WHAT IT IS: You bend over a barbell or pair of dumbbells and lift it or them off the floor by straightening your body at the hips.

MUSCLES USED: Like the squat, the deadlift and its many variations use just about all your lower-body muscles, but this time the emphasis is on the powerful gluteal and hamstring muscles that straighten your hips.

Your lower back has an important role in stabilizing your body while bending and straightening, along with your deep abdominal muscles. Your trapezius—the big, diamond-shaped muscle that runs from your neck to your shoulder blades to your middle back—also has a big role in this exercise, since your shoulder blades have to pull together in your back to finish the movement. Finally, the gripping muscles in your hands and forearms get a workout, since without a strong grip that barbell is going to slip from your hands and hit the floor (if you manage to lift it off the floor at all).

REAL-LIFE USES: It's hard to go through life without picking heavy stuff up off the ground, which makes the deadlift perhaps the most useful exercise you can do with weights.

Imagine a life in which you couldn't lift a sleeping child off the floor, or move a sofa, or pick up a box of books without one of your spinal discs turning into sushi. (A friend of mine who had back surgery tells me the stuff that spills out of a ruptured disc looks like crab meat. Just FYI.) You wouldn't want that life. The deadliftt and its many variations keep your back and hips strong.

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