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I'm a gym regular for a couple of years and am quite fit. My lowerbody has been trained less rigorously, but I am trying to correct it the past year. I did running, sprints and in recent months picked up squats, leg presses and deadlifting. My legs aren't the best, but they're not bad either. I can leg press over 100 kg for example and my squats are reaching 80 kg with relative ease. My bodyweight is 80 kg.

The problem is that my deadlifts are not progressing very well. I am kind of stuck on 40 kg. I get tired after around 12 reps and am maxed out at 16-20 reps. If I try to go to 60 kg I will injure my back. I don't really feel it in my legs, but rather in my forearms and my lowerback. I watched many videos about how to perform with better technique, such as keeping back straight, pushing with my legs, keep my hips above my knees etc. My form still needs work, but I am doing my best to improve on it.

So I looked around online to kind of compare where I stand and apparently I should be able to do 120 kg with ease? Almost every website indicates weights that seem super high to me. I don't think my small local gym even has that kind of weight available.

For example:

Even if my form is bad and I am utilizing my strength incorrectly, these numbers are completely putting me to shame. Am I misinterpreting these numbers? I have a hard time believing this. I had expected that as a regular gym goer my benchmark would still be above the untrained average.

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    "If I try to go to 60 kg I will injure my back." Why do you believe this will happen? Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 3:02
  • I have tried to lift at 60 kg before, doing only 12 reps. But I got a very sore lower back that was slightly painful even. Having had a few injuries already in the past from other exercises with bad form, I knew I had to dial it down until I got my form correct. But it appears that doing high reps with deadlift was a mistake from the answers.
    – Babyburger
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 9:35
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    Yes, the 5-8 rep range is much more common (and entails much less physical discomfort) than higher reps. Was that attempt at 12 reps at 60kg a big change for you? If you had previously only lifted 40kg, that would definitely explain the soreness. You could try picking a number of reps in the 5-8 range, start with a weight not much heavier than what you're currently lifting, and gradually increase the weight each workout. E.g. Start with 8 reps at 45kg and increase 2.5kg per session. Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 12:44
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    I actually tried that right after my previous comment and I managed to gradually go up to 70kg, doing 5 reps each set. That was the threshold where I still felt safe and in control. The mental thought that I only need to do 5 reps helps me keep focused on the form it seems. I didn't have as much issue with rounding my back as long as I keep my attention. This has been very motivating for me. Thank you for the suggestion :)
    – Babyburger
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 13:25

2 Answers 2

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A few points about your situation.

  1. The sites you linked to (as is common practice,) are providing 1 rep max lift numbers. You have to derate your lift ability when doing more than 1 repetition in a set.

  2. 20 reps in a single set of deadlifts is very high, and probably not advisable for strength training as fatigue leads to bad form which leads to injuries. Some advice on deadlift volume.

  3. The websites you are referencing are not looking at unbiased statistics. strengthlevel.com is compiling every self-reported lift from it's inception which will overweight the purported abilities of frequent users compared to the larger population of people who use their site seldom if at all. The power lifting federation data is from judged events so avoids the perils of self-reporting, but is only looking at people who are engaged in competitive power-lifting and thus likely to have been training for their lifts.

So, all told, while your deadlift capacity is on the light side, it is not as far off as you thought. The answers under point 2 above provide some guidance to better training.

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The first thing to note, and perhaps the most important, is that our ability is naturally variant. Averages can be informative, but they have to be understood within the context of considerable variation in physical geometry, muscle size, and muscle composition—as well as, obviously, physical conditioning. These play an enormous role in the expression of physical strength. Distinct lifts may vary greatly within one individual, too.

As someone who has trained thousands of novices and tens of professional athletes, I can say categorically that a 'novice' 80-kilogram athlete can not typically dead lift 120 kilograms. A glaring question, of course, is what is our definition of 'novice'? But 120 kilograms is an accomplished lift.

That said, if you are squatting 80 kilograms, we might typically expect you to be able to dead lift 90 or 100 kilograms. (Depending both on your physical characteristics and the style of your squat—Do you squat to your ankles? Parallel? Half way?)

By your own description, the greatest limiting factor for you is your lower back. This suggests that either (1) your erector spinae muscles are relatively weak, which is unlikely given your squat performance, (2) your 'core' (transversus abdominis, diaphragm, pelvic diaphragm) is weak or you are using a lifting belt, or (3) your lifting technique is fundamentally flawed.

Without more information, it is impossible to determine which of these factors is (or are) at play, but we can fairly say that your deadlift should probably be greater than it is, and that it should certainly be progressing with training.

I hope that gives you somewhere to start.

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    Thank you for the pointers. I don't use a lifting belt, my current level doesn't warrant that at all. I watched many videos on how to employ proper technique but I must still be doing something wrong because my back still tends to round as I lift even if I try not to. It's a harder exercise than it looks.
    – Babyburger
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 9:42
  • As I argue in the "lifting belt" link above, no level of lifting warrants wearing a lifting belt. But I am glad to hear that you don't. If your back is rounding out, it is possible that you are fatiguing your erector spinae through overuse. That is, you may be hyperextending the back, as is commonly (but very much erroneously) advised. However, whether you are or not, it is probably an issue with transversus abdominis activation. Perhaps the most important technique cue for any kind of lifting is maintaining a 'neutral' spine, which I am sure you already know.
    – POD
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 11:09
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    The trouble can sometimes be one's idea of what a neutral spine is: sometimes that is interpreted as a hyperextended spine. To ensure that is not the case, the hips should be posteriorly tilted so as to allow the naval to be pulled perhaps an inch toward the spine. When you do this, you should immediately feel the whole waist tighten from front to back. (If you are not feeling this, the transversus abdominis is not engaged strongly.) From there, the other more superficial abdominal muscles should be tensed for further support.
    – POD
    Commented Jul 4, 2022 at 11:14
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    I just saw this post again and am happy to report that I managed to improve my deadlift to above 100kg with better form now. The missing component in my form was apparently how low my butt needs to go depends on the length of my arms relative to my body length. I have relatively short arms, so in order to keep my arms completely vertical I must descend my butt real low, like I am squatting. I've seen videos where they recommend against it but that's because their arms are longer. The key is that my arms should be vertical when I am ready to push off the ground.
    – Babyburger
    Commented Jan 12 at 6:48

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