Deadlifts are more likely to shrink than to expand your waist.
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Any fitness routine built around compound exercises -- activities that move multiple joints and involve more than one muscle group -- is almost certain to include deadlifts. Along with the squat, the deadlift is a premier free-weight exercise that features several variations and is also performed in powerlifting competitions. Deadlifts strengthen a variety of muscles across your body, including your core, but you don't have to worry about your waistline getting bigger.
You can perform deadlifts in a few different ways, but the basic movement pattern involves bending forward from the waist, holding the weight in your hands and then rising to a standing position. In essence, you lift the weight with your legs, glutes, core and back, rather than your arms. To perform a bent-leg barbell deadlift, for example, stand just behind the bar with your feet about hip-width apart or a bit wider. Squat and grip the bar with your palms facing your body and spread about shoulder-width apart, your arms extended and your head up. Keep your back and arms straight as you rise to an erect stance. Return under control to the starting position.
Muscles Worked by Deadlifts
The muscles targeted by deadlifts vary, depending on which version you perform. Standard bent-leg deadlifts target the erector spinae muscles in your back while the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, hip adductors and soleus muscles assist. Perform stiff-leg deadlifts to target your gluteus maximus and receive assistance from your erector spinae, hip adductors and hamstrings. Do straight-back straight-leg deadlifts to focus on your hamstrings while your gluteus maximus and hip adductors assist. No matter which deadlift version you perform, however, the rectus abdominis and obliques -- the muscles along your waistline -- help stabilize your movements in some way.
The Deadlift's Impact on Your Waist
Because your abdominal muscles act as stabilizers during deadlifts, the exercise can help tone your waistline. But deadlifts themselves aren't going to create huge, bulging abs. Indeed, it's more likely that deadlifts will help shrink your waistline. The exact number of calories you burn depends on several factors, including the weight you lift -- the heavier the load, the more calories you burn -- and the intensity of your overall routine. As a general guideline, a 155-pound exerciser burns about 223 calories with 30 minutes of vigorous weight training. If you perform deadlifts within a circuit -- a series of exercises you do without resting between activities -- the same 155-pound individual burns about 298 calories in a half hour. Of course, if you treat yourself to an ice cream sundae every time you do deadlifts, your waistline will likely expand. But that's your diet at work. Adding deadlifts to your routine will not make your waist bigger.
Deadlift Safety and Program Considerations
Perform a five- to 10-minute cardio warm-up before attempting any deadlifts. To avoid injury, keep your back straight or very slightly arched for most deadlift variations and keep your knees directly above your feet; don't allow your knees to drift to the right or left. All your involved joints should move simultaneously when you do deadlifts. For example, don't extend your knees and then straighten your hips when you rise. Depending on your exercise goals, perform 12 deadlift repetitions using sufficient weight to make the final reps challenging, as long as you can do every rep with proper form. Do deadlifts one to three times per week, but leave at least one day of rest between sessions.