living) exercises like picking up your child or a basket of clothes, or starting a lawn mower. What you may not realize is the dead-lift is THE proper way to lift just about everything. The dead-lift adds more movement in the hip and takes out most of the bending at your knees.
Unfortunately many people sit for too many hours a day and have poor posture because of the deactivation of certain muscles (this will not allow them to bend and squat properly not matter how hard they try). Their butt muscles are literally turned off. They can’t perform a proper dead-lift or squat due to opposing muscles being weak which creates instability and doesn’t allow them to bend over (or down) with the proper mechanics needed to compliment that action rather than detracting from it. This can, and in most cases will, cause injury.
When we take a look at the pros and cons of these two exercises and the results gained from specific lower body movements, my preference would be the dead-lift. When the risk reward ratio favors you rather than detracts from the over-all goal of being healthy and fit, is when you begin to realize certain exercises like the shoulder/back weighted squat is not for everyone unless you have the goals of an athlete, power lifter and bodybuilder and ego seekers.
And girls, do not fear these exercises – they are both healthy and needed exercises for proper function and mobility in daily life. You can also use exercises such as lunges, body squats, jump squats and jump lunges to enhance to your shape and fat loss efforts…provided you’re healthy and fit enough to do these.
As far as lower back pain is concerned, the dead-lift exercise and its variations, when performed with correct form, can put you in the healthy posture the body wants to be in, and with proper core strengthening exercises give you optimal strength for your back. I highly recommend enlisting a QUALIFIED personal trainer to show you proper form of these exercises before attempting them. Many people do not perform them correctly (yet think they are) and thusly tend to become injured and blame the exercise, when in fact its lack of form and strength by those who cannot perform the dead-lift even with their own body weight.
Some people who are not familiar with the dead-lift are afraid it will hurt their back, however the load you use and proper form can actually create a safe environment (posture) for the lower back and strengthen it. Just make sure you can perform this action with your own body weight before adding weights.
One again find a trainer to help you with this exercise. If you cannot perform it perfectly, address the muscles that are not firing and focus on those. Getting back to basics such as the dead-lift and squat can propel you passed others who are stuck on the latest and greatest goofy “fluff” machines in the gym that do nothing except give you an excuse to be lazy. Yes, using free weights rather than machines takes more effort, but the reward is greater too (and no ladies, free weights will NOT make you big – the only thing big here is the myth that was created about free weights).
Those with egos and weekend warrior syndrome may become humbled when having to back down on the weights they’re using now, but the rewards are worth it.
ALWAYS SEEK professional help before performing these two exercises.