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Deadlifts will work the quads to some extent. Quads will be used slightly until the bar passes the knee area.
If your knees are getting in the way, then your form is off. Sounds like you are trying to squat down with your knees past your toes and lifting the bar straight up. I've pasted a description below that will walk you through the deadlift to make sure you have everything in check. You will want your shins to rub against the bar slightly, and make sure your knees aren't over your toes. Powerlifters actually put powder on their shins to reduce friction, which robs power without it. I wrote this for a woman that was trying to make sure she had everything in check. Hopefully it helps some
Foot placement: I'm 5'9" and roughly 170lbs and my comfortable foot width is just inside the width of the knurls on the barbell (smooth area). When you deadlift, you will want the bar to lightly brush against your shins. If it doesn't rub your shins, it's likely that your weight is not on your heels and this is dangerous on your knees. I position my shins so it doesn't rub against the knurls, unless you like having bloody shins. My shins are red after doing deadlifts, but not bloody. Another way of finding a good foot placement is to jump in the air and see where your feet naturally land. You will want your feet facing straight forward when you get your width determined. If they land in the knurled area, wear pants to the gym
Wood plates: Use wood plates the size of 45lb plates if you cannot deadlift with at least one 45lb plate on each end (recommended for beginners). Using smaller diameter plates will lower the bar to the ground and will cause you to round your back (depending on flexibility) or use too much legs. If there are not any wood plates, try to use platforms or plates to raise the bar up to the correct height.
Flat back: You want to have a natural arch or near flat back. I like to do warm ups before doing the deadlifts by taking the bare barbell and doing stiff legged deadlifts (or a very slight bend in knees), going as low with the barbell as possible. Position yourself so you can see your side view when doing these. Do this so you can check your flatness of your back, otherwise you can have someone check your back for you. Don't turn your head with a lot of weight on the barbell, which is why i only do this with just the barbell and when warming up to ensure my form is in check. Try to let the bar go down as far as you can while keeping a flat back. You will feel one heck of a stretch/burn in your hams as you go deeper and hold. You will notice that at a certain point your back will start to round, either upper or lower or both. Stop once you find this range, and the remaining depth will be bending at the knee when you actually perform the deadlifts.
Once you have your footing determined and are sure you know you can maintain a flat back to a certain depth, the following is my approach whenever i deadlift:
1. Walk up to the bar with feet width as previously discussed and toes pointing forward.
2. Keeping your back flat as possible, bend at the waist while trying to push your butt as far behind you as possible while trying to stick your chin out as far in front of you as possible. Look forward the entire duration of the lift, not up in to the mirror.
3. Once you have this position, you will want to bend at the knees and squat down the remaining way till you can grasp the bar. The more flexible your hamstrings and glutes, the less squatting you will need. Taller people will also have to squat down further (obviously) and will recuit more quad involvement.
4. Use an overhand grip until the weight is high enough that grip becomes a problem, then switch to alternating grip or use straps with the overhand grip. If using alternating grip, you will want to alternate which hand faces up each set so you don't get imbalance of muscle from using same alternated grip over and over. Starting with overhand grip will improve grip strength, but your deadlift will eventually outgrow your grip strength.
5. With your bodyweight on your heels, drive the weight up using your legs and back/glutes. You will actually be pulling backwards and upwards, which is where the barbell-rubbing of your shins occurs. Make darn sure the weight is on your heels, otherwise you could injure yourself. Your shoulders will be above or slightly behind the barbell at the start, so you are able to pull the weight up and back. Don't pull too far back because you'll lose your balance. It takes practice to get a feel for it.
6. Once the barbell is above the knees, flex your glutes and hams to stand erect with the weight. In a way, it helps to imagine you are humping the bar, or performing hip thrusts. Otherwise, you will be prone to use more lower back and less hams/glutes.
7. Once you are standing, finish by slightly flexing your traps (throw shoulders back slightly but don't exaggerate!).
8. Lower the weight by bending at the waist and not at the back
9. Once the barbell reaches past the knees, then bend at the knees. Don't bend the knees until the barbell passes them, otherwise you will have some bruised kneecaps and it just isn't proper form.
Thats the way i've learned to do them. I'm by no means a pro or trainer, but i have been doing them for a few years and i have learned alot by articles on this site as well as others. Let me know if i can explain anything further. Deadlift reps are recommended to not exceed 6 in a set, because your form normally goes out the door in higher rep sets with heavy weight.
and one more question...is conventional deadlift similar to squat or rdl?
Anytime! The conventional deadlift is similar to the romanian deadlift except you use more legs. The rdl doesn't have the full range of motion like the conventional. I guess you could say that the conventional is like the squat in the first part of the deadlift and after the leg portion is thru it becomes more like a rdl, if that makes any sense
Yes I only deadlift once every three weeks. On the other weeks I do Romanian deadlifts, and stiff legged deadlifts to a heavy single. I am a master lifter in the 198 lbs class age 59. My best is 606 pounds. Hope this helps. Jon PS on the week I do deadlift I go to a max single.