High Rep Deadlift Workout – Introduction
The deadlift is a powerful exercise.
Working virtually your whole body, deadlifts can help you reach almost any training goal, from building strength to increasing muscle mass to just getting fitter.
In fact, the deadlift is such a valuable exercise that, in Victorian times, it was called the health lift, and some doctors actually prescribed it like medicine!
When it comes to effective, productive deadlifting, many lifters automatically gravitate toward low to moderate reps with heavy to medium weights.
That means somewhere between 1-10 or 12 reps. Some training experts even believe that 3-5 reps are the ideal “sweet spot” for deadlifting.
The main reason for this opinion is that deadlifts are part and parcel of powerlifting, and powerlifters mostly train in the lower rep ranges.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do deadlifts for higher reps. After all, the 20-rep squat routine is hugely popular and has been around for well over a century. Surely you can apply a similar approach to deadlifts?
I believe you can, and I’ve been using high-rep deadlifts successfully in my own training for the last few months.
This article reveals the benefits of high-rep deadlifts, highlights a couple of drawbacks, and there’s also a deadlift-based workout for you to try.
High Rep Deadlift Benefits
There is no denying it – high-rep deadlifts are hard!
So, you may need some convincing to give them a try.
Here are the primary benefits of doing 20-rep sets of deadlifts:
Burn a lot of calories –
Deadlifts involve a long list of muscles, and, as such, they burn a lot of calories. Doing high-rep deadlifts will increase your energy expenditure, contribute to your calorie expenditure, and help with fat burning and weight loss. They’re the ultimate body recomposition exercise.
Increased post-exercise calorie expenditure –
High-rep strength training not only burns a lot of calories while you are doing it but afterward, too. It causes a significant oxygen debt, and that debt must be repaid during the hours that follow your workout.
This is called EOPC, short for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC is accompanied by an increase in metabolic rate, so you burn more calories even at rest and while you sleep.
Cardiovascular conditioning –
A 20-rep set of deadlifts will leave you out of breath and your heart pumping, just like a set of burpees, air bike sprints, or kettlebell swings. Despite being a strength training exercise, deadlifts can help improve your cardiovascular fitness and endurance.
Build more muscle –
Low-rep sets of deadlifts are great for building strength but may not be as useful for building muscle. Doing higher reps increase time under tension and metabolic stress, both of which are requirements for muscle hypertrophy. So, if you want a bigger back and posterior chain, high-rep deadlifts could help.
Increase grip strength and endurance –
Providing you don’t use lifting straps, high-rep deadlifts will tax your grip like no other exercise can. After a few weeks of high-rep deadlifting, your grip will be unbreakable, and that will have a huge impact on the rest of your workouts as you’ll never lose your grip again.
From curls to pull-ups to rows – a stronger grip will boost your workout performance across the board.
More mental toughness –
Grinding out a high-rep set of deadlifts will test you physically and mentally. You’ll probably want to quit mid-set, but pushing past pain and fatigue is the only way to reach your training goal.
The resulting increase in mental toughness will have a positive effect on many aspects of your life. No matter what challenges you face, you’ll always be able to say, “20-rep deadlifts are harder than this!”
High Rep Deadlift Drawbacks
While high-rep deadlifts can be beneficial, there are a few drawbacks you need to consider, too. Weigh up the pros and cons before adding high-rep deadlifts to your workouts.
Injury risk –
Deadlifts are a technically demanding exercise, and your technique will break down quickly as you begin to fatigue. The first thing to go will be your neutral spine.
Instead of having a tightly arched lower back, it will start to round, putting a lot of stress on the lumbar ligaments and discs. This can cause severe injury, even if you wear a weightlifting belt or know how to brace correctly. Pausing and resetting between reps can help minimalize this problem.
Central nervous system fatigue –
Deadlifts tax your entire body. Not just your muscles but your nervous system, too. High reps are incredibly challenging. Combined with heavy weights, high-rep deadlifts could cause so much CNS fatigue that you become overtrained and unable to recover between workouts.
Not the best way to build strength –
High-rep deadlifts develop endurance but won’t do so much for your strength. Strength is your ability to generate force, which is expressed as your 1RM, or one-repetition maximum for short. If you want to get stronger, you need to lift heavy weights, and anything you can lift 20 times is not really heavy enough to build serious strength.
There are more straightforward, safer ways to build muscular endurance, such as air squats, lunges, push-ups, and pull-ups. Doing high-rep deadlifts may be somewhat redundant if you also have these exercises in your workouts.
Prolonged fatigue –
Because high-rep deadlifts are so taxing, you may find that you still feel tired several days after your workout. This may mean that you cannot train as hard or as often as you would like because you’re still “hungover” from your last training session.
High Rep Deadlift Workout
Despite the potential drawbacks of high-rep deadlifts, this type of training can still be productive. So, here’s a high-rep deadlift workout to try.
Do this workout three times per week, ideally with one day’s rest in between, e.g., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Start each workout with a short cardio warm-up followed by some dynamic mobility and flexibility exercises for your major muscles and joints.
8-12 per leg
*AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible
20-Rep Deadlift Program FAQs
Do you have a question about our 20-rep deadlift routine? We’ve got the answers you are looking for!
#1. What weight should I use for high-rep deadlifts?
This is one of those questions that are impossible to answer. After all, we don’t know how strong you are. However, it’s best to underestimate your strength and start too light, so you can do all your reps with perfect form.
Workout by workout, increase the weight slightly so, gradually, your workouts become more challenging. Adding 2.5 to five pounds to the bar per workout, the weight will soon become heavy enough to challenge your muscles and mental fortitude!
#2. What grip should I use?
You can deadlift using a double overhand grip or a mixed grip as preferred. But, if you use a mixed grip, you should try to switch your hands around every rep or two. This will help prevent any left to right muscle imbalances and ensure that you don’t overload one arm (specifically your biceps) more than the other.
#3. What type of deadlift is best?
There are several types of deadlifts you can do for high reps. However, the best variations start with the weight resting on the floor. So, Romanian and stiff-legged deadlifts are NOT a good choice. Your grip will soon begin to fail with these exercises.
Good options include:
However, make sure you pause for a couple of seconds with the weight on the floor between reps. This will allow you to reset your core, reposition your hands, and catch your breath. “Touch and go” deadlifts, where you all but bounce the bar off the floor, are NOT recommended.
See 5 Simple Steps to Stop Elbow Pain From Lifting Weights – which details the steps you can take to stop elbow pain and get back to lifting. It’s what I needed to do after I ended up with lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) from touch and go deadlifts!
#4. Can I use lifting straps?
You can, but it’s not recommended. Wearing straps will rob you of one of the benefits of doing high-rep deadlifts – increased grip strength. Also, your grip acts like a “circuit breaker” that will probably fail before something more important (like your back) starts to give up. This reduces your risk of serious injury.
Wearing lifting straps means that your grip won’t fail, and you could conceivably end up pumping out reps with bad form. So, it’s probably better to just pause for a couple of seconds between reps to let your grip recover.
#5. Should I deadlift to failure?
It’s rarely a good idea to deadlift to failure. That’s because failure invariably means losing your neutral spine. Lifting with a rounded back is a great way to injure yourself. You should pause long enough between reps to ensure you can do each one perfectly.
So, push yourself hard with this program, but stop a just short of failure. Unless you are a powerlifter or strongman trying to establish a new 1RM record, there is no benefit to going to failure during deadlifts, but there are numerous risks.
#6. Is the high-rep deadlift program for cutting or bulking?
Contrary to popular opinion, it’s mostly your diet that determines whether you are bulking or cutting, not your workout. If you eat more than usual, creating a calorie surplus, you’ll gain muscle and bulk up. But, if you eat less and create a calorie deficit, you’ll burn fat and get leaner.
So, adapt your diet according to your training goals. However, because high-rep deadlifts are so challenging, you’ll probably make more progress if you eat plenty of food and treat it more like a bulking program.
High Rep Deadlifts – Wrapping Up
That said, there is no real reason that high-rep deadlifts can’t be productive, providing they’re performed correctly, and you take into account how fatiguing they can be.
So, if you are looking for a new way to challenge your body and mind, give this 20-rep deadlift program a try. Start light and take a couple of weeks to build up the weight. However, you MUST monitor your technique and avoid the temptation to grind out your reps with poor technique.
While the deadlift is undeniably one of the best ways to build your back, it can be a real backbreaker, too!