Heavy deadlifts will definitely make you bigger, stronger, and more powerful.
Increased size and strength occur for a variety of reasons:
- Practicing the deadlift improves the deadlift by increasing the firing rate of neurons associated with the muscles required to lift, thereby increasing muscle firing speed. This impacts strength.
- Additionally, this practice improves the synchronicity of muscle firing. Your muscles get more efficient at working together to lift the weight.
- Size increases due to several different mechanisms of which I won’t completely go down the rabbit hole in this article. Stronger by science has covered this in great detail and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
In the remainder of this article, I’m going to briefly review several different topics related to deadlifting and how it can make you bigger and stronger, what the appropriate set and rep schemes should be for different goals, and more.
Let’s dive in!
- Lifting heavy or light can help you gain mass from deadlifts. For some people, lifting lighter weights with higher reps is a more sustainable and therefore more effective way to build mass. This volume technique is used by many bodybuilders and powerlifters.
- It’s not the amount of weight that matters to gain mass, it’s the relative effort on the last rep. If the effort is the same muscle mass gains will be very similar.
How to build muscle mass with deadlifts
In order to build muscle mass with deadlifts you will need to do a few things:
- Make sure you are working to at least an RPE 8 on each set. This means you are able to do two more reps.
- Make sure you have enough volume. If you are only doing 2 sets of 10, this may work in the beginning when you are a novice, however you will quickly need to increase the number of sets and reps you are doing and potentially add another lifting day.
- Eat enough protein. The general recommendation is to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. This can be increased even higher still if you have very high training loads.
If you do those three things you will gain muscle mass. At some point you will reach a level of muscle mass where it becomes disproportionately more difficult to increase muscle mass. The amount of volume you will need to acquire will significantly increase as well.
There is a reason why competitive bodybuilders spend so much time in the gym. It requires a lot of time to get that jacked.
How to build strength with deadlifts
Strength is correlated with size however it is not a linear relationship.
Strength is specific. If you practice the deadlift, you will get better at the deadlift. This doesn’t mean you will increase exponentially with the squat or leg press. It likely will help those lifts a bit, however, it’s not a direct carryover (at least for me).
The mechanics of the deadlift and squat are similar however due to the placement of the weight there is a slightly different feel to each of these.
There are many different trains of thought when it comes to building deadlift strength.
Some advocate for ever-increasing volume at lower percentages of 1 RM while others recommend lifting heavy several days a week starting off with a heavy single and then backing down to your working sets.
Each of these can work well and I truly can’t say which method (and all the methods in between), are better.
Ultimately the best method of building strength is going to be by choosing which method is most appealing to you and then sticking with it for an inordinate amount of time (years).
It took me over 10 years to go from deadlifting 225 to 635 lbs.
A very simple example program focused on strength could focus on 3×10 squats for 6 weeks and then transition into a 5×5 program thereafter a few times per week.
Training really doesn’t need to be complicated. If you do the basics well, you’ll be ahead of 99% of the population.
I don’t know if there are stats for this, but I bet 99% of the population is unable to squat their bodyweight… so if you’re ahead of that, good!
Does deadlifting build back mass?
Yes, deadlifting builds back mass. Any strong deadlift has significant muscle mass in their back musculature.
You don’t have to deadlift to build back mass. You can do any combination of back-focused exercises like bent-over rows, pendlay rows, T-bar rows, lat pulldown, GHDs, etc.
Can you still build muscle mass with light deadlifts?
Yes, you can build muscle mass with light deadlifts.
It’s been shown conclusively that building muscle mass can be done with light or heavy weights.
Brad Schoenfeld and the team over at Stronger by Science have covered this extensively.
The most important part of building muscle mass with heavy or lightweight is how effortful was the last rep of the set. If your relative effort is the same across the last reps of the heavy or light set, then it doesn’t matter.
Are three sets of deadlifts enough to build muscle mass and strength?
Three sets of the deadlift are enough to build muscle mass and strength however if you start to notice a plateau that is lasting for quite a long period of time then it may be time to increase your volume or manipulate a different variable with your training.
Variables you might consider adjusting would be:
- Increasing sets and reps of the deadlift
- Increasing protein intake
- Increasing # of deadlift days you are doing
- Increasing accessory exercise volume to targeted muscle groups
Can deadlifts get you ripped?
Deadlifts don’t have some magical quantity that will get you “ripped,” however any sort of weightlifting activities that work large muscle groups, increase muscle mass, and burn calories to decrease fat mass have the capability to augment how lean you appear.
If you increase muscle mass and reduce fat mass you will look leaner.
Why heavier lifting is not increasing your muscle mass
This was a question I noticed quite a few people were asking.
It could be that your volume is not high enough, you’re not getting enough protein in your diet, your training frequency is too low, or, you’ve just reached a point where you likely won’t notice muscle mass changes for many months.
If you are an experienced lifter with several years of lifting under your belt it’s very unlikely that you will gain a ton more muscle mass as compared to when you were a noob lifter.
There is a reason these are called “noobie” gains.
Lift heavy or light, make your last rep count, and make sure you’re getting enough protein. If you do these things, you’ll almost certainly make progress in your muscle gainz.