Eric Cressey, coach and powerlifter loves the deadlift and I have become fond of it even though I am far from being proficient at the lift. Cressey was interviewed by Myles Cantor and I have posted an excerpt. The interview in it’s entirety can be found here.
Another blogger that seems to like deadlifts and writes well about them can be found at stronglifts.com
What are the unique benefits of deadlifting?
First, I’d say that (along with box squats) it’s the single-most effective movement for training the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, adductor magnus, and lumbar erectors). The posterior chain is of paramount importance to high-level performance; watch the best sprinters run, and you’ll see that they seem to just “float”—and it’s because they’re running with their hamstrings and glutes. In contrast, watch a guy who runs with his quads, and you’ll see that his hips are bouncing up and down; there’s a lot of wasted movement. The glutes and hamstrings are all fast-twitch fibers with a lot of strength, speed, and size potential—potential you’ll never realize without deadlift variations.
Second, strengthening the posterior chain with closed-chain movements like deadlifts also reduces injury risk. Weak hamstrings are a serious risk factor for anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries, patellofemoral pain, and a host of other problems at the knee, hip, ankle, and lower back. Conversely, leg curls simply won’t get the job done, as they don’t require co-contraction of the glutes and hamstrings, are open-chain, and occur in a fixed line of motion. Our body is far smarter than some piece of selectorized equipment.
Third, deadlifts enable a lifter to train hip and knee extension together without learning the full Olympic lifts, which have a big learning curve.
Fourth, deadlifts enable a lifter to use more loading, thus ensuring that more motor units and, in turn, muscle fibers will be recruited all over the body. The more fibers you recruit, the greater your stimulus for growth. And, if you’re looking to shed body fat, the post-exercise oxygen debt will be larger from recruiting more muscle mass, meaning that your metabolic rate will be really jacked up for longer after the end of your training session.
Fifth, you can train deadlifts several different ways. Light weights (~30% 1RM) with high velocities develop speed-strength, mid-range loading (45-70% 1RM) develop strength-speed, and circa-maximal weights enhance maximal strength. Pulls at 90% can have tremendous benefits in terms of both power and maximal strength development.
Sixth, deadlifts are quite possibly the best exercise for enhancing rate of force development (RFD)—also known as explosive strength. This refers to how quickly you can develop tension in a muscle, and is obviously of tremendous importance to athletic success. Movements that are initiated from a dead-stop are superior methods of enhancing RFD; box squats and Anderson squats are great as well. Olympic lifts can be tricky in this regard, as the first pull is actually somewhat slow compared to what you’ll see in a speed deadlift; Olympic lifters are more interested in setting themselves up for the second pull.
Seventh, as noted earlier, deadlifts have a better functional carryover to real world performance than leg curls, glute-blasters, and all the other silly machines out there.
Eighth, deadlifts are unparalleled in their ability to wallop loads of muscle mass on your upper back. The better my pull has gotten, the bigger my upper back has grown—and by accident! It’s actually gotten to the point that I’ve had to bump up a weight class because my upper back, hamstrings, and glutes have grown so much from pulling that I have been forced to do so!
Ninth, deadlifts train supporting grip like nothing else. If you can’t grip it, you can’t deadlift it.
Tenth, believe it or not, deadlifts can be a tremendously valuable corrective training exercise if coached correctly. I’ve used them in the correction of IT [iliotibial] band friction syndrome, lower back pain, lateral knee pain, groin pain, and a host of other torso and lower extremity problems. The secret rests with the proper execution of the exercise.