I want to train my deadlift, and I'm curious to know how much weight I might gain if I increased my deadlift by, say, 50lbs. Is there any literature out there that quantifies the relationship between strength gains and muscle mass gains?

I'm an avid rock climber, so I have an incentive to keep my weight low. Just for the heck of it, though, I want to train my deadlift. I was wondering if it was practical to try to increase my deadlift and stay under a target weight. Would increasing the weight I can do in a set of deadlifts by 50lbs correspond to 5lbs of muscle mass? 2lbs? 10lbs?

I don't just mean training my 1 rep max (you can tweak that with pure neurological training), I'm more curious about what woud happen if I improved, say, my 8-10 rep deadlift by 50lbs. Maybe there isn't an answer to this question out there. Maybe its a dumb question. :)

My strength training background: I'm physically active, but an almost totally untrained deadlifter. Actually, I've historically neglected my lower body, and focused on pullups, long core workouts, and some dumbbell benchpresses for the heck of it.

Thanks in advance.

  • I doubt you'll find any literature that gives a definite answer, plus it would depend on number of sets/reps, your own genetics, etc. Jul 9, 2012 at 22:52
  • For a good answer, I recommend adding the information noted in the last paragraph of my answer. The advice would get a lot more specific and productive. Jul 10, 2012 at 0:25

3 Answers 3


+50 pounds (deadlift) = +0 Pounds (bodyweight)

You don't have to gain any weight to add 50 pounds to your deadlift. People do it all the time.

I went from a 5RM of 265 to a 2RM of 365 while essentially remaining 180 pounds--and I was trying to gain weight. (Rather poorly--I might've started at 175 or 178, and a couple days later I was 178 again.)

Novices, in particular, can easily add 100 pounds or more to their deadlift without increasing their bodyweight. They'd get stronger faster if they did, but if they're like you and have a need to keep their bodyweight low, they just progress a little slower and lose steam a little faster.

General Methods

I am not sure why you care about your 8-10 rep max instead of some other rep range. I would bet that such a goal is actually among the most counterproductive if you are looking to improve your deadlift numbers without gaining mass.

The standard prescription is very few reps for strength, medium-few reps for power, more reps for mass gain, and obscene numbers of reps for endurance.

I would expect that you would want to stay on the ends of that spectrum and avoid the middle of it like the plague, if keeping a constant bodyweight is important. Speaking generally, instead of about the deadlift specifically, I'd do 1-3 reps for strength, maybe some lighter sets of 3 done fast to work power, and some much lighter sets done for 25 or more reps to train endurance. (I wouldn't do 25+ reps of deadlifts. Air squats or another bodyweight exercise would be a better choice.) I would avoid sets of 8-10, or even 5 to 20, as I would expect that they would be hypertrophic, so in order to avoid gaining weight, I'd have to be very hungry. That would be silly.

All of this relies, as you note, on neurological gains. But why would you want to avoid those? If it's a purely esoteric question, then I would say that we probably don't have the answer. Separating neurological gains from muscle mass gains is very difficult and has a number of confounding factors. If this is a practical question, then it very much matters what your current bodyweight and strength numbers are, how much training you've done, how much training you'll have time to put to this, and how much other training you'll be doing.

Specific Methods

As an untrained deadlifter, you have a lot of untapped neuromuscular gains, so adding 100 pounds to your deadlift probably wouldn't require any added mass. You might also get some benefit from working high-rep air or Hindu squats, low-rep pistols (unweighted for a couple months, then using a dumbbell or kettlebell to add weight), as well as singles or doubles of heavy barbell squats. My faint understanding of rock climbing is that one occasionally finds themselves in a compressed, squatty position, so strength in that range of motion could be helpful.

Your focus on pull-ups is probably ideal for your sport. The bench pressing you do is also likely a great idea for avoiding imbalances between pulling and pushing in the shoulder girdle. I'm no expert, but I've been having a lot of success recently with straight-arm overhead work (Turkish get-ups, waiter's walks, dumbbell and kettlebell overhead presses, windmills) to strengthen the shoulder as well. It's possible that these could be of some specific use in rock climbing, for those situations where you need to brace yourself by pushing your hands against one rock and your back against another rock.

  • Sure, those are good questions. I'm physically active, but an almost totally untrained deadlifter. Actually, I've historically neglected my lower body, and focused on pullups, long core workouts, and some dumbbell benchpresses for the heck of it.
    – DavidR
    Jul 10, 2012 at 6:38
  • 1
    Being an untrained deadlifter, a significant chunk of your gains would be neuromuscular, so +50lbs to your deadlift wouldn't really add anything.
    – Robin Ashe
    Jul 10, 2012 at 7:11
  • @David Thanks for the update; I edited my answer. Jul 10, 2012 at 13:29
  • 1
    Another good exercise to consider would be any barbell routine that promotes explosive power or speed, like the power clean. I found those exercises really helped me with exploding up a long distance grab.
    – Moses
    Jul 10, 2012 at 15:47
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    Technique baby! Force your knees out on the pull so the bar is more in line with your hips (thus the bar travels in a straighter path = less work), keep that chest up on the pull and at the starting position flex your lats and imagine there is a $100 bill you are squeezing together with you shoulder blades (keep that position the whole time). Your deadlift will skyrocket considering you don't have good technique. :-) Jul 10, 2012 at 16:51

To condense down what Robin said: no, you cannot determine how much weight you will gain based off of strength gains. While you may be able to calculate it theoretically, in a practical sense it would not be worth your time or effort.

That being said, I would go even further and make the argument that this is not something you should even care about. More precisely, as a rock climber, a pound of muscle mass gained is a Good Thing (tm) and something that you should be actively pursuing, not trying to avoid. The physical and cardiovascular gains from strength training will more than make up for the increased body weight burden during rock climbing.

Final note: it isn't a dumb question if you learn something from it :)

  • 1
    Every pound of muscle gained is a good thing for a rock climber? Rock climbers want to maximize their strength-to-mass ratio, not their absolute strength. If he's totally untrained, 10 pounds of added mass might be necessary, but it also might not. If he has some strength experience, he'd probably do best in his sport if he focused on lifting while maintaining his mass, no? Jul 10, 2012 at 2:48
  • @DaveLiepmann 10 pounds of added mass is a rather large figure for any level. That would be more likely the end result after a year of moderate strength training program elapsed, assuming he doesn't only do light training to account for his workouts rock climbing. Altogether, I see nothing wrong with implementing a supplementary strength program to improve his strength.
    – Moses
    Jul 10, 2012 at 4:36
  • I disagree that 10 pounds is a rather large or time-consuming amount of added mass, but that's not relevant. I don't disagree that he should strength train; I am questioning whether your statement that "adding pounds of muscle mass (independent of losing pounds of non-muscle mass ) is a good thing" is accurate. I'm not 100% decided on the issue, but it seems suspect. Jul 10, 2012 at 13:21

To be able to make any prediction like that you'd need to know how many muscle fibers you have per muscle, what types of fibers they are, the length of every bone in your body and the insertion and origin points for each muscle tendon, along with current insertion angle and what the angle might change to with an increase in size.

Also, we'd need to know how strong you already are and whether you're a beginner or experienced lifter. If you're a beginner you'll make noticable strength gains with hardly any mass gains, intermediate your mass gains will be more proportional to strength gains and when you're advanced they'll drop right back down again.

Training method would also have a factor. 8-10 reps would tend towards more sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, so you would likely make more mass gains with a 50lbs increase than you would with 5-6 reps, but again to what degree would depend on all those other factors.

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