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

The deadlift has been enjoying more popularity over the last few years thanks to the rise of the so-called “YouTube powerlifting”, which as a phenomenon 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 (and squatting) 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. Thus, 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 difficult exercise when done with heavy enough weight.

Are heavy deadlifts overrated?


Yes. 

The deadlift places as lot of stress on the central nervous system (CNS) and has a long recovery time. When you perform heavy deadlifts, you may need about 7-10 days to fully recover depending on what else you are doing and how strong you are in the first place. Experienced lifters may even need full 14 days to recuperate from a heavy pull done in the 1-2 rep range. That’s because the lift starts from a dead stop, and the body needs to generate a ton of force to make the weight go up.

The problem, however, is not so much that heavy 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 more intelligent approaches.

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

romanian-deadlift-on-a-platform

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

Your hamstrings, lower and upper back will get stronger. The exact same musculature that the original deadlift is working. However, the Romanian deadlift comes with a stretch reflex at the bottom which makes it less stressful and much easier to recover from.

At the same time the strength developed from performing the Romanian deadlift will translate to the regular deadlift quite well because the lifts have similar mechanics. The Romanian deadlift will also work your hamstrings even better than the conventional deadlift because the stretch at the bottom is greater.

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

Almost everything will build your deadlift.

The deadlift is an extremely generic lift which means that the technical difficulties are quite low and many exercises have good carryover to it.

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 while the Romanian deadlift will take care of your posterior chain. In addition, the front squat also works the upper back intensely. You will never find someone with a strong front squat and Romanian deadlift who doesn’t deadlift a lot. It’s physically not possible.

Other options are combinations of back squats and pulls such as power cleans and/or barbell rows. The squat will build your raw leg and hip power while the power clean will help you build an explosive pull, which will translate to your deadlift. Of course, one could argue that the power clean is a technical lift and in that case you can simply stick with back squats, heavy shrugs and barbell rows. As long as you progress, your deadlift will be going up as well. That’s fact.

In 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 you get from deadlifts can be reached by doing many other forms of training.

Here are 2 great benefits you experience by dropping the deadlift:

1. More time for your lower back to recover and be fresh for squats, power cleans…etc.

The deadlift does not carryover to the squat or the Olympic lifts. That’s a fact. The deadlift has a short range of motion and different mechanics. It’s a hip dominant movement with small amount of knee flexion compared to the squat. However, it kills your lower back. By removing it, you will give your back more time to recover for other exercises. This is one of the many reasons Olympic weightlifters don’t waste time on deadlifts. They rarely do the movement cause it’s pointless for them. It takes way more than it gives back.

2. Less ego in your training

One thing is certain – the deadlift is safer than the squat. However, when done with heavy weight it can cause an injury like any other movement. By dropping it from your routine and replacing it with an assistance exercise the risk is reduced.

Note: I am perfectly aware that when it’s done with good form the deadlift is reasonably safe. Problem is, many people deadlift just to be “alpha” and use more plates. When that happens, you are essentially performing ego lifting. This problem is not exercise dependent per say, but the nature of the deadlift allows for it occurrence among delusional lifters who think they are saving the world by lifting a barbell from the floor and dropping it down.

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. Even some powerlifters skip the deadlift for as long as possible to avoid CNS burnout. Problem is, there is a ton of delusional lifters who have a deep stubborn voices in their heads, telling them that the deadlift comes with magic. It doesn’t. It’s just an exercise. Nothing more. Nothing less. Learn how to do it and use it, if you like it. Don’t be it’s slave, however.

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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