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What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Five Variations That Will Blow Your Mind On What They Target

Apr 03, 2018

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work?You’re asking: What muscle groups do deadlifts work?

And you’re wondering because deadlifts are the talk of the town!

You’ve heard everyone say it…

The deadlift is the king of weightlifting.

Ok, that’s great, but why is it “the king?”

Today I’m going to break it down for you.

Waaaayyy down.

Just like an old-school gangster rapper would… because I’m hard like that *cough*

But, before we get into the details of deadlifting, we want to make sure your pretty little self is safely protected.

If you’re planning on doing any kind of deadlifts make sure your back is protected by using a high-quality weightlifting belt.

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Dark Iron Fitness Weightlifting BeltWe highly suggest our own leather weightlifting belt, as it is top-rated, tried and true, and looks damn good!

The Dark Iron Fitness Genuine Leather Weightlifting Belt

Our weight belt has been the highest rated and reviewed weight belt out on the market for a long time now, so the reviews speak for themselves.

Aside from that, let’s delve deeper into some details on deadlifts.

Not only am I going to show you what muscle groups the standard deadlifts work, but also 5 of the most popular variations of deadlifts.

After this article, you won’t be asking what muscle groups do deadlifts work, anymore!

We’re going to take a look at:

  • The Standard Deadlift
  • Deadlift Rack Pulls
  • The Sumo Deadlift
  • Romanian Deadlift / “Stiff Leg Deadlift”
  • The Deficit Deadlift

Also, check out the Wikipedia link here on deadlifts to learn some pretty cool facts about the deadlift.

Now, let’s go ahead and get this little pony on the trail, shall we?

 

So, What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work?

This is a little bit of a broad question.

It really takes asking – What muscle groups do “THIS” type of deadlift work.

So, instead of just giving you a very broad answer, I’m going to list the 5 most common variations of the deadlift so you can find the one that you like and the one that targets the muscles you want to hit.

Besides, if you don’t have variety (which is the spice of life), you may get bored and disregard deadlifts — which you shouldn’t!

Let’s begin the breakdown and start with the most common deadlift variation.

Related: Why are Deadlifts Important?

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Standard Deadlifts

The standard deadlift is the most common deadlift out there.

When people refer to the deadlift as being “the king of weightlifting” they are referring to the standard deadlift.

So how do you do the standard deadlift?

If you check out the picture below you’ll get a pretty good idea as to how to do the standard deadlift, but I’ll break it down for you into some simple to follow Sesame Street style steps :p

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - standard deadlift

 

Here’s how to do the deadlift correctly:

  1. You want to stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Your knees should be slightly bent and grip the bar just outside of legs and hinge forward from your hips.
  3. Keep the bar close to your body and exhale as you straighten your legs.
  4. When the bar gets past your knees and your arms are straight, rest it against your thighs while keeping a straight back.
  5. Keeping a straight back, slowly lean forward at the hips while also bending your knees a little at the same time and lower the bar down to the ground.

And that’s all there is to it.

Really, it’s pretty self-explanatory when you refer back to the picture above.

To get a good handle on the movement itself, I would suggest practicing the standard deadlift form daily.

Using an empty barbell is the best way to get a handle on the form and movement of the deadlift.

Once you achieve proper form, you’ll easily recognize which muscles are being targeted.

 

So, What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work?

Here’s a picture that properly displays the muscle groups that are hit by this beast of an exercise:

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Muscles Worked

As you can see, aside from your arms, shoulders, and lats, the standard deadlift is pretty much a full body workout.

And that’s why it receives the nickname “the king of weightlifting.”

Here’s the break down of  the names of the major muscle groups that the standard deadlift works:

  • Gluteus Maximus: (Butt)
  • Quadriceps: (Upper Front legs)
  • Adductor Magnus: (Inner Thigh)
  • Soleus: (the Smaller part of your calf muscle)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)
  • Gastrocnemius: (the bigger part of your calf muscle)
  • Erector Spinae: (lower back)
  • Trapezius, upper: (upper neck muscles)
  • Trapezius, middle: (middle neck muscles)
  • Levator Scapulae: (the muscle from your jaw to your shoulder)
  • Rhomboids:  (upper inner back muscles right below your neck)
  • Rectus Abdominis: (abs)
  • Obliques: (side abs)

So, from the list of muscle groups, it hits and the picture above you can see why this is such a great exercise.

If you’re wanting to hit a whole range of muscle groups at once then this is THE ONE exercise to do to get the most “bang for your buck.”

Of course, you can create an optimized workout plan that focuses on deadlifts but includes other movements, as well.

Yes, deadlifts will be taxing on your body.

However, utilizing this compound movement is one of the best ways to jumpstart muscle growth.

Related: How Many Reps of Deadlifts Should I Do?

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work: An Extra Tip

I shouldn’t have to convince you that the deadlift is one of the best exercises out there to do.

It hits so many muscle groups all at once!

But, what if you could hit all those muscle groups and lift even heavier than you normally could…

The answer to that is that you would gain more muscle than what you normally would.

Sounds like a pretty good benefit to me, right?

So how can you accomplish this?

By using a weightlifting belt.

What better belt to use than our Dark Iron Fitness genuine leather weightlifting belt?

The last article I wrote, I actually broke down 7 of the most purchased weight belts to show you exactly what is the best weightlifting belt for deadlifts.

Just click on the link above to check it out and see the choices of weight belts that will help take your deadlifts to the next level.

And, if you want a great all-around guide mainly focused on deadlifting, make sure to check out this guide from the guys over at bodybuilding.com

Now, let’s move on to the next deadlift variation.

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Deadlift Rack Pulls

You can think of a “Rack Pull” as just a shorter version of a standard deadlift.

Except you’re just starting with the barbell on a rack somewhere around your knee-level or higher and completing the exercise from there.

There are a couple main reasons why you would want to do rack pulls.

  1. You can lift way heavier than a standard deadlift, and why not lift heavy shit, right?
  2. It primarily targets the muscles in your back and not your legs.

Here’s a picture of a rack pull in action:

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Rack Pull deadlift Here’s how to do the rack pull deadlift correctly:

  1. You want to stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Your knees should be slightly bent and grip the bar just outside of your legs and hinge just slightly forward.
  3. Keep the bar close to your thighs and exhale as you straighten your legs and back the rest of the way as you rest it against your thighs.
  4. Keeping a straight back, slowly lean forward at the hips while also bending your knees a little at the same time and lower the bar down racked position.

So it’s pretty much exactly like the deadlift… you just start half way up.

Furthermore, these rack-pulls work exceptionally well for those who don’t have the greatest range of motion.

If it doesn’t feel natural to be in the standard deadlift position, doing them off the rack may help facilitate your entry into deadlifting.

Related: The Best Power Rack Under 500 Dollars

 

Which Major Muscle Groups Do Rack Pulls Work?

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - rack pull deadlifts

So if you take a look at the picture above, and then look at the standard deadlift, you’ll see that you target the legs, abs, and upper back a lot less and put more attention onto the lower back.

Here’s the break down of the names of the major muscle groups that the rack pull deadlift works:

  • Gluteus Maximus: (Butt)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)
  • Trapezius, upper: (upper neck muscles)
  • Trapezius, middle: (middle neck muscles)
  • Rhomboids:  ( upper inner back muscles right below your neck)
  • Erector Spinae (lower back)
  • All of your forearm muscles

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Dark Iron Fitness Weightlifting Belt

So, from the list above and the from the picture above, you can see major differences in which muscles are targeted in the rack pull compared to the standard deadlift.

 

If you’re looking to really tighten up your lower back or gain a lot of grip strength, then this is a great variation of the deadlift to help accomplish that.

If you use a high-quality weight belt like this one, then you’re guaranteed to tighten up your lower back even more!

Now, let’s move on to the next most common deadlift variation.

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Sumo Deadlifts

The sumo deadlift is one of my personal favorite variations of the deadlift.

If you’re like me and you have chicken leg syndromeAKA missed too many leg days… then the sumo deadlift is a great variation to throw into your routine to target your legs more.

Here’s a picture of the sumo deadlift in action:

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Sumo Deadlift
I’m sure you can see why it is so appropriately named the sumo deadlift.

Here’s how you do the sumo deadlift:

  1. Your feet should be pretty far apart, almost near the collars.
  2. Bend your hips to grip the bar. Your arms should be directly below your shoulders, inside the legs.
  3. Stay looking forward and keep your head and chest up.
  4. Push to the floor with your legs, spreading your feet apart, with your weight on the back half of your feet. Extend through the hips and knees.
  5. When the bar passes your knees, lean back and push your hips to the bar, pulling your shoulder blades Back.
  6. Return the weight to the ground by bending at the hips and controlling the weight on the way down.

As you can tell from the details above, your legs are the primary lifting force in this deadlift variation.

You can click here to watch a short video on how to do a sumo deadlift if you learn better from visual instruction.

For some, the sumo deadlift is actually much more comfortable to perform when compared to standard deadlifts.

Now, let’s look at the science behind the sumo deadlift and what muscles you are targeting here.

Related: How to Increase Deadlift Max with Simple Hacks

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work in the Sumo Variation?

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - sumo deadlift muscle groups

There’s definitely a huge difference in which muscles are used compared to the first two deadlift variations.

Here’s the break down of the names of the major muscle groups that the sumo deadlift works:

  • Gluteus Maximus: (Butt)
  • Quadriceps: (Upper Front legs)
  • Adductor Magnus: (Inner Thigh)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)
  • Erector Spinae: (lower back)
  • Trapezius, upper: (upper neck muscles)

So, just by looking at this list of targeted muscles, you can see there is definitely a lot more emphasis on the legs.

If you’re looking for a great exercise, besides squats, to just target legs, then this is a go-to exercise.

Now that we’ve explained the sumo deadlift and all it has to offer, let’s check out the next deadlift variation.

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Romanian Deadlifts (Stiff-Legged Deadlifts)

The Romanian deadlift or the “stiff-legged” deadlift is a great exercise for all of the females out there…

Why?

Because ladies, if you pay attention to this exercise, it’s great for building that award-winning butt you’re looking for.

Let’s take a look at it in action:

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - The Romanian deadliftHere’s how you do the Romanian deadlift:

  1. You want to stand with your feet closer together, slightly less than shoulder width apart
  2. Your legs should be as straight as possible with your knees barely bent and grip the bar about even with your legs and hinge forward from your hips.
  3. Keep the bar close to your body, keep your legs straight and lift with a straightened back.
  4. When the bar gets past your knees and your arms are straight, rest it against your thighs while keeping a straight back.
  5. Keeping a straight back, slowly lean forward at the hips while at the same time and lower the bar down to the ground and keeping your legs straight.

When doing this variation, it is very important to make sure you do the movements correctly because you don’t want to injure your lower back.

However, what you gain in the process is a nice reward: the best damn glutes possible!

Here’s a picture of the muscle groups that the Romanian deadlift work:

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Romanian deadlift muscle groups

As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, your glutes will be worked like no other.

Having strong glutes isn’t only beneficial from an aesthetic point of view, though it definitely is.

With strong glutes, your other exercises and range of motion will be optimized tremendously.

Related: What is a Romanian Deadlift and Why Should You Care?

 

The Major Muscle Groups that the Standard Deadlift Works

  • Gluteus Maximus: (Butt)
  • Adductor Magnus: (Inner Thigh)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)

So as you can see, not a huge variety of muscle groups targeted.

However, the ones that are targeted are hit hard and they are very, very important muscles to target ;)

Now, moving on, let’s discuss deficit deadlifts.

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Deficit Deadlifts

To quickly summarize the deficit deadlift — it’s basically adding more height between you and the bar on the ground.

Usually with the use of a plate or box, so that when you deadlift the bar you’re actually picking it up from a place that is higher than where you would be if you were to normally deadlift.

Me personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of the deficit deadlift… I mean why make the deadlift harder than it already is, right?

Below is a picture of how the deficit deadlift looks in action:What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - The deficit deadlift

 

Here’s how to do the deficit deadlift:

  1. Use a platform or weight plates to stand on, about 1-3 inches high.
  2. Your feet should be about hip-width apart. Bend at the hip to grip the bar at shoulder width.
  3. Lower your hips and bend the knees until your shins contact the bar. Keep your chest up and your back arched, and push through the heels to move the weight upward.
  4. After the bar is above your knees, pull the bar back as you push your hips forward into the bar.
  5. Lower the bar to the floor by bending your hips.

Very similar to the standard deadlift, but a little more height, so there’s a little more of a bend.

 

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? Major Muscles Worked by Deficit Deadlift

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - deficit deadlift muscle groups worked
When it comes to the muscles, very similar to the rack pull deadlift, except that the deficit deadlift also focuses on the muscle that’s right above the lower back.

Here’s the break down of the names of the major muscle groups that the deficit deadlift works:

  • Gluteus Maximus: (Butt)
  • Hamstrings: (Upper back of legs)
  • Trapezius, upper: (upper neck muscles)
  • Trapezius, middle: (middle neck muscles)
  • Rhomboids:  ( upper inner back muscles right below your neck)
  • Erector Spinae (lower back)
  • All of your forearm muscles
  • And of course, the muscle that is above the lower back and below your upper middle back

To me, it seems like a lot of extra work just to potentially work a few extra muscles than what a rack pull deadlift will work…

You might as well just do a regular deadlift, in my opinion.

But, some people prefer the added height in their deadlift to provide a different type of leverage on the weight.

Also, those shorter lifters out there who have a shorter range of motion, you might benefit from essentially making your deadlift range “harder.”

What it really comes down to is your comfort level and of course if you have deadlift platforms or spare weights to utilize.

Well, that rounds off the list for the 5 most common deadlift variations and what muscle groups they work.

Check out the video below to see even more deadlift variations!

Finally, let’s quickly conclude what we’ve learned and wrap this mother trucker up.

 

Final Recap — What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work?

So there we have it.

Now you’re armed not only with the top 5 variations of deadlifts, but you also know which muscle groups they work.

Based off of the data and information above, it’s pretty obvious that the standard deadlift remains king of weightlifting, and for good reason.

What Muscle Groups Do Deadlifts Work? - Dark Iron Fitness Deadlifting Weightlifting Belt

But depending on if you want to target specific muscle groups, you can do the different variations to hit those groups specifically.

So, what muscle groups do deadlifts work?

The answer to that is — almost all of them!

Now, go out there and deadlift to your little heart’s content and tell me how it goes.

Also, don’t forget to check out our leather weightlifting belt to use while you deadlift: Dark Iron Fitness Genuine Leather Weightlifting Belt

Whether it be standard, sumo, rack pull, Romanian or deficit deadlift, always lift to the best of your physical ability.

Never go out there and deadlift more than you can safely handle.

Test these deadlifts and re-test them, until you find your perfect choice.

Lastly, stay tuned here on the Dark Iron Fitness Blog for more great content about fitness and different products on the market.

Also, visit us on our Instagram page to see our products being used by customers like you!

Related: How to Deadlift Correctly: The Justification of Form