Let’s talk about functional training for a moment.
Functional training means exercising motions that are applicable to your every-day life. If you’re an athlete, the types of motions can get pretty fancy, depending on your sport. But if you’re just living your life, the motions are actually pretty basic.
And here, in my opinion, is the best functional exercise of all: the dead lift.
The dead lift is actually one of three power lifts (the other two are the bench press and the back squat). It’s the only power lift I care about–because it is a functional movement. You find yourself squatting down to pick up boxes, groceries, wheelbarrows, children, furniture… right? People need to lift things.
The bench press… not that important, unless a wall falls on top of you. And the back squat? Downright dangerous (and so many people do it so badly!). In my opinion, if you can’t lift the weight yourself and place it on your back, it has no business being there. I’m not saying the back squat is bad for you. But the Average Joe has better things he can do with his training time.
The dead lift is not about body building. Body building differs because its goal is hypertrophy–that is, making muscles bigger. Yes, the deadlift will increase the size of your muscles (as will all weight lifting), but it isn’t geared toward big muscles. It is geared toward power and interconnected strength.
The dead lift is a compound motion, spanning numerous extending joints: ankles, hips, back (to a small extent). It also works the quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes. Let’s not forget the traps and lats (because of the amount of weight suspended from your arms). Forearm and grip strength improve from training the dead lift (so you can open stubborn jars of peanut butter). Let’s not forget that all the major muscles in your core have to activate.
It’s one hell of a lift. An efficient lift.
The benefits of this compound exercise are awesome compared to isolation exercises (i.e., the leg press). Compound movements simply involve more muscle groups–so you’re getting more bang for your buck. The dead lift, as a matter of fact, involves all of the body’s biggest muscle groups, one after another after another. That makes for a good workout, and for the biggest gains in strength (not size).
And what is strength, anyway? It isn’t the size of any particular part. It is how that part works in concert with other parts and other objects. If there is a break or delay in a chain of movement, there is weakness. Strength implies one solid chain of movement–which is why that wiry-looking guy seems inhumanely strong. Strength. Muscular balance.
Don’t forget the dead lift.