Deadlifting heavy is required for building maximal strength. Lifting light or heavy will build muscle mass. The most important part of building muscle is having a high relative effort level on the last rep regardless of how much weight is used.

Whether you should deadlift heavy or light isn’t really the right question to ask. Instead, a better question to ask would be, under what circumstances is heavier deadlifting appropriate, and under what circumstances is lighter deadlifting appropriate?


Additionally, you don’t have to do either, or. You can do both, in fact, in most training programs that’s the recommendation. 

If you’re having trouble with deadlifting due to back pain or any other type of pain for that matter, this article I wrote a while back should be able to help!

In the remainder of this article, I’m going to share with you when it’s appropriate to lift light, heavy, or both; if lifting heavy is safe, and what the injury rate is among powerlifters and other lifting-type athletes. 

If that’s of interest to you, read on!

Table of Contents

    Key Takeaways

    • heavy deadlifts are necessary to build maximal strength
    • a combination of light and heavy deadlifts is likely the best approach for long term progress
    • heavy deadlifting is a safe form of exercise. Just like any exercise you should learn the form and then progress weight slowly and methodically over time.
    • Injury rates for lifting weights is one of the lowest rates out of all sports

    When are heavy deadlifts most appropriate?

    If your goal is to lift the most amount of weight as possible then heavy deadlifts must be a component of your training. 

    Depending on the type of training program you are running this could have you lifting heavy in a low rep range 1-5 reps, several times a week. There are other programs that will call for 1-2x/week of heavy deadlifts. 

    The challenge with doing very heavy deadlifts per week is that it’s a very energy-intensive movement that involves many major muscle groups. 

    I’ve found that if I deadlift heavy more than twice per week that I need to be sleeping at least 9 hours each night to feel rested. At this point in my life, being a new dad, that’s not really possible so my training intensity is a bit lower. 

    I’m still getting one heavy deadlift session per week and that’s manageable. 

    Ultimately you’ll need to decide on what your goals of training are before you can decide 

    When are light deadlifts most appropriate?

    Light deadlifts should be a component of any deadlifting training program. Light deadlifts will be utilized in your warm-up, low intensity days, high intensity (high rep) days, and as part of your accessory exercise, work. 

    Light deadlifts are a great way to work on form as you are easier able to control the weight. Focus on maintaining tension throughout your entire body during these just as you would with a weight that would be 90% or greater of your 1RM. 

    On the program I am running right now, most of my work is happening in the 60-70% of my 1RM however I’m doing between 8 – 15 reps during each set. 

    This is still very high intensity, especially on the last set, however, it feels less stressful on my joints and you can still build muscle this way, and strength. 

    The strength gains come from being able to do progressively heavier weight, but with more reps. This does translate into a higher 1RM however usually this needs to be coupled with heavy singles, doubles, and triples to really get the maximum benefit. 

    There are other people who have written much more extensively and who understand this far greater than me so i’ll leave the nitty gritty details to them. 

    You can read them at Stronger by Science and Barbell Medicine. 

    When should a combination of deadlift intensities be included in a training program?

    I think that most if not all programs should consist of a combination of high-load and low-load training. 

    This does a few things:

    1. It puts a bit less stress on the system. If you are only lifting heavy and you are doing this multiple times a week this is likely to be more taxing than if you instead add in a day or two of low load training (it can still be high intensity = high RPE)
    2. Helps you get more reps so that your body can become more efficient at the movement. Deadlift, squat, and bench, among other movements, are a skill. The more reps you get, the better your body gets at doing the activity. 

    Is deadlifting heavy, safe?

    Yes, deadlifting heavy is safe. 

    There is a misconception that lifting heavy objects is a leading cause of injury. 

    While it’s true that it is possible to injure yourself while lifting heavy, it’s also very possible to injure yourself when lifting light. 

    In fact, the only time I’ve ever experienced a back spasm was when I was doing 50% of my 1RM, literally a warm-up weight. 

    Below, I’ll share what the scientific literature says about injuries in powerlifters vs. other sports. 

    What is the injury rate among powerlifters?

    According to a study done by the team at Stronger By Science, here is what they found:

    “The general consensus is that powerlifters sustain 1.0-5.8 injuries per 1,000 hours of training, corresponding to 0.3-2.1 injuries per year” – source

    By comparison, if you compare powerlifting to alpine skiing 3.7 injuries per 1,000 hours, or football 9.6 injuries per 1,000 hours (during practice, 36/1000 hours in games), injury rates among powerlifters are among the lowest out of all sports. 

    Even baseball players have a higher incidence of injuries at 1.9 injuries per 1,000 hours during practice and 4.3 injuries per 1,000 hours.  – source

    It’s important to note this as many people are afraid to lift heavy things for fear of injury, however comparably to most other sports it’s one of the safest things you can do. 

    Please leave a comment below if you have any questions about any information that was shared in this article!