Deadlift Workout Sets and Reps – Introduction
How many deadlift reps and sets should you do per week?
Squats are often called the king of exercises.
This title is well-deserved because squats are hard to beat for building lower body muscle mass and strength.
But, in terms of practicality, deadlifts may be the better choice for a lot of lifters.
For starters, deadlifts work most of the same muscles as squats but also involve more of your upper body.
So, while squats are a great leg exercise, deadlifts work most of the muscle groups of your entire body.
If you want to build bigger back muscles and a more powerful grip, deadlifts beat squats by a country mile!
Secondly, to do squats safely, there is a limiting factor, you need a power rack.
Getting stuck at the bottom of a heavy squat rep without a power rack to save you is a recipe for serious injury.
With deadlifts, if you cannot complete a rep, all you need to do is lower it back to the floor.
Finally, deadlifts are arguably the more functional compound exercise.
After all, when was the last time you had to lift a heavy object resting on your back?
It’s far more likely that you bent down, grabbed it, and lifted it off the floor. You know, like a deadlift!
It’s clear that deadlifts are a valuable exercise, and it’s one that most of us should do.
But how many reps and sets for deadlifts should you do?
This article lifts the lid on the best deadlift rep ranges according to your training goal.
Deadlift Reps for Building Strength
In technical terms, strength is your ability to generate maximum force.
It’s usually expressed as your one-repetition maximum (1RM), which is the amount of weight you can lift once, but not twice.
Traditionally, training for strength involves lifting heavy weights for low reps.
Does this mean that to get stronger, you need to do sets of one rep? Probably not.
While single reps can work, they’re also exhausting. Lifting close to your limit takes a lot out of your body and nervous system.
Single reps are good for demonstrating strength but not building it.
Doing a lot of very heavy singles could soon lead to overtraining and increased injury risk.
So, instead of single reps, if you want to build maximal strength, stick to 4 to 6 sets of 3-5 reps using 85% and above your 1RM.
If you do progress to singles, use them for just a couple of weeks before returning to some higher rep/lower intensity training.
Lifting heavy weights causes a lot of nervous system fatigue, and doing your next set before you are recovered will reduce the amount of weight you can lift.
As such, training for strength means long rests between sets – usually 3-5 minutes.
This will ensure that you are well-rested and can use the heaviest weights possible.
How to Calculate Your One-Rep Max (1RM)
Use Hashi Mashi’s 1 rep max deadlift calculator to approximate the maximal amount of weight and reps you can lift.
The formula for estimating your maximum lift is based on the Epley equation.
- Do 1 or 2 warmup sets with a light weight for 8 to 10 reps
- Rest for 1 minute
- Add 5 – 10 percent of the initial load and do 3 to 5 repetitions
- Take a 2 – 3 minute rest
- Repeat steps 3. and 4. until you hit failure between 3 and 5 reps
- Select your units, pounds, or kilograms.
- Adjust the amount of weight and reps you tested with.
Hashi Mashi’s 1RM Calculator
Enter weight or reps
|% of 1RM||Weight||Reps|
How Many Deadlift Reps for Size
What is the correct number of deadlift reps for building muscle mass?
Muscle growth, or hypertrophy, is trigged by two mechanisms – mechanical tension and metabolic overload.
This means you need to use heavy weights to traumatize and break down your muscles and do enough reps so that your muscles are starved of oxygen for a short period.
It’s generally accepted that sets of 6-12 reps are best for achieving these effects.
If you want muscle size with strength, 6-8 reps work well.
But, if you don’t care too much about strength gains and just want to increase muscle size, the 9-12 rep range is best.
Because you want to expose your muscles to mechanical tension and metabolic overload, you should use moderately heavy weights (75-85% of your 1RM) and rest 60-90 seconds between sets.
This means you’ll only be partially recovered between sets, which will increase both types of overload for better results.
Improving Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is your ability to generate low amounts of force for an extended time.
Doing 50 push-ups or running a mile are examples of muscular endurance, although the latter is also a test of aerobic fitness.
To improve your endurance, you need to do higher reps with lighter weights while resting only briefly between sets – usually just 30-60 seconds.
In theory, you could do sets of 50-100 reps to develop your endurance, but, really, that’s a huge waste of time.
Only the last few reps of each set are demanding enough to improve your fitness, and if it takes you 50+ reps to reach that point, your workout won’t be very time efficient.
So, if you want to improve endurance, aim to reach fatigue somewhere in the 12-20 rep range using 50-70% of your 1RM.
This will overload your muscles and energy system without wasting your valuable training time.
What About Deadlift Reps for Fat Loss?
There is no recognized rep range for fat loss.
Fat loss has more to do with your total energy expenditure and dietary habits than whether you do 5, 10, or a 15-rep set of deadlifts.
That said, moderate to high reps (8-20) with medium to heavy weights could be more useful than very heavy weights and low reps because they produce more lactic acid and increase your heart and breathing rate more.
Also, with shorter rests, you’ll end up doing more work per training session than lifting huge weights for low reps.
However, even if you do like to lift heavy for low reps, you can still use a deadlift strength training program to shed your unwanted fat, providing you follow a sensible weight loss diet.
Is It Safe to Do Very High Rep Sets of Deadlifts?
Some people like to challenge themselves by doing very high rep sets of deadlifts.
And let’s be honest, we all LOVE a challenge!
But very high rep sets of deadlifts are not a great idea because, as you get tired, your form is likely to break down, and that increases your risk of injury.
During deadlifts, as you get tired, your lower back is more and more likely to start to round.
This moves the stress away from your muscles and puts it on your lumbar vertebrae and intervertebral disks.
These are passive tissues with a poor blood supply, and if they are injured, they can take a long time to heal.
In contrast, strained muscles recover relatively quickly because they have a much better blood supply.
As such, technical, high-risk exercises like deadlifts, power cleans, snatches, and box jumps are not ideal for very high reps.
Personally, I don’t like doing more than ten to twelve reps of deadlifts because I know my mind wanders, my form deteriorates, and it’s all too easy to end up injured and unable to train.
So, while very high sets of deadlifts are challenging, the risk outweighs the benefits for most people.
How Many Sets of Deadlifts Should You Do?
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question!
That’s because there is a huge spectrum of choices, and every one of them works.
On the one hand, all it takes is one set to trigger increases in strength and muscle size.
So long as you take your set close to failure and do your best to lift more weight or do more reps next time, your body will adapt accordingly.
That single set is responsible for the majority of your strength and muscle mass gains.
However, while one set works, doing additional sets will make your workout more productive.
Two sets are slightly better than one, and three sets are marginally better than two.
However, there will come a point where more sets will add nothing to your workout and could actually diminish your returns by creating unnecessary fatigue and delaying your recovery.
The trick is to determine how much training volume (the number of sets) you need to make progress.
This varies from person to person depending on your age, training experience, nutritional status, and general fitness and health.
For some people, this could mean doing six sets of deadlifts per workout. For others, it might be just two sets.
Deadlift Sets and Reps for Beginners
Beginners who are a long way from their genetic potential and are training with relatively light weights will be able to tolerate more sets than someone who is very strong and lifting right at their limit.
Volume tolerance is also a trainable fitness component.
The key is to listen to your body and adjust the number of sets based on how you feel.
One good way to do this is to monitor bar speed.
The first set of your workout should feel quick and powerful.
Each rep should take roughly the same amount of time, except the last 1-2 reps, which may be slower and less smooth.
Providing your rest period was long enough, your next set should look much the same as the first, although it will feel harder.
Bar Speed Cue
When you notice that the bar speed is starting to decrease significantly, it’s probably time to bring your deadlifts to an end.
Reduced bar speed suggests that it’s not just your muscles beginning to fatigue, but your nervous system, which takes longer to recover between sets and workouts.
The advantage of this method, which is a form of self-regulation, is that you can adjust your workout based on how you feel.
For example, if you slept like a log and breakfasted like a king, you might be able to crank out 4-6 high-quality sets before meaningful fatigue starts setting in.
But, if the neighbor’s dog was barking all night and breakfast was a coffee on the go, 1-2 sets may be all you can manage.
The point is, saying that something like 3, 4, or 5 is the ideal number of sets for everyone is pointless because there are too many variables in play.
Tailor Your Training Volume
It’s better to tailor your training volume to how you’re feeling and performing on that particular training day.
Forcing yourself to do five sets when you’ve only really got 2-3 good sets in you could cause overtraining or injury.
Similarly, limiting yourself to three sets when you’ve got the energy to spare means you could end up cutting your workout short unnecessarily, missing out on some extra productive training.
All of that said, I’m a firm believer in getting things done in 3-5 sets.
I tend to find that it takes me a couple of sets to get into my deadlift workout, but the workout quality soon starts to drop if I do too many.
That said, I’m not afraid to do one set and quit if I’m having an off day.
You’ve got to pick your battles to win the war!
So, in closing, when it comes to deciding how many sets to do, think about the cost (energy, time) versus the reward (gains, progress).
Try and secure the best reward for the lowest cost. Invest your time and energy wisely, and don’t throw it away on junk sets that just tire you out.
Deadlift Reps and Sets – Wrapping Up
- For building strength, you need to do fewer reps (3-5) with heavier weights (85%+ of your 1RM) combined with long rests between sets (3-5 minutes).
- To build muscle mass, use medium reps (6-12) and moderate weights (70-85% of your 1RM) and shorter rests between sets (60-90 seconds).
- And to improve your muscular endurance, use light weights (50-70% of your 1RM) combined with high reps (12-20) and shorter rests between sets (30-60 seconds).
Adjust your set count based on your performance, remembering that it’s your first set that provides you with the majority of your progress, and each subsequent set only adds a small amount to your workout.
3-5 sets should be sufficient, but it’s okay to do less or more according to how you feel on the day.
Finally, if your goal is fat loss, stick mainly to the 8-20 rep range, and remember that losing weight is more about diet and general calorie expenditure than a specific rep range.
Ultimately, the most important thing about deadlifts is actually doing them.
While things like rep counts, volume, and 1RM% can play a part in your success, they aren’t as critical as many people think.
In fact, in studies, even a high number of reps with lighter weights, providing each set was taken to failure, triggered appreciable increases in muscle mass and strength.¹
Simply getting off the couch and sticking to a consistent deadlift training program is much more important than using the perfect set and rep schemes.
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