Why The Deadlift Is an Overrated Lift The deadlift takes more than it gives back.

The deadlift has been enjoying more popularity than ever thanks to the rise of the so-called “YouTube powerlifting” – a phenomenon that has greatly contributed to the “do you even squat and deadlift” mentality.

Since many beginners look up to the YouTube fitness celebrities, they start to believe that deadlifting is the key to the physiques presented by their online idols. That’s not the case at all because many of the popular YouTube fitness channels are maintained by people who use anabolic steroids despite claiming natural. Therefore, the average user is often left with the wrong impression that the deadlift is the key to exceptional growth when it’s nothing more than a very difficult exercise.

Are heavy deadlifts overrated?

Yes. 


The deadlift places a lot of stress on the central nervous system (CNS) and has a long recovery time. When you perform heavy deadlifts, you may need 7-10 days to fully recover depending on what else you are doing and how strong you are in the first place. That’s because the lift starts from a dead stop, and the body has to generate a ton of force to lift the weight.

The problem, however, is not that deadlifts are hard. That’s to be expected with anything worth doing. The main issue is that the results you receive for performing something so difficult could be achieved with other approaches that may be better for your particular case.

The strength and muscle size that you can potentially build by deadlifting can be reached with a combination of exercises that are less stressful. A popular example would be the forgotten Romanian deadlift.

romanian-deadlift-on-a-platform

What do you think will happen if you add 200lbs to your Romanian deadlift?

Your hamstrings, lower and upper back will get stronger.

However, the Romanian deadlift comes with a stretch reflex at the bottom which makes the exercise less stressful and easier to recover from.

At the same time, the strength developed by the Romanian deadlift will translate to the regular deadlift very well because the lifts have similar mechanics.

Why kill yourself when you can reach the final destination by following a less stressful path?

Almost Everything Will Build Your Deadlift

When your squat goes up, your deadlift goes up too automatically.

When your Romanian deadlift goes up, your deadlift goes up too automatically.

I would say that the best substitute for the deadlift would be a combination of front squats and Romanian deadlifts. Those two have more benefits than the deadlift alone. Why? Because the front squat will build your starting strength (quadriceps drive) over a greater range of motion whereas the Romanian deadlift will take care of your posterior chain. In addition, the front squat also works the upper back intensely.

Ultimately, you will never find someone with a strong front squat and Romanian deadlift who doesn’t pull a lot of weight. It’s physically not possible.

Another option would be a combination of back squats and pulls such as power cleans and barbell rows. The squat will build your raw leg and hip power whereas the power clean will help you acquire an explosive pull which will translate to your deadlift.

If the power clean is too technical, you can simply stick with back squats, heavy shrugs, Romanian deadlifts and barbell rows. As long as you progress, your deadlift will go up.

At the end of the day, however, the choice is yours. If you want to deadlift, go for it. There is absolutely no reason to avoid doing the lift if you like it. You are free to do whatever you want.

Nevertheless, people need to realize that the results produced by the deadlift can be reached through different paths.

Will I Burn In Hell If I Drop The Deadlift?

No. Dropping the deadlift offers two solid benefits.

1. An Opportunity to Squat More

By removing the deadlift, you reduce the workload of your lower back. This is one of the many reasons why Olympic weightlifters don’t waste time on deadlifts. They rarely do the movement because it’s pointless for them. It takes way more than it gives back.

2. Less ego in your training

I am perfectly aware that the deadlift is reasonably safe when done with good form. Nonetheless, many people deadlift just to be “alpha”. When that happens, you are essentially performing ego lifting.

In conclusion

I am certainly not anti-deadlift. If anything, that’s my best lift because I have long arms. However, I am not a powerlifter which means that performing the deadlift is not mandatory for me. This is true for many people out there. Besides, even some powerlifters skip the deadlift for as long as possible to avoid CNS burnout.

If you like to deadlift, go for it, but don’t be a slave to dogma.

2 comments

  1. melissa

    I find both squats and deads to be vastly overrated ego based lifts.
    They serve their place but there are MANY other safer exercises one can perform.
    Ego will get you hurt in the gym and those like myself who are over a decade deep and compete as a hobby would much rather keep lifting and competing than stressing our bodies/risk getting hurt with ego lifts all the time.

  2. Dominick

    Interestic article; this is a very generic paper, mainly addressed at recreational lifters (who are not into powerlifting nor strongman).

    I enter a couple of amateur strongman contests every summer. Needless to say, I need a ton of brute strength, and the deadlift is an amazing lift to develop such strength, when it’s used properly.

    Now, there is a distinction to be made between deadlifting and heavy deadlifting. The problem arises when lifters are always working up to their top single or double; this is ego lifting. They test their strength; they don’t really build it.

    My typical sessions involve sub-maximal singles done at 75-85% of my personal best. I also use variants; these days my focus is on the snatch-grip deadlift, which is a fantastic lift to build power off the floor. My personal best is 440 lbs, so I will often do 6-10 singles using 350 lbs (80%) or 335 lbs, and will work up to 5 singles at 385 (87.5%) once a week. I fell into the ego trap once and performed 4 triples using 415, and it took me two weeks to recover from this! Barring such ecxeptions, there isn’t much ego lifting in my training; the weight is a tool to build strength. It is much easier on recovery, and I am well-trained enough to pull three times a week in the afore-mentioned style. I take a de-load week once every 3-4 weeks, using 50% or 60% for singles or doubles. This avoids building excessive fatigue.

    Training deadlift with singles is a great way to develop the ability to rip a weight off the floor. I don’t think power cleans do much in that department, unless you are a total beginner. I train the clean in the low 200’s and my best conventional deadlift is currently 525 lbs. Not the same kind of weight at all. Snatch-grip deadlifts and farmer deadlifts (pulling using farmer implements, which calls for a ton of leg drive) will translate into greater leg drive, and so will the cumulative effect of repeatedly doing conventional singles in the 405-455 lb range (75-85% in my case).

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