Are Deadlifts necessary?
Well this all depends on what your primary goals are. If you’re looking to get strong, you need to deadlift. If your aim is size over strength, you can work around it. But you’re missing out.
If your main aim is to be as strong as possible then the deadlift is absolutely essential. Equally if you’re looking to gain thickness in your back, I would say that deadlifts and variations of it are vital tools in your arsenal.
If you want to gain size, then deadlifts definitely aren’t the be-all-and-end-all. As long as your overall volume increases and you follow a periodised program, you don’t need the deadlift to get big.
This is because you can stimulate muscle growth via 2 types of hypertrophy; sarcoplasmic and myofibrillar.
It is of course possible to stimulate both by undertaking a powerbuilding program.
Myofibrillar: Heavier, lower rep training favoured by powerlifters that breaks the muscle down by the shear weight lifted
And whilst the deadlift is an incredibly effective compound exercise (by that I mean it hits multiple muscle groups at once), it can negatively impact your muscle building capabilities.
How often should you deadlift?
Tricky. And definitely person dependent.
If you’re a beginner lifter you shouldn’t be deadlifting more than twice a week at most. And one of those times would be a variation on the lift.*
*I would recommend deadlifting once a week as a true beginner
As a beginner lifter your focus should be on technique and GPP (General Physical Preparation).
Your goals are around building muscle, becoming more efficient at a variety of lifts and finding out where your weak and strong points are.
As a beginner powerlifter if you just focus on the big 3 lifts, you will fry your CNS and you won’t improve athletically the way that you should.
As an intermediate lifter your body is more accustomed to training and the peaks and troughs that come with it.
You’ll have been overtrained before, worked around injuries, taxed your nervous and endocrine systems properly. You’re aware of what it takes.
Because of that an intermediate lifter should be deadlifting twice a week.
I use one of those sessions to PR in an accessory lift to prevent overtraining as the accessory lifts typically force you to handle less weight.
As an advanced lifter there really aren’t any direct guidelines. It’s dependent on volume and your programming.
Elite level lifters sometimes only properly deadlift once every couple of weeks as weight above 400kg is so taxing.
Others might be running a program similar to the Bulgarian method which encourages daily PR singles.
But this program isn’t designed for deadlifting, it’s designed for Olympic weightlifting which prioritises the Olympic lifts and the squat.
All of which are less taxing than the deadlift.
So can you Deadlift Everyday?
Yes. But it’s definitely not advisable.
The below video is Chris Duffin’s attempt to deadlift 400kg (880lbs for you imperialist scumbags) everyday for charity.
Chris Duffin the elite of the elite. This is serious weight and the strain on your body would be enormous.
But it can be done.
Should you do it? Absolutely not. But if you struggle to deadlift more than once a week, then the likelihood is your programming needs work and you could do with eating more food.
How to deadlift more frequently?
There are ways to increase the frequency of your training. Tony Gentilcore’s squat 4 times a week experiment has done the rounds and the Bulgarian method is tried and tested (for steroid users and seriously elite athletes).
Although the deadlift is more taxing, there are ways to increase training frequency:
+ Variations: These allow you to target weak points and mitigate overtraining because you can’t lift the same weight with accessory lifts, minimising fatigue.
+ Set(rep) schemes: If you do 50 repetitions on one day of the weak at 80%+ 1RM with a conventional deadlift, you won’t be able to recover. You need to workout your MRV and adhere to it.
+ Chains or accommodating resistance: Always pioneered by Westside’s training methods, chains and bands are used for speed work and allow you to work with weight sub 70% of your 1RM consistently whilst driving strength and power
+ Deadlift programming: With such a taxing lift it’s important to incorporate undulating periodisation into your program. If you always perform a 5(5) or 6(4) then you’ll quickly plateau and become weaker.
So what’s the optimal deadlift volume for you?
Whatever you decide it must be:
- Increasing in volume or weight week by week
- Incorporate a form of periodisation that isn’t linear (unless you’re a beginner)
- Within your MRV
- Not too mentally taxing week in week out
As a beginner, I think you should deadlift once per week. You should incorporate substantial GPP into your training and you should be working your body from all angles.
As an intermediate lifter, you should probably be performing the deadlift twice a week. I suggest using a variation of the lift once as a way to PR and your competition style lift to build volume in the early stages of your program.
As your program progresses, I typically switch this around. I train weak points with an assistance lift, but with a reduced volume. I then increase the weight and RPE with my competition style lift.
As an advanced lifter this isn’t something I can say I have put into practice, but from my own research it’s totally person dependent. Brian Shaw might have 2 weeks off between conventional deadlift sessions because it’s such a taxing lift. Others like Chris Duffin above may do so much more frequently.
But until I get to that level, I can’t tell you for certain. But I have my suspicions.
Now Read: Jujimufu’s deadlifting routine
Do Deadlifts build a big back?
I never feel thicker than when I am consistently performing squats and deadlifts. But you don’t need to deadlift to build a big back.
A conventional deadlift works the following muscle groups in the back:
- Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
- Upper neck muscles (Upper Trapezius)
- Middle neck muscles (Middle Trapezius)
- Muscle between jaw and shoulder (Levator Scapulae)
- Inner back muscles right below your neck (Rhomboids)
Now clearly it’s effective and an excellent use of time. But you can utilise isolation exercises to effectively target each of these muscle groups instead.
- Pull-ups – Traps and lats
- Pull-down variations – Lats and traps
- Close grip
- Wide grip
- Shrugs – Traps
- Upright row – Traps and levator scapulae
- Bent over row – Lower back and lats
Isolation exercises are much less taxing and can provide proper stimulation and significant muscle growth when utilised properly.
If your primary goal when deadlifting is to stimulate back growth, then you’d be better off performing the rack pull. Rack pulls eliminate lower body involvement (hamstring primarily) and focus entirely on back development.
In my opinion you’ll never get the same thickness that compound movements drive. But you can certainly improve your shape and definition whilst gaining some mass with isolation exercises.
Deadlift when Bulking vs. Cutting
Now Read: How to Bulk for Beginners
If you’re trying to lose weight, then performing heavy compound movements definitely isn’t conducive to your needs for a number of reasons:
- Deadlifting heavy will sap your already depleted strength and energy early on in your workout. In turn this will reduce performance on subsequent isolation exercises and therefore impact your MRV and isolation exercise performance
- It would also increase the amount of time required for you to properly recover in between training sessions. If the frequency at which you’re able to train throughout the week decreases, your capacity for muscle growth is hindered*.
- Finally deadlifting prior to an intense leg workout will affect your performance on lower body lifts such as the squat (which is arguably more valuable to overall leg development) and accompanying isolation exercises. The combination of a lack of food and heavy compound movements is a recipe for disastrous recovery.
*Muscle Growth = Volume + Intensity + Frequency
You may also like: This guide to Cutting for Beginners
So how many reps and sets are ideal?
Typically the perfect rep range for strength gain tends to be between 2 and 6 reps. If you’re training for muscle growth and are looking to stimulate hypertrophy through increasing volume, you’ll typically work in an 8 – 12 rep range.
Take Prilepin’s chart (below) as a way to base the number of sets(reps) you should be performing.
|Percent||Sets||Optimal Reps||Total Range|
|55 – 65%||3 – 6||24||18 – 30|
|70 – 80%||3 – 6||18||12 – 24|
|80 – 90%||2 – 4||15||10 – 20|
|90% +||1 – 2||7||4 – 10|
Prilepin’s Chart was created by A.S. Prilepin who was a Soviet sports science genius from a time when they dominated the world scene. The chart was based on training journals of thousands of Olympic weightlifting athletes and it’s primary aims are:
- To denote correct set(rep) scheme
- Based on 1RM
- Highlight optimal reps per session
- And overall volume per session
Now the issue here is that this chart isn’t designed for powerlifting specific moves. For example, you can accumulate a lot more volume in the bench press without overtraining.
The squat and deadlift are arguably more relevant to this chart. But I would say you can go a little higher than the above chart throughout your program. For example, if you’re working with 80% loads, you want to be towards the higher end of the total range scale.
Also it doesn’t reference how often you should be deadlifting…
How often do you deadlift? Let me know in the comments