Kevin Neeld — Hockey Training, Sports Performance, & Sports Science

The Best Exercise Ever?

The question is often thrown around:

“If you could only do one exercise, what would it be?”

My Answer: The Deadlift!

An argument could be made that the deadlift is the best

exercise around.  This argument is often made for the

squat, which I circumstantially disagree with.

Reasons why the deadlift is better than the squat:

1) Gross amount of muscle mass used

If you’ve ever deadlifted relatively heavy, you know that

the deadlift is one of the most taxing exercises out there.

Specifically, the deadlift works muscles from your calves

through your forearms, including the hamstrings, glutes,

Latissimus dorsi, and posterior shoulder muscles.  No

wonder a few heavy reps are so tiring!  While the squat

uses a significant amount of musculature as well, it

involves few working muscles in the upper body.  Why is

this important?  The deadlift is a frequently overlooked

exercise.  If you want to put on muscle, performing an

exercise that works a significant amount of muscle groups

and can be loaded heavy is a great way to go about it.  If

you want to lose fat, performing an exercise that utilizes

more muscle mass burns a significant amount of calories and

creates a great metabolic disturbance.

2) The specific muscle mass used

The anterior side of the body is too frequently stressed in

many programs.  Think about what you see in the gym: Leg

Press, Squats, Bench Press, Biceps Curls, and Crunches.

What do all of these exercises have in common?  They all

work muscle groups that can be seen by standing in front of

the mirror!  The less respected back-side of the body is

extremely important for athletic performance and daily

functioning.  A program focusing on what I like to call

‘Beach Muscles’ (especially in those that spend a

significant amount of time in the car or in front of a

computer) can lead to the shortening of these muscles,

creating a hunched over posture.  Furthermore, these types

of programs create a total body imbalance that will

inevitably manifest itself as pain somewhere.  Why is the

deadlift different?  While some quadriceps work is evident

in the deadlift, the majority of the movement is produced

by movements on the posterior side of the body.

Strengthening these muscles will help begin to correct any

imbalances, allowing you to feel better and play better.

3) Development of force from a standstill

Most exercises involve an eccentric contraction preceding a

concentric contraction.  In other words, the ‘negative’

precedes the ‘positive.’  Think of the squat and bench

press.  You start at the top, lower the bar under control,

and then explode up.  Exercises that work in this fashion

allow for a quick stretch at the bottom of the exercise,

allowing the lifter to take advantage of the elastic

properties of muscle and the stretch reflex (the nervous

system’s response to a quick stretch).  This is not the

case in a deadlift.  The bar is on the floor and is not

preceded by any loaded negative contraction.  This forces

the lifter to produce force at a rapid rate.  A slow

production of force will result in a tired lifter and a

sleeping bar!  Rate of force development is important for

all athletes and for activities of daily living (walking up

stairs, getting out of a chair, etc.).

4) Core Strength!

Core strength is essential for proper deadlifting.  The

majority of the muscles producing the movement force are in

the lower body.  The bar is held by the upper body; the

upper body muscles are mostly worked through isometric

contractions(no change in total muscle length).  If force

isn’t effectively transferred from the lower body through

the core (all muscles that attach to the pelvis or spine)

to the hands, the bar doesn’t move.  Included in these

important core muscles are the spinal stabilizers, which

are often neglected due to the majority of the exercises

being performed sitting or lying down.  Lock your back into

a flat position with your shoulder blades pinned back, take

a deep breath in through your belly, squeeze your core, and

pull hard!

If you aren’t deadlifting, consider adding it into your

program.  In fact, try replacing the squat with the

deadlift for a few weeks.  You may find when you return to

squatting that your strength has improved!  The old adage

of your only as strong as your weakest link holds true with

lifting and athletic performance.  Strengthen your weakest

link and everything else improves as well!

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Kevin Neeld

Kevin Neeld Knows Hockey

Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.