The deadlift is a classic compound exercise that allows you to lift a significant amount of weight. It builds your lats, spinal erectors, hamstring, glutes, forearms, traps and other muscles.
Unlike the squat, the deadlift comes with a shorter range of motion (ROM) and places a higher emphasis on the hamstrings than the quads. With a little creativity, you can hit your legs pretty hard by doing only deadlifts.
Below you will find three training routines. The first one focuses on the posterior chain, the second two focus a little more on the quadriceps.
Sumo deadlift – build up to 1 work sets between 5 and 8 reps
Romanian deadlift – build up to 2 works sets between 5 and 8 reps
The sumo deadlift is a wide stance variation that puts more stress on the quadriceps, the glutes and the adductors in comparison to the conventional deadlift.
At the same time, the Romanian deadlift works the hamstrings pretty hard.
The reason why the volume is so low is that deadlifts place a significant stress on the lower back and the central nervous system (CNS). Anything more than that could be too much when you lift heavy weights.
Snatch grip deadlift – build up to 2 works sets between 5 and 8 reps
Romanian deadlifts – build up to 2 works sets between 5 and 8 reps
The snatch grip deadlift is essentially a deadlift with a wide grip. This forces you to squat down lower. As a result, there is more stress on the quadriceps and the upper back.
Trap bar deadlift – build up to 1-2 work sets between 5-8 reps
Romanian deadlifts – build up to 2 works sets between 5-8 reps
The trap bar deadlift is a pretty decent leg builder. It will hit your quads harder than the other variations. Unfortunately, few gyms have trap bars.
Note: If you are a beginner, you can do either of the routines 3 times a week, but as you get stronger, you will have to reduce the frequency to 2 and eventually 1 day. At that point, you could add a light day to facilitate recovery and increase the lifting tonnage. Don’t do the routines at the same time. Focus on one at a time.
Q: How should I progress?
A: Start very light and gradually build up. A good approach is to begin with a weight that you can lift for 15 repetitions. Add between 5-10lbs every workout until you are doing sets of 8. At that point, restart with 10-15lbs on top of your starting weight and build back up to a new personal best (PR). This type of programming is called cycling. You can read more about training cycles here.
Q: How big will my legs get?
It depends on your genetics, diet, and training. Obviously, your legs will stay within the natural limits, but you will definitely see some growth, especially at the back (glutes and hamstrings).
Q: For how long should I do this routine?
Technically, you can do it indefinitely if you cycle your loads. Try it for a few months, at least, before switching to something else.
Q: How long should I rest between sets?
About 3-8 minutes. If you are still lifting lighter weights, you will need less rest.