What would you guess is the safest exercise of all time?
Before you answer, consider this. Fitness trends over the past few decades have taught people to regard as “safe” any exercise that’s done on a padded machine, involves very little weight or requires little-to-no range of motion.
This is very misleading. The problem is that life isn’t padded. Sometimes, we simply have to lift heavy weights (anybody shovel their driveway this winter?), and movement is mandatory (i.e. we are not houseplants).
So I ask again: What would you guess is the safest exercise of all time—considering not just its low rate of injury inside the gym, but its ability to prevent injury outside the gym?
The answer is the deadlift.
Yes, an exercise with the word “dead” in its name is the safest exercise of all time. Go figure. (In the deadlift’s defense, up until about a century ago it was actually called the “health lift.”)
Statistically, deadlifts have a much lower injury rate than popular recreational sports like soccer, basketball, running and cycling, to name a few.
But it gets better: The deadlift will actually prevent you from sustaining injuries doing stuff outside the gym. How? By making your entire body stronger, specifically the muscles of the posterior chain, which encompasses the hamstrings, glutes, lower back and upper back.
Having a stronger body makes you not just more resilient to injury, it also helps you avoid injury.
Consider this: Much of what we consider “balance” is really strength in disguise. “Balance” is nothing more than the strength to quickly realign our center of mass over our base of support after it’s been disturbed by stepping on black ice or being hip-checked in a soccer game.
Still skeptical? Exercises we take for granted are way more injurious than the deadlift. Take running, for example. Running down the street, even at a jogging pace, will send forces around 200 percent of your body weight through your joints with every footfall. Even a short run will comprise thousands of footfalls, and potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds of volume exerted on your body.
Can you deadlift 200 percent of your body weight? If not, running may put you at risk for injury in the long term, because it subjects your body to forces it can’t handle.
But there’s good news. The deadlift is here to help—and it’s not going anywhere. It will make you stronger, and more capable for life, allowing you to pursue other sports you love safely and with less strain on your body. No amount of time learning this lift is wasted. If you’re new to deadlifting, this video is a good place to start.
If you’re looking for something more in-depth, I’ve just published a complete online course that teaches beginners through intermediate lifters how to master this incredible exercise. (Use the code BEWELLPHILLY to get half off your enrollment.) It also includes a training program that will increase your strength in the long-term.
Marshall Roy is the owner of RISE gym in King of Prussia, a kettlebell and barbell studio offering personal training and group strength & conditioning classes. During his career he’s trained rugby players, triathletes, news anchors, Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters, middle-aged men and women, the obese, and even figure competitors. Learn more about what RISE has to offer at www.RISEgym.com.