Build your glutes, hamstrings and lower back with deadlifts, but pick other exercises for your chest.
Despite often being classed as the best total-body exercise, due to the high number of muscles it works, the deadlift doesn't really work your chest. When deadlifting, you may squeeze your pecs to create full-body tension, but the stimulation they get is relatively low. Your chest muscles do play a role when deadlifting, however, and you can add other chest exercises into your routine to complement the deadlift.
Main Muscles Worked
The deadlift is one of the most effective exercises you can perform for your posterior chain. This is the muscle group comprising your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, adductors and calves. Deadlifts also give you a forearm and biceps workout, as your arms work isometrically to grip the bar, plus your upper back and traps contract at the top part of the lift to help you achieve a fully locked-out position.
Role of the Chest When Deadlifting
Your chest isn't a complete non-issue when deadlift. In fact, having strong pecs to maintain a good position is pretty important. You should start every lift by leading with your chest, advises performance coach Joe Meglio, owner of Meglio Performance Systems and holder of a 600-pound deadlift. This means keeping your chest up as you pull the bar off the ground. If you can get your chest up and hips back, you'll be able to use much more leg drive, which will make for a stronger deadlift, adds strength coach Jim Smith.
Best Accessory Moves
As the deadlift doesn't pay too much attention to your chest muscles, you'll need to add extra chest-specific moves into your routine to develop the area. Bench presses work well as an accessory move, since along with squats, bench presses and deadlifts are the exercises performed in a powerlifting contest. Alternatively, other pushing exercises, like incline bench presses, dumbbell presses, pushups and dips, or isolation moves, such as flyes and cable crossovers, all work well.
Running Into Trouble
Performing too much chest work can actually hamper your deadlift performance. Overworking your pecs causes them to tighten, which can lead to a slumping of the shoulders and a rounded upper back. This is known as upper-cross syndrome. Deadlifting with a rounded back is a serious faux pas, according to Boston-based trainer Tony Gentilcore. To fix this imbalance and improve your deadlift, consider keeping your chest work to only two to three exercises each week. Also, stretch your pecs after every workout and before deadlifting and add in more upper-back exercises, such as dumbbell rows and face pulls.