Deadlift Warm Up: Exercises, Stretches, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
July 19, 2022

When performing particularly heavy compound movements in resistance training, preparing the body for such exertions is of paramount importance - not only to ensure that the lifter maximizes their physical strength output, but also to ensure they are not injured as they do so.

This is referred to as “warming up” and is a vital component of any serious strength training or bodybuilding routine.

The usage of such warm up methods is especially important in the performance of the deadlift exercise, as it is considered to be one of the most difficult and mechanically demanding compound exercises available - making a proper warm up routine essential.

Should the Lifter Warm Up Before Performing the Deadlift?

Yes - warming up prior to performing a set of deadlifts is an advisable choice, as the deadlift is notorious for inducing injuries that can otherwise greatly affect an exerciser’s training career and even their quality of life.

barbell deadlift muscles

Apart from this, warming up prior to performing the deadlift is highly conducive to greater amounts of weight lifted, and for more repetitions - thereby translating to greater performance of the exercise with less exertion required to do so.

Is Warming Up for Heavy Deadlifts and Light Deadlifts Different?

As deadlift sets can vary in terms of level of resistance and amount of weight used, so too does the particular warm up techniques utilized in order to prepare the exerciser for either type of set.

Heavier deadlift sets with less volume will generally require less systemic or aerobic warm up exercises be performed as less slow-twitch muscle fibers are recruited and the exertion used in the exercise is more strength-focused rather than volume-focused.

This will equate to a larger number of progressive loading sets as the exerciser conditions their nervous system, connective tissues and even their mind to the increasingly heavy repetitions.

Inversely, lighter deadlift sets with a higher number of repetitions per set will require greater general warm up methods be used, such as sufficient low intensity steady state aerobic exercise, as well as proper synergist muscle group activation so as to avoid injury and prime the body for long-term time under tension.

For the most part, however, both heavy and light sets of the deadlift will share the same major components in terms of a prehabilitation and warm up routine, with mobility, muscle group activation and proper systemic priming all being a major part of either warm up routine.

General Systemic Warm Up Techniques

A general warm up does not solely target the muscle groups to be activated, but also the entirety of the body - including organ systems such as the circulatory and central nervous system, all of which play an important role in the proper and safe performance of the deadlift movement.

Not only will these effects easily be achieved with a short bout of low impact steady state cardio, but so too will other benefits be achieved, such as an increase in internal body temperature leading to greater muscular function, as well as priming certain muscle groups in a manner similar to warm up muscle activation exercises.

Low-Speed Incline Treadmill

The most common general warm up method among lifters, the usage of a low speed treadmill placed at a similarly low incline for approximately five minutes should serve as more than sufficient enough stimulus to prime the body for more intense exercise, such as in the case of deadlifts at working weight.

treadmill

Exercisers should take care not to set the incline too high or the pace too fast however, as this may prematurely fatigue the calves and reduce stability during the deadlift sets later in the workout.

Low Resistance Exercise Bike

As the usage of an incline treadmill is not considered entirely low impact due to the minor stress it places upon the various joints of the lower body, one possible alternative is the usage of an exercise bike with its resistance level set fairly low.

exercise bike

This, while achieving a quite similar general systemic warm up effect to the treadmill, will unfortunately have a slightly different distribution of muscular activation, reducing the activation stimulus placed on the calves in favor of one focused on the quadriceps femoris.

Just as in the case of the treadmill and similar warm up methods, the exercise bike requires only two to five minutes for most individuals to achieve the warm up benefits associated therein.

Calisthenics Circuit at Low Intensity

A more advanced but nonetheless effective method of achieving general full body warm up stimulus alongside several other benefits, the usage of a low intensity calisthenics circuit will aid in raising core body temperature, improving stable range of motion, improving circulatory system function and activating a large number of muscle groups in the body.

The specific exercises performed within the calisthenic warm up circuit will depend on the exerciser’s needs and capabilities, but are generally meant to evenly distribute stress throughout the entire body so as to avoid prematurely fatiguing any muscle groups that may be needed later in the training session.

This particular method of general warm up is also measured in length of time instead of in repetitions or sets, and will cover more than a single component of a proper warm up routine, allowing the exerciser to save time and better prepare themselves for the exertions of the deadlift.

Progressive Loading Warm Up Sets for Deadlifts

One of the more simplistic methods of warming up for the deadlift is the performance of progressive loading or progressive volume sets that allow the exerciser to prepare both their body and mind for the exercise without the need for other types of equipment or additional space.

Much as the name implies, progressive loading sets are simply sets of the deadlift performed with a far lower amount of weight than the exerciser’s maximal load, or what is otherwise known as a “one rep max”.

Apart from being quite convenient, this particular method will also help the exerciser psychologically practice correct exercise mechanics and form cue adherence, though the exerciser must also take care not to overdo the progressive loading or the total volume of each warm up set, as doing so may overuse their musculature.

Generally, progressive loading warm up sets for the deadlift are structured with few repetitions per set for a small number of sets, with each succeeding set loading a higher percentage of the exerciser’s maximal load, often expressed as “% of maximal load X number of repetitions”.

This is combined with a specificity of volume per set so as to match the repetitions of each warm up set with the repetitions of the actual working weight set, such as would be the case in heavy deadlift sets of three repetitions corresponding to warm up sets that also utilize three repetitions.

Flexibility and Mobility Warm Up for Deadlifts

The deadlift is a movement that requires great hip, lower back and knee mobility in order to perform safely, and as such any effective warm up routine will include several dynamic and static stretches that improve the stable range of motion, flexibility and connective tissue function of any involved bodily structures.

Lower Back and Erector Spinae 

The most important part of any mobility routine meant for the deadlift exercise is one that focuses on the lower back and its surrounding structures, as it is here that the exerciser is at greatest risk of becoming injured if their form adherence is poor or the resistance is excessive.

Yoga stretches such as the cat stretch, cow stretch and bird dog will all provide blood flow, proper tissue stretching and range of motion reinforcement for not only the erector spinae and lower back, but also much of the mid and upper back as well.

cat pose

Two to three sets of one of these stretches for approximately eight repetitions each should prove sufficient enough warm up for this particular part of the body, so long as the exerciser also conducts lower back activation exercises in order to ensure adequate muscular function.

Quadriceps, Knees and Hip Flexors

Mobility exercises for the quadriceps femoris, patellar joint and the hip adductors are somewhat more dynamic than the sort used in warming up the lower back and erector spinae.

child pose

Among these are the scorpion stretch which targets the lower back alongside the hip flexors, the yoga child’s pose for the knees, quadriceps and posterior chain, as well as the low lunge - all of which induce great benefit in these three areas of the lower body, improving their safety and function during the deadlift.

Glutes, Calves and Hamstrings

Otherwise known as the posterior chain, the muscle groups of the glutes, hamstrings and calves as well as their surrounding connective tissues are the primary mover muscles of the deadlift - requiring a large range of motion and high stability in said ROM so as to reduce the risk of injury and maximize how much weight can be lifted.

forward bend

Static stretches such as the standing forward bend, the seated forward bend and the wall calf stretch are best combined with certain dynamic mobility stretches that also target the same areas of the body, such as ankle rotations and lying gluteal stretches so as to achieve both range of motion and circulatory benefits from the mobility routine.

Muscle Group Activation Exercises for the Deadlift

Proper activation of the muscle groups worked by the deadlift are just as important as other components of a warm up routine, as doing so signals to the body the need for readiness in whatever muscle groups are being primed by said warm up routine.

While dynamic mobility routines, progressive loading sets and even certain forms of general systemic warm up can all activate muscle groups to a certain extent - the entire purpose of having a component of the warm up routine dedicated to such activation is to ensure that this is achieved in the most effective manner.

Just as is the case in other parts of the warm up routine however, the exerciser must make sure that they are not placing excessive stimulus or stress on the musculature so as to avoid premature fatigue before the deadlift itself.

Good Mornings

An excellent warm up movement for activating the entirety of the lower back, glutes, hamstrings and spinal erector muscles - the good morning exercise is usually performed as an adjunct or accessory exercise to the deadlift for the purposes of reinforcing spinal flexion and lower back stability.

barbell good morning

However, it may also double as a suitable warm up routine for all the aforementioned muscle groups, aiding in stabilizing the deadlift and ensuring proper spinal curvature throughout each repetition.

When programming the good morning into the exerciser’s warm up routine, it is best to utilize the absolute least amount of weight possible, such as with an empty barbell - and to focus on only a few slow repetitions for one or two sets.

Barbell Rows

An excellent activation exercise for the majority of the lower, mid and upper back, the barbell row’s similarity to the deadlift in terms of hip hinge technique, spinal curvature and activation of certain muscle groups equates to said barbell row being usable as a warm up activation method as well.

bent over row

However, much like the good morning, the exerciser is best served by only performing the movement of the barbell row with an unloaded or otherwise lightweight barbell. 

When combined with the good morning or a similar posterior chain activation exercise, the barbell row will aid in creating a complete deadlift muscle group activation warm up, as it targets the trapezius, deltoids, biceps brachii and various other muscles along the back in an efficient and controllable manner.

In terms of programming, much the same rules apply as they do to other components of a deadlift warmup - low resistance, and moderate volume, with two sets of ten to eighteen repetitions being sufficient for most intermediate level exercisers.

Back Hyperextensions

Capable of replacing the good morning in a deadlift warm up routine, the back hyperextension recreates much the same muscle activation pattern as the good morning, save for a higher specificity and greater external and internal oblique activation that what is achieved with the latter movement.

back extension

Much like good mornings as well, back hyperextensions are meant to be performed with no additional resistance, and for a maximum of two to three sets with up to eighteen repetitions per set - thereby ensuring no fatigue is accrued while maximizing muscular warm up potential prior to the performance of the deadlift.

References

1. Racinais S, Cocking S, Périard JD. Sports and environmental temperature: From warming-up to heating-up. Temperature (Austin). 2017 Aug 4;4(3):227-257. doi: 10.1080/23328940.2017.1356427. PMID: 28944269; PMCID: PMC5605167.

2. Adelsberger R, Tröster G. Effects of stretching and warm-up routines on stability and balance during weight-lifting: a pilot investigation. BMC Res Notes. 2014 Dec 20;7:938. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-7-938. PMID: 25527262; PMCID: PMC4326506.

3. Edington, Corey, Cassandra Greening, Nick Kmet, Nadia Philipenko, Lindsay Purves, Jared Stevens, Joel Lanovaz, and Scotty Butcher. 2018. "The Effect of Set Up Position on EMG Amplitude, Lumbar Spine Kinetics, and Total Force Output During Maximal Isometric Conventional-Stance Deadlifts" Sports 6, no. 3: 90. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports6030090

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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