Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you know every routine needs ‘em. We’re talking about deadlifts….one of the “Big Three” exercises that always seem to leave you struggling to walk the next morning.
But, just how you add deadlifts to your routine will determine the results you see.
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What are Deadlifts?
Deadlifts are often seen as the most important exercise for your entire body.
They’re known for improving strength in the lower body joints and muscles. In particular, they target the lower back, hamstrings, glutes, and quads.
Sure, this is great for building lower body muscle mass.
Stronger legs will keep your buddies from thinking that you skip leg day (even when you insist that you don’t). You may even be confident enough to finally wear shorts to the gym.
But by building the strength in these muscles, you can also help to improve your posture and balance as you get older.
Here’s a play-by-play for how to do this exercise.
- Begin with a barbell on the ground in front of you.
- Squat down so that you can grab onto the barbell with your palms facing toward you.
- Push off the ground with your feet while keeping your back straight.
- Stand upright and then begin lowering yourself back down.
2 Quick Deadlift Tips
1. Be Smart
It doesn’t matter who you’re trying to impress at the gym: Overloading the barbell with too many plates when you’re trying to deadlift is just asking for trouble.
The last thing you want to do is to blow out your back. Not only will this probably keep you sidelined for several days as you recover, but it can also cause a lasting back injury.
Plus, nobody else at the gym actually cares how much weight you can deadlift.
Being smart when you’re deadlifting can mean a few things, such as:
- Choosing a reasonable weight that you know you can lift
- Using pure strength instead of momentum to get the weight up
- Keeping your back straight from start to finish (no arching either way)
At the end of the day, it’s better to deadlift a weight you know your back can handle than to push your body to its limits and cause an injury. The glory and bragging rights are simply not worth the risk.
And remember, using a weightlifting belt to improve your deadlift only works after you’ve built a solid strength foundation. Then, you can pick up a weightlifting belt with a single prong buckle or a lever belt like this and boost your numbers.
2. Add Some Variety
You can switch up your routine like clockwork every three months. But no matter how many new exercises you swap into your routine, you always end up stuck doing deadlifts.
It’s like you just can’t escape the damn exercise.
Luckily, you do have a few alternatives.
Here’s a list of exercises you can swap your deadlifts for if you’re looking to keep your workouts interesting or take it easy for the day.
- Sumo deadlift
- Trap bar deadlift
- Romanian deadlift
- Kettlebell deadlift
- Back extensions (lower back focus)
You should definitely stick to the old-school barbell deadlift (or even the trap bar deadlift) as often as possible. These versions will allow you to put up the most amount of weight and build true strength quickly.
How Many Sets of Deadlifts for Mass
In most cases, 10 to 15 sets per week spread among 2 to 3 workouts will help to build mass.
For example, your routine might vary in intensity and look something like this:
- 5 sets at 50% 1RM on Monday
- 3 sets at 70% 1RM on Wednesday
- 2 sets at 90% 1RM on Friday.
Or, your routine might be part of a split where you do the same workouts several times per week. In that case, your deadlift routine might look like this:
- 5 sets at 65% 1RM on Tuesday
- 5 sets at 65% 1RM on Friday
Either way, you want to be sure that your 10 to 15 sets on the deadlift are divided among a few workouts per week and that you have at least 48 to 72 hours of rest between workouts.
10 to 15 sets for deadlifts in a single workout is entirely too much.
Deadlift Sets and Reps for Strength
Realistically, you can build strength with any rep range on the deadlift. But, if you really want to target maximal strength, aim for 1 to 8 reps per set.
Your approach will depend on the additional goals that you have.
For both strength and power, do 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 5 reps per workout.
For pure strength and a little muscle, do 3 to 5 sets of 6 to 8 reps per workout.
In total, you should be sticking to 10 to 15 sets per week for strength training as well.
Deadlift Sets and Reps for Beginners
Beginners are a whole different story when it comes to seeing gains and building mass. It seems like just looking at the barbell adds an extra 20 pounds to your PR on the deadlift.
The StrongLifts 5×5 program had the right idea.
Aim for 5 sets of 5 reps and do this workout once or twice per week.
This will help to push your body to its limits and shock your muscles into growth in just a few short weeks (or months). Plus, you don’t have to worry about burning yourself out or getting back into the gym before your muscles are ready.
If 5×5 seems a bit too intense, feel free to drop down to 3×8 at a lower weight and work your way up in terms of intensity.
Deadlift Reps for Hypertrophy
We all know why you’re here: You want to get big.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to hypertrophy is to stick to that coveted 8 to 12 rep range. Keep in mind that your lower back and leg muscles should feel nearly overloaded by the end of each 12-rep set (but, don’t train to failure).
You’ll probably be working at about 50-75% of your 1RM on the deadlift.
In total, you’ll be getting about 80 to 180 reps on the deadlift every week at the intermediate level. But, give your deadlift muscles the necessary time to ease into this rep range.
How Many Sets of Deadlifts Should You Do Per Week for Mass and Strength?
Just how many sets and reps you do on the deadlift will depend on the type of gains you’re hoping for. Regardless, you should be aiming for about 10 to 15 sets per week.
The actual number of repetitions would be the key difference.
For strength, you want to focus on 3 to 5 sets of deadlifts per workout with 1 to 8 reps per set.
For mass, consider the 8 to 12 rep range to be the golden rule.