Why deadlifts? Fair question. What exactly is it that makes deadlifts such a great exercise for skiers?

  • Why Deadlifts? So many reasons!Why Deadlifts? So many reasons!There is almost no other exercise that works so many big muscles at once. Every important muscle for posture (and posture is critical for skiing) from the calves to the upper back is worked to some degree in a deadlift. You tighten the glutes, straighten your back, look up and push the chest forward and shoulders back. This position will be essential for injury prevention, but will also work the entire chain from your hamstrings to your lower back. If you're really pulling to keep a flat back, you'll even hit the upper back (trapezius and rhomboids). These are all the muscles that keep you upright and stable while skiing punishing terrain. You want to work them hard in a controlled lift so that they will be better prepared for the dynamic load they'll get on the slopes.
  • No other classic weight-lifting exercise so fully works the same complementary muscles that you use when absorbing moguls or responding to unanticipated terrain changes. Granted, when you hit a bump hard, it's an "eccentric" motion (meaning you are resisting as the muscle lengthens), whereas when you do a deadlift it's hardest in the "concentric" phase (meaning that the muscles work hardest when contracting). If you enjoy turgid academic explanations, there is a fascinating study (gratuitous academic citation) on the differences in the way your nervous system works in the two types of movement (download the PDF). Anyway, ultimately, it's the same muscles and it's nice to get them up to snuff in the gentler context of a deadlift than in the punishing and dynamic context of a bumpy ski slope. When you build good strength this way, you're more ready for the unexpected shocks and bumps you get in skiing (and life!).
  • Deadlifts are a caveman exercise. Reach down. Grab rock. Stand up. Ugh. Remember scream when you do it. Aaahhhhh!!!! Guaranteed, even if you don't get stronger, if you scream when you do it, it will liberate you. It might be a bit embarassing if screaming your head off while you're working with an unloaded 20-pound bar, but hey, if you can scream while lifting a 20-pound bar, that will be really liberating!
  • Deadlifts require minimal equipment to do safely without a spotter. The thing I hate about squats and bench press is that you can get crushed by that weight. So you need spotters and you need a bench press or squat rack just to get into position. And in the case of the bench press, without spotters, you can still get stuck under the bar (hint don't use collars on the weights if you're alone, so you can dump the weight if you have to). Contrast that to the noble deadlift: if things start to go wrong, you just drop the damn bar! Totally caveman.
  • What, you say, you can do bench press or squats on a machine? Now those are fighting words. Don't make me come down there. When you work out a machine you:
    1. Do not exercise all those important stabilizer muscles like you do with free weights and, remember, it's precisely the stabilizer muscles that we're after here.
    2. You force you body into the motion path defined by the machine. That won't work your muscles optimally and it might even torque muscles and joints in bad ways.

    Honestly, machines may be okay as a complement, but they are no replacement for the noble deadlift. They just aren't.

  • Deadlifts hurt. That's a good thing? At least for me it is and I suspect my muscle balance is not that different from the typical skier. I work as hard as I can on other leg exercises and the next day I barely feel a thing. Work hard on deadlifts and I can hardly walk the next day! That means I'm hitting those muscles that I just don't hit that hard in the course of doing actual sports. Even through the soreness, though, I feel great. My running stride becomes straighter if I do deadlifts. My posture feels good, I feel like I really am a worthy relation of homo erectus.