Deadlift Muscles Worked – Muscle Groups Used in Deadlifting Explained


The deadlift is a powerlifting exercise that has been around for generations. It’s an incredibly effective way to build strength, improve posture, and increase muscle mass. But, do you know which muscles are worked during the deadlift? In this post, we will go over all the muscles worked in the deadlift, both primary and secondary. We will also discuss how variations of the deadlift affect the muscles worked. Additionally, we will discuss some common mistakes made during deadlifting and how to avoid them. So whether you’re a seasoned lifter or just starting out, read on to learn everything you need to know about which muscle groups are used in the deadlift exercise.

Muscles Worked in the Deadlift

Deadlifts are an effective exercise for building muscle mass and strength throughout the body. While targeting multiple muscle groups at once, they primarily engage the posterior chain muscles such as the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Additionally, the upper back muscles such as the lats and traps work hard to maintain proper posture and upright position while lifting heavy weights. Deadlifting with proper form enhances mobility and range of motion in various muscles like quadriceps and spinal erectors. Variations like Romanian deadlift or sumo deadlift can focus on different aspects of these prime movers as well as activate other muscles like obliques or calves that support lifting heavy weights. By incorporating this compound exercise into your training program with overhand grip or trap bar deadlift can aid in improving grip strength while lowering your risk of injury.

Primary muscles worked:

During deadlifts, the primary muscles that bear the brunt of the workload are the glutes and the lower back. The gluteal muscles, comprising the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, play a vital role in hip extension. They are responsible for generating the powerful force required to lift the weight off the ground. Simultaneously, the lower back muscles, particularly the erector spinae, undergo significant activation to stabilize the spine and maintain proper posture throughout the lift. These primary muscles work in unison to provide the necessary strength and stability needed for executing deadlifts effectively and safely.

Secondary muscles worked:

During deadlifts, several secondary muscles come into play to support the primary movers and contribute to the overall execution of the exercise. The quadriceps, located in the front of the thighs, actively engage to provide stability and assist in extending the knee joint throughout the lift. The hamstrings, situated at the back of the thighs, play a crucial role by assisting in hip extension, working in tandem with the glutes. The adductor muscles, positioned on the inner side of the thighs, contribute to leg stability and help maintain proper alignment. Additionally, the trapezius muscles, spanning the upper back and neck, are involved in scapular retraction and shoulder stability during the movement. Lastly, the forearm flexors, located in the forearm, come into action to ensure a secure grip on the barbell, allowing for a controlled and effective execution of the deadlift exercise. Together, these secondary muscles play important roles in supporting the primary muscle groups and enhancing the overall effectiveness of the deadlift.

Deadlift Muscles Worked – How Variation Affects Things

Deadlifts are an effective exercise for activating multiple muscle groups in your lower body and back. Incorporating different variations of deadlifts into your training program can help you increase muscle mass and strength in areas such as the posterior chain, quadriceps, lower back, hamstrings, glutes, traps, lats, erector spinae, core muscles, biceps, forearms, obliques and abdominal muscles.

Romanian Deadlift Muscles Worked

The Romanian deadlift is a variation that emphasizes the hamstrings and glutes more heavily than a conventional deadlift. It also targets the lower back (erector spinae) but to a slightly lesser degree.

The exercise begins from a standing position, and the bar is lowered with a straight back, pushing the hips back to maximize hamstring engagement. Other muscles worked include the upper back and traps, and the forearms (due to the grip).

Sumo Deadlift Muscles Worked

The sumo deadlift uses a wide stance and a narrower grip. This changes the geometry of the lift and reduces the range of motion compared to a conventional deadlift.

The sumo stance emphasizes the quadriceps, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings while still engaging the lower back, traps, and forearms. It’s generally considered a more quad and hip-dominant movement due to the wider stance and more upright torso position.

Stiff-Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked

The stiff-leg deadlift (also known as straight-leg deadlift) places significant emphasis on the hamstrings. Unlike the Romanian deadlift, the stiff-leg version doesn’t start with a ‘bent knee’ position, which increases the stretch on the hamstrings and glutes.

The lower back (erector spinae) is heavily involved, as well as the upper back and traps. The forearms also work to maintain grip on the bar. This is an excellent variation for isolating the posterior chain.

Conventional Deadlift Muscles Worked

The conventional deadlift is a total-body compound exercise, and it engages a wide variety of muscle groups. The primary muscles worked are the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back (erector spinae), but the movement also involves the quads, adductors, traps, lats, and forearms.

The conventional deadlift starts with a bent knee position, and the lifter must pull the bar from the ground, engaging multiple muscle groups throughout the body. It’s often considered a posterior chain-dominant movement, but it also heavily engages the quads, especially in the initial portion of the lift.

Hex or Trap Bar Deadlift Muscles Worked

The trap bar deadlift, named for the hexagonal or “trap” bar used, changes the lifter’s position relative to the weight. The lifter stands inside the hex bar, which aligns the weight more with the lifter’s center of gravity. This leads to a more upright starting position, resembling a squat more than a conventional deadlift.

The primary muscles worked are the quads, glutes, and lower back. However, because of the more upright position, there’s less stress on the lower back, and the quads and glutes are engaged more compared to a conventional deadlift. The upper back, traps, and forearms are also worked in this variation. The trap bar deadlift can be a good choice for those with lower back issues or mobility limitations.

Common Mistakes in Deadlifts

When performing deadlifts, beginners often make some common mistakes that can lead to injuries. To avoid these mistakes, it’s crucial to focus on maintaining proper posture and not overextending your neck during lifts. Incorporating deadlift variations like Romanian deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts into your training program can also target specific muscle groups like your posterior chain or upper back without compromising your form.

Rounding The Shoulders

Maintaining proper form during compound exercises like deadlifts is crucial for avoiding injury and ensuring muscle activation. Ineffective technique can lead to poor posture, unnecessary strain on back muscles, limiting the range of motion, and risking other injuries. Among common mistakes made with deadlifting is rounding the shoulders instead of pulling them back throughout the lift. Engaging core muscles will help maintain upright position as well as preventing shoulder rounding. If struggling with this issue, it’s advisable to decrease weight and perfect technique before adding more load. By training with a proper form that involves activating posterior chain muscles like erector spinae or spinal erectors, trap bar deadlifts have been found to be one of the best exercises for strengthening lower body muscle groups.

Arching The Lower Back

Maintaining a proper posture while performing a deadlift is critical in avoiding injuries. Arching the lower back puts undue strain on the lumbar region of your spine, leading to severe damage. To prevent such harm, make sure to maintain a neutral spine throughout the exercise by keeping your shoulders drawn downwards and backward. Further, engaging your core muscles will help in stabilizing your lower back and protecting it from damage. Practicing with lighter weights before attempting heavy lifting will ensure that you get accustomed to this proper form.

Letting The Hips Rise First

To perform a safe and effective deadlift, it’s crucial to avoid letting your hips rise before your chest. This common mistake puts unnecessary strain on your lower back and reduces the workout’s effectiveness. Instead, keep your chest up and drive through your legs as you lift. To avoid injury and activate more muscle groups, engage your core muscles and maintain a neutral spine throughout the lift. Practice with lighter weights until you perfect proper form before attempting heavier lifts. With dedication to technique and strength training programs that incorporate deadlifting variations like Romanian and Sumo styles, you’ll build muscle mass in prime mover muscles such as erector spinae while avoiding risk of injury.

Bouncing The Bar Off The Ground Between Reps

To get the most out of your deadlifts while reducing your risk of injury, it’s crucial to avoid bouncing the bar off the ground between reps. Instead, maintain a controlled movement throughout each rep by gently lowering the bar back down to the floor before beginning your next lift. Remembering to keep proper form during your deadlifts will ensure that you’re engaging all necessary muscle groups effectively. Regularly practicing this compound exercise with weights such as kettlebells or dumbbells will help build muscle mass in areas like your posterior chain as well as improve grip strength and core activation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do deadlifts work the most muscles?

Deadlifts are a compound exercise that targets several muscle groups at once, including the posterior chain muscles, quadriceps, core muscles, and grip strength. While effective, other exercises may isolate specific muscles better.

What is better squats or deadlifts?

Squats and deadlifts are both essential exercises that target different muscle groups. Squats focus on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, while deadlifts work the hamstrings, glutes, core, and lower back. Choose based on your goals and preference. However, incorporating both into your routine is recommended for full-body strength and development.

Are deadlifts for back or legs?

Deadlifts are a compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and upper back. While they primarily work the legs and back, they also engage the core and quadriceps. Correct form is essential to ensure that the intended muscles are targeted.

Should you deadlift with a flat or rounded back?

Maintaining a flat back during deadlifts is crucial for reducing the risk of injury, particularly to the lower back. Engage your core and keep your chest up for proper form. Remember that correct technique is vital for reaping the full benefits of deadlifting.


The deadlift is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups throughout the body. The primary muscles worked are the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, while the secondary muscles include the quadriceps, core, and upper back. The type of deadlift you perform can affect which muscles are emphasized. For example, a Romanian deadlift focuses more on the hamstrings, while a sumo deadlift targets the inner thighs. It’s important to avoid common mistakes such as rounding your shoulders or arching your lower back to prevent injury and maximize results. To learn more about proper form and technique for deadlifting, check out our comprehensive guide on how to perform a perfect deadlift.