Are Deadlifts Worth It?
In this article I will aim to answer the question “are deadlifts worth it?”. I will draw upon all my experiences over the last 12 years of lifting weights and bodybuilding. Deadlifts were actually my favourite exercise but unfortunately due to an injury many years ago from deadlifting I can no longer do them with very heavy weights.
Deadlifting For Building A Base
No one can dispute that deadlifting is one of the best exercises that you can do to build slabs of muscle all over your body. The movement engages pretty much every muscle from glutes, hamstrings, quads, lower back, upper back and traps, forearms and more. It is an exercise that I fell in love with when I started my journey 12 years ago and is a movement I used to pack on muscle all over my frame, get big traps and build a base for life.
I am referring to the conventional deadlift, at my best before the injury I pulled 225kg with a double overhand hook grip. In terms of building muscle and strength it is definitely recommended to use the deadlift to build a base level of muscle and strength for beginners. Just like you wouldn’t build a house without a solid foundation you can’t build a great body without one either. The picture below is of my 225kg deadlift eight years ago in a fairly dark corner of the gym.
Grip Benefits From Deadlifts
As well as adding lots of muscle and size to your frame deadlifts can also improve your grip strength. If you perform them without lifting straps and use a double overhand grip on all your deadlifts. When the weight gets very heavy you can use a double overhand “hook” grip which is basically where you wrap your fingers over your thumb. Another way to improve your grip from deadlifting is to deadlift your warm ups with just two or three fingers. This will make your grip work a lot harder. In addition you can do heavy deadlift holds for time with a double overhand grip or try deadlifting with Fat Gripz. It is imperative when deadlifting heavy to use lifting chalk to ensure the best possible grip.
The Drawbacks Of Deadlifting
There are however many drawbacks to consider of deadlifting. One of these is the fact that the deadlifting is a very taxing movement and therefore trying to deadlift too often can increase the risk of injury. The risk to reward ratio is highly skewed as well on the risk side, even with great technique all it takes is one slightly dodgy rep to get injured. In my case when I was younger I deadlifted with good technique but I was deadlifting heavy every week for months on end. Eventually this resulted in me turning up to the gym one day with sore glutes and proceeding to deadlift heavy anyway. This is how I injured my lower back. Now I can’t deadlift too heavy anymore, instead I do movements like machine rows, seated rows, pull ups, weighted 45 degree back extensions for my back training. The funny thing is I am a lot more muscular now than I was 8 years ago ever since I followed more of a bodybuilding approach and cutting out the heavy deadlifts.
The big drawback with deadlifting is the fact that the heavier and heavier the weight gets the more danger there is. Eventually all it takes is one bad rep or lifting a weight that your body is not quite ready for to cause a serious injury.
==> If You Are Experiencing Back Pain From Lifting Check Out This Program For Relieving Back Pain! ==>
Better Risk To Reward Workarounds
Looking back there are much better risk to reward options than the conventional deadlift that still give you most of the benefits of the deadlifting movement pattern. Namely these would be the trap bar deadlift and the sumo deadlift. The trap bar deadlift is actually a movement that I have used in recent years since my injury. The great thing about it is the fact that there is little lower back involvement. The main movement is from the legs with the trap bar. You still get the same benefits of deadlifting but with far less risk. The other alternative which is lower risk than conventional is the sumo deadlift. This is essentially a standard deadlift but you use a wide stance and your hands are positioned between your legs rather than on the outside like in the conventional. Again with the sumo version there is less stress on the lower back and the legs are carrying a greater percentage of the workload. In my case my leverages are not suited to the sumo so I much prefer the trap bar deadlift.
If I could go back in time I would have just stuck with trap bar deadlifts after pulling 225kg conventional instead of pushing on with conventional with heavier weights. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. It is important to remember as well that things happen for us in life, not to us. My inability now to deadlift really heavy in recent years has been a good thing as I have focused a lot more on bodybuilding as opposed to strength training and it has spurred on a lot more muscle growth. My focus now is on longevity in fitness and this is something that bodybuilding can do for you. You still want to be very muscular and functional at 50 years old, not in a wheelchair!
Let me finally conclude by answering the question “are deadlifts worth it?”. In my view they are only worth it on two conditions:
- If you compete in full powerlifting and so deadlifting is compulsory
- To build up an intial base of size and strength from the beginner phase of training.
Outside of the two conditions above I don’t feel that conventional deadlifts are worth it for the long term for the majority of people. The reason why is as you get to lifting heavier and heavier weights the risks massively outweigh the rewards. In my view from a bodybuilding and longevity standpoint; you should use the deadlift initially to build up a good base and once you get to around a 500lb deadlift you should stop doing the conventional deadlift and switch to a variant for the long term. This could be trap bar deadlifting or rack pulls from just below the knee. This would be safest for the long term and result in better overall mobility prospects when you get to old age.
For bodybuilding purposes you can build a great back and overall body even without deadlifting and the high risks it entails. Just doing different rowing variations, pull ups/pulldowns and 45 degree weighted back extensions would be sufficient. For extra hamstring work you could throw in some romanian deadlifts for the posterior chain.
I hope this article has given you an indepth understanding of the pros and cons of deadlifting and a true assessment of the necessity of this exercise. If this article resonates with you and your experiences I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. It would also be great if you could comment with your own thoughts as to whether deadlifts are worth it.