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Although I've always been active in the gym and have done weight training (bicep curls, squats, chest press) yet I have only just started getting into deadlifts as I'm trying to train "better" and this is a highly recommended exercise. I've been doing them once a week for a month, along with my other exercises like squats.

I am currently weighing 75kg and once warmed up deadlifting 60kg up to 85kg (187lbs). I'm doing many single reps, probably spending half an hour doing them totalling 50 in total I guess.

In a recently exercise book the guy mentioned three sets of 5-8 reps for deadlifts. Very different to my pattern. I notice that I seem to get a dull ache in my lower back the next day, which has caused me to rethink what I am doing.

Should I be reducing my total reps for deadlift? What would a good target weight be, relative to bodyweight?

(I appreciate I need to work up to it whilst practicing my technique)

EDIT: My goals are not to enter competitions etc but rather to increase my overall strength. One specific thing is I'd like to get bigger, more powerful legs to develop a stronger front kick in karate, as well as a stronger core for the upper body exercises I do.

  • Guys all of these answers are great, thank you so much – VictorySaber Jul 28 '15 at 8:21
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Deadlifting isn't fundamentally different than any other movement, so train it the same basic way as everything else.

Since you're aiming for a combination of strength, athletic-performance, and muscle-size, you'll probably want to vary the protocol (aka the sets and reps to do) - e.g. for 8 weeks, lift for strength, then take a week off, then another 8 weeks of lifting for size.

Deadlifting once a week isn't bad, twice a week would get you more results, but assuming you're not a professional body-builder, you've only got so many gym-hours to spend.

Also - the deadlift taxes your low-back - be cautious about doing any-other low-back critical exercise before or after. E.g. a bent-over barbell-row since it involves holding your back steady.

Here's a nice visual guide to rep-ranges and the effects: Rep Range Guide

  • +1 for the advisory regarding doing other lower-back exercises – VictorySaber Jul 28 '15 at 9:15
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As anything it depends on your goals. As a powerlifter and strongman, I have to lift heavy weights. For Powerlifting it's the heaviest deadlift, but for strongman it could be one set weight for as many reps as I can within a timelimit. That's very different from a bodybuilder who is looking for a better physique, where weight is irrelevant.

Addressing Discomfort

I notice that I seem to get a dull ache in my lower back the next day, which has caused me to rethink what I am doing.

That's very common. I call it a low back "pump" which is usually what happens when you do enough volume. It can be very uncomfortable, but it is a back pump it goes away within a day or two.

However, to minimize the pain as you add more weight on the bar over time, you'll want to help your body out:

  • Concentrate on being and staying tight before you pull. In fact the last thing you do should be to contract your lats to pull your body in to the bar.
  • Work on your glutes and your upper body (snatch grip deadlift for 2x10-15 is good for this)
  • Above all: do not jerk the bar

Those steps have helped me minimize the pump. Unfortunately it is a part of doing deadlifts, but it's nothing to be concerned about. A sharp pain or a pain that doesn't go away after a couple days is something to be concerned about.

Addressing Set/Rep Schemes

Deadlifts are meant to be done heavy. Many lifters do well with one heavy set for 3-5 reps, and then back off reps that are much lower in weight. I've seen approaches that are all over the map by people with much larger deadlift records than I have.

Your training approach really depends on what you are trying to get out of the deadlift.

Training for 1RM

The goal here is to get your body used to heavy pulls, and put in the volume needed for hypertrophy with much lighter weights. Aim for a 3-5 rep max (you can keep the same weight and add reps or alternate weeks with your current 5RM working to your 3RM), and do back off volume at 100 lbs lighter.

Training for Reps

The goal here is to build up endurance with a heavy weight. You'll only be doing one set, but start with something you can do for 5 reps and work to 8-10 reps. Increase weight and start over at 5 reps.

Physique

Deadlifts aren't even necessary. Most bodybuilders I know opt for variations like Romanian Deadlifts and such that are meant for high reps.


My goals are not to enter competitions etc but rather to increase my overall strength. One specific thing is I'd like to get bigger, more powerful legs to develop a stronger front kick in karate, as well as a stronger core for the upper body exercises I do.

For that purpose, I would recommend front squats. You can supplement the front squats with romanian deadlifts or kettlebell swings (hip hinge exercise).

Front squats have you balancing the bar across your deltoids forcing you to keep your upper back extended and placing more of a load on your core.

Deadlifts are more useful for brute force breaking a hold that someone has you in on the ground with grappling techniques.

While I think deadlifts are a great tool, they just aren't the right tool to develop front kick strength.

  • I have heard about back pump on this site before and that is what made me take my squat reps down from 20 a time to 8-12, as I had a similar feeling in my back. – VictorySaber Jul 27 '15 at 11:54
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    Single leg romanian deadlifts should be in the conversation as well. The focus on balance and single leg stability while the rest of you is moving around has a lot of cross over to most athletics. – Eric Jul 27 '15 at 16:47
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Should I be reducing my total reps for deadlift?

50 is a bit much, especially with singles, but you're lifting so little weight right now. The lower back feeling you describe can be quite normal, but you should still triple-check your form using video, and if possible, a coach or knowledgable gym buddy.

Sets of 3-8 always worked for me--I've done heavy singles, but only once multi-rep sets stopped being useful. You still have plenty of room to do multi-rep sets.

What would a good target weight be, relative to bodyweight?

One and a half to start. Double after some time. More than double requires dedication to strength training that may be unnecessary for other purposes like martial arts and health.

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Should I be reducing my total reps for deadlift? What would a good target weight be, relative to bodyweight?

Why are you thinking in terms relative to your body weight? Think in terms of more than you were able to previously do. Deadlift is very taxing on the lower back. If your goal is strength as you say then I would focus on reducing the total volume and focus on increasing the weight. Figure out an approximate 1 rep max. Let's say currently its 100 kg. Then take 90% of that number and then program around that number with a weekly progression.

Just as an example it might be something like:

  • Week 1: 50% x 5 x 3
  • Week 2: 65% x 5 x 3
  • Week 3: 70% x 3 x 3
  • Week 4: 85% x 2 x 2

Then you'd start over. I've done 3 week "waves", 4 week "waves", even 7 week "waves." Just come up with a goal for that week and hit it. Remember to use a percentage of your 90%. So say it is 100kg then 90% is 90kg so week 1 is 45kg. At the end of the Wave you start over with an increase of 10 to 20 lbs for deadlift (bench most likely would require smaller jumps). Don't worry about testing your 1RM again for a good half a year at least. I haven't tested my Squat or Deadlift maxes currently for about 7 months and I'm 12 weeks out from my next competition. You're not even planning on training for a competition so you should never worry about a 1RM besides adjusting your numbers once or twice a year.

My goals are not to enter competitions etc but rather to increase my overall strength. One specific thing is I'd like to get bigger, more powerful legs to develop a stronger front kick in karate, as well as a stronger core for the upper body exercises I do.

The front kick is going to make use of Quad, Glutes and Hamstrings more than back. Deadlift can help with this and with size but shouldn't be your only focus then. I'd probably suggest doing a day of:

Deadlift, Front Squats and some sort of Plyometric like box jump. If you have the ability to pull and squat against Chains or Bands would be great too for this goal. Remember to use an even lighter % if you do as its very, very taxing. It'll help develop your speed and power much more effectively though.

Dull ache in lower back

That's just a back pump. Unless its a sharp, acute pain then its nothing to worry about for Deadlifting or Squat. Its your lower back muscles growing for possibly the first time. If its a sharp, acute pain that might even travel down your legs its most likely a pinched nerve from using incorrect form form though could be something more severe like a herniated disc. A dull pain is just wonderful, get use to it.

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