T Nation

Deadlifts and CNS


I have seen some mentions of DLs "frying" the central nervous system. I don't know what that means. I started doing DLs a couple months ago after not touching them for 25 years.

I've been doing 3 work sets of 8 reps once a week and after plateuing 3 weeks ago moved my weight up 10 lbs. It was a true max effort - I could not have added 5 lbs on any of the sets. Took a lot of rest before finishing my back workout and did reduced intensity intervals on the stairmaster. I was fried.

Physiologically what does a "fried CNS" mean? Is this what I experienced? Is this good or bad? Should I back off next week on DLs or go for it again?

Thanks for any help and direction here.


Your CNS is fatigued.

When you fail on a near-maximal attempt 90% or above, it is not a good sign.

Deadlifting week in and week out is not too great of an idea; you want to reduce the amount of stress on the CNS.

Throwing in some powerdrive [for PWO shakes] after intense workouts tends to help some with the recovery of the CNS.


Don't know what a "fried CNS" is supposed to mean exactly, except maybe just very fatigued.

I train 3 days a week, on alternating days with 2 days off at the end. I do my DL on the last day, with 2 days off afterwards to recover. Then the first day back is back squats. Has been working well.

I do 6 sets with increasing weight in each set, 10/8/6/4/2 and a rep out set with the initial (lowest)weight to technical failure to ensure I have done the most I can for that lift. Not saying my way is better, just what I do.

Should make sure you are getting a high glycemic post workout drink in within 45 minutes of finishing that last lift of the day, along with good nutrition at all times.


I am not sure anyone can give you a scientific explanation of "fried CNS". I have looked around for a definition but have come up with one that is satisfactory, not that I am the end all of this discussion.

It would seem to be overly fatigued, or perhaps, a state caused by overtraining, where the body doesn't get enough time to recover. The body can push through a lot, whether intensity or volume (my daughter's college Vball team is going through a stage of training that makes me tired just thinking about it) but sooner or later, the body simply says "enough" and you burn out.

As for your issue with deads, don't overdue it. If you want to go hard, then do a brief stint, but remember, your body needs to recover. That means, in my mind, and I am nearing 50, that your WHOLE body needs to recover. So if you go hard one day, try and take a day off in between.


I am not sure of the mechanism that causes CNS fatigue, but obviously overuse of extremely intense movements can cause this.

Think of the CNS in regard to exercise this way. When you are doing distance running, each contraction of say the glutes is very weak, like the electric current it takes to move a second hand on a watch. Very low power output. Very low threshold motor units recruited, primarily type 1 fibers.

Second think of a set of 12 reps to fatigue doing a lunge. Mainly type II fibers are recruited, and they eventually fatigue. Like current that makes a huge searchlight illuminate. Medium power output, fatigue is not due to the nervous system, more blood lactate, hydrogen ions, things of this sort.

Lastly, a 3 rep deadlift. Like a bolt of lightning blowing your computers hard drive to bits. You will only be able to activate these motor units a few times at a maximal level. And when you do it is at an extremely high intensity.

The fiber typing in the glutes, and hamstrings to the best of my knowledge is very type II dominant. So you are using the biggest muscle in the body with the highest relative capability of generating maximal power. These motor units cannot be activated very often, I am not sure of the physiological reason.

If you should continously try to use these most powerful motor units its not like your body will get weaker, but it will not be able to show its true strength, it is saying, ok you want to do a deadlift, I can do a deadlift, but those motor units you used the other day? NAH, they are fucked, but you can use these! And usually you will see a huge reduction in power.


Thanks for the info. Shadow's description of how the CNS reacts to different sets was good. What seems interesting about the DL is that even on a set of 8 the first rep is not easy. On squats the first rep of 8 is easier than deads while on benches the first rep of 8 is very easy. Probably because every muscle in the body is engaged the deads?

I seem to recall that 25 years ago I found sets of 8 more demanding than doubles and triples. I'm wondering if going to 3s or 5s might be better than 8s and less taxing on the CNS? I'm 54 and although haven't DLd for a long time have always benched and squatted along with some minor back work.


The first rep in the deadlift is from a stand still, while the bench and squat have an eccentric portion which allows you to build elastic energy, this does not happen in the deadlift.


Deadlifts are more taxing then other movements due to the large number of motor units recruited during the lift; its not good to do deadlifts very frequently as they can lead to overtraining (CNS takes longer to recover than muscles).

An alternative is the box squat, it uses the hip extensors but not the upper back, therefore having less of a CNS response.


A good way to start your deads is racked. Thigh high or so on some squat hooks. Allows you to do more weight and take advantage of the reflex going down. It also acclimates you to the weight at first.

I would not reccomend sets greater than 5-6 for deads. For me, this is a pure brute move. If you want to sculpt, do it elsewhere. less reps can be more taxing. You can use more wieght. You can ramp intensity by shortening rest periods. I'm not sure that's great for the dead. I like doubles and triples myself for like 8 week cycles, then off for a month.


Yhea but then its no longer a DEAD ( as in dead in the floor) lift its a get the weight out ofn the rack bounce it off the ground not having to use strating strength lift.

Just like repping the second one is always easier inless you do a long pause. Does that means it better more stimulus for growth in strength and size NO. The reason the DL is the king is due to the lack of the stretch reflex etc and having to use sheer balls out real strength to move said dead Load off the floor.


Is he competing? Then the increased load will still be just that. He doesn't need 'maximal' pull for anything else.

I never said anything about bouncing.
It's just a different way to start sometimes to max the load.

Why the anger Phil?


I probably won't be competing again and I'm certainly no bodybuilder. I like lifting heavy but at 54 am consious of much greater risk of injury. I decided that DLs would be a good exercise so long a I didn't go too heavy and injur my lower back. My PR at age 30 was 680 but I was continually on Norgesic for back spasms and locks. Thus my thinking that sets of 8 would probably be safe.

I've been at them now for 10-12 weeks and my back seems fine. My thinking is that going from 375 for 3 sets of 8 to maybe 405 for sets of 3-5 might actually be less taxing on my CNS and sustainable on a weekly basis.


Decreasing the overall volume for a week or two might be a good idea.

v1 = 375*8*3 = 9000
v2 = ~5000
5000/405 = ~12

So if you do 4 sets of 3 reps with 405 pounds for a couple of weeks, you should be greasing the groove and recovering.

After that, try slowly increasing your volume and see how it goes. I'm not a fan of high-rep deadlifts, so I'd recommend progressing by adding sets.

Also, you might want to cut it back to every other week, alternating with something else.


I dont know if anyone else has had this experience with deadlifting but I think it shows the nervous system involvement in this exercise. When I warmup with 135 I cant imagine how the hell I will be able to get up to my working weight, but the CNS is stimulated by each warmup set and by the end I am at my working weight, it is a pretty amazing process. The other thing about deadlifting is that you can be pulling hard as fuck and still not putting everything you have into it. You can get 5 reps with a given weight deadlifing with a tremendous amount of effort and at that level of exertion you would not be able to continue any other exercises but if you really gave it 100% you could get 5 more reps. There is such huge capability for producing force even for relatively long sets, but that is like playing with fire.


LOL anger Im not sure where you got anger just pointing out a mistake IMO. doing what you say with the DL is juat as bad as say loading extra load on the bar and doing 1/4 squats.

Drop the friggin load and do them right. You will get as much or more stimulaus from having to start from a dead stop.

That and if he cant get the load off the ground well prettu good idea hge's not ready for that load yet where as going form a racked position he may just over load mucles etc that are not quite ready and Bingo Injury.

I just see no need in cheating the true value of the exercise for an ego stoke that "Allows you to do more weight" but is none the more effective.

Have a Nice Day LOL.


Let's be honest here, the REAL reason people avoid deadlifting every week is because it is hard work. Our society is getting lazier by the day. It's no harder on the CNS than Squatting, goodmornings or even push presses for that matter.

I deadlift every week. In fact I plan on adding a second day in the week for technique and speed. The best deadlifters pull and pull often.

Go ahead and pull every week. If you start to feel rundown, back off and go lighter for that week.

I see guys in my gym everyday with big arms and chests. They always wear track pants because from the waist down they look like shit. The legs of a 135lbs man. Their sleeveless shirts seem to hide their flat backs too.


I can't answer your question about CNS. I used to be one of those who would pull twice a week. All it got me was a back injury. 1 year later I still don't feel comfortable DL. Unless your planning in doing some sort of competion, Why risk the injury? Do them a couple times of month.


Deadlifting is much harder on the CNS than almost any other hip dominant movement because it uses much higher threshold motor units. Its similar to sprinting. Im not saying good mornings are easy but you could do them twice a week if you wanted to with alot of effort.


Honestly guys, I used to be a WSB fanatic but I get much better gains from keeping my training simple. Deadliftign is along with back squats the most productive exercises, if your not doing them, your missing out.

Injuries happen, but with proper concentration and form and warming up properly, they can be minimized.


Isn't the CNS (or more appropriately motor neurons) fully recovered from lifting within the span of a few minutes? I was under the impression that deadlifting often simply causes too much general fatigue due to the high loading and heavy involvement of most muscles of the body (leading to greater levels of microtrauma, metabolic fatigue, etc.). I was deadlifting 4 times per week in preparation for a strongman contest a couple years ago and never experienced the symptoms of overtraining, but I also managed the total volume of other lifts appropriately.

Didn't Chad write an article on the subject not long ago saying what I just did in more technical detail?