T Nation

Deadlift Rep Schemes


I generally shoot for 30-35 total reps in any given movement, mixing up the rep scheme depending on the weight used and how I'm feeling that day -- 3x10, 4x8, 10x3, etc.

However with deadlifts, I'm generally exhausted with only half that volume. Because my form pretty much breaks down beyond 15 total reps, I haven't really done anything else besides a 5x3 scheme.

Just wondering what others do on their deadlifting days. What kind of rep scheme have you found to be the most beneficial for strength and hypertrophy?


I started off doing 3x20s, which were not a problem if I wore straps for the last 2 sets, as there was no way my grip could take that much strain. These were stiff-leg DLs, mind you.

Now I'm doing standard DLs following a 5x5 (which generally turns out to be a 7, 6, 6, 5, 5) scheme with increasing weights. On the last set, which is the heaviest, I usually find that my form is less than perfect, but still OK.

You don't say why you can't complete as many total reps. Is it the back, your legs, your arms...? What's giving? Find the weakest link in the chain, and do some auxiliary exercises to bring it up to the level of the other bodyparts involved in the lift.


i do 5 x 3. when the reps get real smooth and fast i add a couple of kilos to the bar for next time. any more than 5 x 3 and i'd be wrecked for days lol. my recovery isn't great so on deads day i only include smith machine overhead shrugs and machine row retractions as well. gotta love the deads though...


Aye I pretty much stick to 5x3 as well and seem to get the best results from that..based on general soreness,and gains in how much I can lift as well has posterior chain developement.Every great once in a while I do deads if I have a 5x5 day in my 3 day routine.


You may want to colnsider dropping the weight a bit if it allows you to get more reps. This is especially true if you have a relatively steep strength curve.

Look at the numbers. If your current intensity allows only 15 total reps at ,eg, 200lbs, then your volume is 3000 rep-lbs. If dropping the weight to 150lbs allowed you to get 25 reps, your volume would be 3750rep-lbs.

This all depends on what your actual experience and goals are, and even if I'm spot on, it's good to train at high intensity and lower volume at times as well.

Here's an article that discusses some of what I'm referring to.



You should try CW's "100 reps for faster recovery" or something like that.

Search around and you'll find it.


My take would be different.

I only like to deads heavy. If I want an aerobic workout, I'll get one. What else could sets of 10-12--20! in the deads be except for cardio/gpp

I would rather focus heavy, except for warmup 3 reps max. And if you are going heavy 5 total sets should absolutely wipe you out. Then I make up some volume for the back with chins, rows, good am's,.....

Just my way, not saying it's the only way.


I also like to go as heavy as I possibly can. 3 reps per set has been working very well for me so far, and I've been able to progressively add weight to the bar under a 5x3 scheme.

But then, I invariably find myself wondering: should I shoot for more total reps? Or would I be screwing up what's already plainly working? My weakest links are definitely the lower back and grip, which I'm trying to bring up.

Thanks for the link Bino. Worth considering.


My tendency would be to say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". If your weight continues to increase on a regular basis, don't mess around with it.

But it depends on your goals. Strength? Or mass? Both?

From your set/rep schemes, it looks like both. So I would decide which was more important to me. If it's strength, I would stay with what you're doing. If it's mass, then drop your weight somewhat.

Of course, you could do two weeks at one set/rep scheme, then two weeks at the other. That way you get some of the benefits of both.

If you're pulling sumo or traditional deadlifts, make sure to reset after each rep.

Dan "set/rep scheme" McVicker


I've tried just about every rep scheme from 20-rep "breathing deadlifts" on down to multiple singles. The two that I've settled on are OLAD (Dan John) and a recommendation from Dave Tate to do 15 sets of singles. I do two OLAD cycles and then break it up with three weeks of 15X1. My strength has gone through the roof, and my grip has managed to keep up. I always found that my form went to shit above six reps or so and didn't like the feeling that my erectors were going to tear any second. Just didn't do anything for me. Great cardio workout, but there are other safer ways to do that.


I've made my best strength gains doing 3x3. However, I also use 5x5, 4x6, 5/5/3/3/2/1, 4x3 or other low-rep variations.


I get really confused here... reset? What exactly does this mean? When you bring the bar back down, do you place the weight on the floor and release the tension in your back? Do you keep tension and let the weights touch but not bounce? I usually touch the plates and thrust back up. Is this wrong?

By the way, I like the 5x5 with one warmup of 10 and a cooldown set of 8 or so. Deads give me a reason to get up in the morning...and the strength to do it.

Another question, I feel like I need to balance the back and the abs yet there are no other equivalent ab exercises. I think it was Awlyn who said that you should try to balance your exercises and this simply seems impossible. Is there any danger to this kind of dead training? I do weighted ab work and OH/front squats, are these enough to keep the balance?

*just noticed it was today`s Cool Tip



I'm focusing on strength. I tried doing "undulating periodization." Where my workouts would cycle 3 sets of 8, 3x5 the next time, 3x3, and then back to 8's. I've found the higher reps have no carryover to singles (for DL). So now I do multiple sets of three and vary the intensity. Each week I'll go heavier and drop the number of sets. I've also found that I cannot go heavy two weeks in a row. So now I alternate DL with SLDL.

I have followed the heavy work with multiple sets of singles. These are much lighter and I do them standing on bumper plates (from a deficit.)

I wouldn't worry about balancing DL volume with everything else. DL are just too taxing.


Many people will stand up after bringing the bar down, then bend down re-grip and pull for the next rep. That would be a full reset.

I don't do that. I let the weight hit the ground and I release tension, then grip and rip, ie I stay down. I do this because I think standing and rebending is overkill, for me, and would probably give me a head rush. It's impotant to do some sort of reset though. Basically, the weght is generally so high that any flaw in your technique is a substantial risk, so you want to take a second to ensure you and the bar are in the proper position to execute the pull. If you just let the plates touch and then go, you could be significantly off of your best form, especially a few reps in. You risk missing the lift, or worse, injury.

As for your balance question: deads are a hip extension exercise, so the antagonist would be hip flexion--hanging leg raises are a good example. Their are those that will disagree with me, but I don't think doing direct antagonists are as impotant on lower body movements. I'm not saying balance isn't important, it is, it's just the idea if you pull in one plane, that you should also push in the same plane doesn't work as neatly with the lower body as it does with the upper. Just look at the different loads between deads and leg raises.

I think a better way to get balance as it relates to deads and squats is to keep up on the accessory movements. Do GHR, RDL, sidebends, ab work, rev hypers, back ext., etc. That way you're developing the entire girdle and not neglecting anything.


Bino got it.

I reccomend a full reset because I tend to overbalance forward the more reps I pull. I.E. the first rep is nice, right along the shins, but each subsequent rep starts traveling out farther and farther, my back arch gets out of whack, and suddenly I'm training my CNS to pull all wrong.

I do a full reset between each rep, take a breath or two, make sure the bar position is still right, valsava (constrict my breathing), tense my abs, tense my glutes and legs, dip, grip as hard as I can, and pull.

So when I do, say, 5x5, I'm actually doing 25 singles grouped into five sets with just a breath or two in between each rep in the set.

Obviously, doing a full reset with RDLs or SLDLs what-have-you can be counterproductive.

Do a search for "the Dead Zone" by Dave Tate. Excellent reading.

Dan "grip and rip" McVicker


Man, this is a really good little thread. No B.S., just good discussion and advice. If only most threads could be like this.


The skies opened up and the answers came raining down...

Thanks guys. I will try a full reset and attempt to overcome the headrush I get from standing up. Form is of utmost importance here.

Got it on the ab exercises. Ill just keep doin what I am doin` and keep the core as solid as possible.



Just wait until someone mentions the E-word... :slightly_smiling:


You've got a good point there. I try to concentrate on my form throughout my 5 reps, but I'm sure the 5th is not as good as the 1st. I might give that reseting a try...


Just treat each rep as a single. That way, you can "reset" and always keep correct form.

Deadlifts kick ass when done like this. And you can handle heavy weights and focus on each rep.