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Should You Deadlift for Bodybuilding?

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Jan 9,2024|11 min| 4419
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Should You Deadlift for Bodybuilding?

Is the deadlift a good exercise, or just detrimental?

When it comes to your training program, it may or may not incorporate one of the most popular compound exercises of all time, the barbell deadlift. The deadlift has long been incorporated into powerlifting programs, but does it have a place in bodybuilding? Is it any good for hypertrophy? It has long been thought of as strictly a strength exercise, hence the reason it is used largely in powerlifting and weightlifting, but is deadlifting a good exercise for progressing in bodybuilding, particularly in the upper body? A deadlift session is an extraordinary way of physical training using a barbell, with the main goal of maximizing overall muscular development and physique. It is tough work.

Let’s dive in.

What is the Deadlift?

There is a longstanding debate on whether the deadlift is mainly a leg exercise, or if it is a back exercise, as it is thrown into training days typically on a leg day or a back day. However, the deadlift is pretty much a full body exercise, which is not something you hear every day. Heavy deadlifts, in particular, put considerable central nervous system and physical demands on your back, making them the main course for back day. They're the steak in your back-day exercise meal, and everything after is just the potatoes. Only on this one exercise will you follow volume and rest schemes used in a typical strength workout and use heavy weight—but will almost never take the movement to muscular failure.

When the deadlift is performed, the lifter uses just about every single muscle in the body, which is rare for an exercise, as most exercises will hit a limited set of muscle groups. During the deadlift, the lifter uses the arms and the forearms to get a firm grip on the barbell. Then, the shoulders and traps are used to stabilize the weight, then the back and core muscles are brought into play to help keep the lifter’s entire body stable, and then the legs and entire posterior chain, including the quads, rear delts and upper back, act as a lever to lift the weight off of the floor, each serving a specific purpose in weightlifting.

Deadlift Variations

There are also different variations of the deadlift. The two most common variations are the regular deadlift and the Romanian Deadlift. The Romanian Deadlift puts a much larger emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, almost isolating them, making it an optimal leg day exercise. 

There are also different stances, such as sumo and conventional. Sumo is a wider foot stance, and it takes a bit of the stress off of the erectors and places more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, which is why you’ll see sumo deadlifts programmed into a leg day more so than a back day. Conventional deadlifts are a closer foot position, and they place stress more on the back than sumo deadlifts do, so you will see a lot of people programming them into a back day, just like trading the close grip bench press for triceps extensions because close grip benching is hard on your chest. Depending on your mobility, you may not be ready to pull from the floor and you may require blocks to put you in proper starting position for gaining overall size. Additionally, incorporating squat variations into your routine on the days that you deadlift, such as front squats or Zercher squats, can further engage your spinal erectors and provide a well-rounded workout for your entire body.

How to Perform the Deadlift

Here’s how to do a conventional barbell deadlift:

  • Stand with your mid-foot right under the barbell, and your feet slightly angled outward, stationed hip width apart. 

  • Grip the bar shoulder-width apart

  • Bend your knees until your shins touch the bar

  • With a neutral spine (straight), lift your chest up and lower your glutes to an almost sitting position

  • Take a deep breath and hold it, then pick the bar up off the ground (think of driving through your heels)

  • Continue pressing with your legs and thrusting your hips (almost like a vertical hip thrust) forward until you are fully stood up

  • Hold the weight for a second at the top, with locked hips and knees, then lower back to the starting position and repeat (do not bounce the weight)

Pros and Cons of Deadlifting

Now that it has been established what the deadlift is and how to perform it, what are the pros and cons of the movement? Let’s dive in.

Pros

Aside from the deadlift being a full body exercise, it is also a functional movement. The deadlift translates over to real world movements, such as picking things up off of the ground, moving furniture, things of that sort. 

You also are able to progressively overload the entire body fairly simply, which can translate to increased strength in other lifts. It also can help develop muscle mass in tough to reach areas, such as the erectors and lower lats. 

Cons

While the deadlift brings a load of benefits to the table, there is one serious drawback, and that is a high risk of back injury. Without proper form, the deadlift can be very dangerous, increasing the injury risk. That is why a lifter should really get the form down pat before even attempting to increase weight, and once they are following a workout program, make sure to incorporate recovery days and deload weeks. However, if the movement does give you lower back pain despite the use of proper form and having taken active steps to try and heal the injury, there’s just no good reason at all to be doing them with straps.

Is Deadlifting Good for Bodybuilding? 

All of that being said, is the deadlift a good exercise for bodybuilding programs? We know that it is crucial in strength sports, but is it just as important for bodybuilders? The short answer is yes, it can be good, but let’s dissect exactly what benefits it brings to bodybuilders.

Bodybuilding Goals

Bodybuilders aim to put on as much muscle as possible, rather than increasing strength. That being said, a full body exercise that recruits multiple muscle groups during each repetition, is going to put on a significant amount of muscle mass. 

Now, in a bodybuilding program, volume may be higher in terms of repetitions and sets. For example, many bodybuilding programs incorporate sets in the 6-12 rep range. However, in a powerbuilding program, you will get the best of both worlds. A powerbuilding program typically will incorporate heavy, low rep compound exercises, such as the squat, the bench, and deadlift, but then higher volumes on isolation and accessory movements. This makes it suitable for beginners who are just starting their bodybuilding journey.

That being said, yes, if the deadlift is properly incorporated into your workout program, it can certainly be an excellent exercise for bodybuilding. 

Where to Find Good Programs With Deadlifts

If you are looking for workout programs to really forward your progress, Boostcamp is the place to find a program for just about any style of training you can imagine. When you are looking for a program that will really push you to the limit and help you continue progressing in a linear fashion, look no further than the Boostcamp App.

From your basic PPL programs, to the 3 day workout routines, there are plenty of free programs to choose from, over fifty to be exact. When it comes to following a new workout program and seeing how you are progressing with it, you would want to find a platform that caters to your needs and guides you in the right direction. Boostcamp can help with that, and it can even help you to measure your progress, track your workouts, and continue with linear progression. You also do not have to choose from prewritten programs, you can create and customize your own!

Deadlifting for Bodybuilding Wrap Up

All in all, the deadlift is a fantastic exercise that brings a load of benefits to the table, and not just for powerlifters and strength athletes overall. Bodybuilders can benefit greatly from incorporating deadlifts into their programs, as it is a great exercise that recruits multiple muscle groups and can potentially put on great amounts of size and improve muscle maturity and overall strength. Just be conscious of form!

Will you be incorporating deadlifts into your training program?

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