This is my absolute favourite exercise, hands down. Don't get me wrong, I love a good squat too - but for me the barbell deadlift is the ultimate move for overall strength and muscle development.
The movement is mainly performed by the legs and glutes, and engages the lower back muscles for support. It also works upper body areas (arms, shoulders and traps) at the top of the movement, which contributes to all round strength, as well as developing stabilising core muscles.
I'm not going to give you a definitive guide on technique as I am not yet qualified to do so, and I know mine isn't quite perfect yet! There are already hundreds of guides out there that will tell you all the do's and don't's, the most comprehensive I've come across so far is from stronglifts.com, which I would recommend as a good place to start - grab yourself a coffee and have a good read before jumping into the gym, your lower back will thank you for it.
My top 3 things to remember are:
1. Keep your back in a neutral position. If you don't, you seriously risk a sore or injured lower back which could put you out of training for a long time - don't risk it.
2. Don't look up in the mirror - this will cause you to scrape the bar against your knees and shins which, believe me, can be really painful!
3. Push through the floor with your legs rather than pulling the bar up with your arms.
There are also a number of variations you can do to target more specific muscle groups, here two that I like to use on a regular basis:
Sumo Deadlift: This uses a wide leg stance with a narrow grip. I find this targets my glutes better than a regular deadlift, and it also takes some pressure off the lower back making it a good option for those with potential back problems or beginners who haven't quite got the traditional deadlift technique yet.
Straight Leg Deadlifts: This is almost a kind of reverse deadlift, with a standing start point. Although this doesn't have the same strength and muscle building potential as a traditional deadlift, it is absolutely brilliant for developing the hamstrings and glutes! From a standing position, a descending movement is performed by moving your glutes backwards until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. The movement is then reversed, bringing the bar back up to the starting position by the hamstrings and glutes. Click here for a more detailed explanation.
Including variations of compound exercises into your training can also be a very effective way to break through a plateau. By using variation that focus on specific muscles such as lower back or hamstrings, it will contribute to increasing overall strength needed to perform a heavier lift.
If you're not deadlifting already, start now! No other move will develop total body strength in the same way - I promise you'll learn to love them once you start seeing results...