There are a lot of claims made from comments on CNS impact to squats being more important...

From Ice Cream Fitness:

Deadlifts are 1x5 for a reason. They are taxing on your CNS and if you mess around you will get hurt. So don't be the tough guy who wants to do 5x5 deadlifts, because you will fail miserably

Mehdi also talks about it in StrongLifts.

Can someone give a definitive answer? Can a routine be designed around deadlifts? If so, what does it look like?

Assume the routine would be primarily aimed and increasing 'strongman' strength and deadlift 1RM weight. The goal is to be strong, not 'ripped'.

  • 2
    I think the reason he gave for 1x5 on the SL5x5 program was because squats were done every day and between the other exercises (namely squat/row) you were hitting the same parts as deadlift would.
    – Aequitas
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 14:14
  • What are you goals? If you want to get better at deadlifting, then that's a very different goal to wanting to train for fat loss or hypertrophy.
    – Dark Hippo
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 13:28
  • I have added goal information @DarkHippo
    – John
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 13:55
  • Cool. By strongman strength, do you mean as in those competing in strongman events, such as stone lifting (great fun, but murder on the forearms), log pressing, weighted carries and that sort of thing, or more old-time strongman type stuff like Arthur Saxon, Maxick and Bob Peoples are famous for?
    – Dark Hippo
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 14:13
  • Yes, focusing on events that utilise compound lift strength.
    – John
    Commented May 4, 2016 at 6:57

3 Answers 3


5x5 deadlift is absolutely fine, but not during the SL5x5.

As Aequitas nails on the head, the Stronglift 5x5 program already includes 5x5 squats, 3 days a week, and as such, your legs, glutes and lower back will constantly be in a state of recovery. Adding a lot of sets of deadlifts on top of this will very likely hinder your progress, as you might never get to reach an anabolic state.

Remember, squats and deadlifts target the same primary movers, but with slightly different ratios of intensity.

However, if you do a program with, say, 1 leg day per week where you do deadlifts, then it's absolutely fine to do 5x5, 3x8, or whatever you see fit.

Keep in mind that deadlift is typically the exercise where you move the largest amount of weight, and people are correct to point out that this is very taxing on your CNS if you do it too often.

Designing a program around deadlifts (example)

  1. Add deadlifts to one day of the week

  2. Consider this leg day, add squats, and vary/alternate which one of them you do first. Accessorize with leg/lower back movements like back raise, leg extensions, leg curls, as these will facilitate more gains on the deadlift-relevant muscle groups

  3. Train at least one other day of the week.

    • if you only train one more day of the week, make it an upper body day, and make sure to incorporate both pressing and pulling movements, and at least one compound exercise of each category

    • if you train two more days of the week, make it a pull day, and a push day

There is also the alternative of considering deadlifts on back days, and having a separate leg day with squats. However, if you're unsure, err on the side of caution, and have only one leg day. If you feel super ready to have two leg days (i.e. having deadlifts on back day), then research (or come back and ask for) some tips on that.

  • Can you edit your answer to answer the core question: Can a routine be designed around deadlifts? For example 3-4 sessions a week performing different intensities and volumes (like MADCOW).
    – John
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 7:01
  • @JJosaur - Added, although I used a different example.
    – Alec
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 11:03

Why 1x5 deadlifts so often?

One heavy deadlift set to five reps can be plenty for most people. Most novice programs don't include a lot of deadlift volume because there's no need for more than one set of 5 if you're also doing plenty of squat volume. Plus, bad form in the deadlift is Bad News, plus novices trend towards bad form after a set of heavy deadlifts, which equals Maybe Let's Wait A Few Months for high-volume deadlifts.

Can a routine be designed around deadlifts?

Lots of routines are designed around deadlifts, and they work fine. They're just not usually for people without some experience and strength under their belt. The Coan deadlift routine comes to mind as the most common. If you're designing a program around deadlifts, the first thing to keep in mind is Don't, because you probably don't know how. But if you do, then you probably already know that it will probably involve starting every workout with some form of deadlift, probably with some pulling variations (e.g. Romanian deadlifts, rack pulls, power cleans, snatch-grip deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, speed deadlifts), some variation in rep schemes from day to day or week to week, and a heck of a lot more volume than 1 paltry set of 5. Oh, and other exercises too, because one-trick ponies we don't want to be.


Yes, you can absolutely design a program around deadlifts, but the real question is should you.

Few years back, I wrecked my shoulder in a climbing accident, and I found that all I could really do pain free was deadlift, so I deadlifted every day. I can't remember the exact program, but it was based around multiple singles every day, increasing the number until I reached a point, then adding weight and starting again (i.e. start with 80% of your 1RM, pull this for 5 singles. Add a set every day until you're pulling 12 singles, add 5kg and start again with 5 singles).

By following that program for a couple of months, I went from a shakey and occasional 160kg max to an easy feeling 170kg.

If you want a program based around deadlifts, think about multiples singles.

Something as described here would be good http://www.strongfirst.com/daily-dose-deadlift-plan/

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