T Nation

DL Sets/Reps


I have a question about how I should structure my DL workout based on my overall goals.

Here's some background info:
196 lbs.
Lifting for about 5 years regularly
Doing DLs as a regular part of my routine for about 1.5 years.

My overall goal is simply to look better naked. In other words, I am doing DLs to add muscle to my glutes, hams, erectors & upper back (which sounds obvious), but I really don't care how much I can pull. I basically do the DLs strictly for their aesthetic contribution to my physique.

My question is: How should I structure my DL workout when my goals are purely aesthetic? Should I still be doing low rep sets (1-4)? Do higher rep sets (6-10) hold any value for me? Should I reset the weight everytime or should I just barely touch the plates to the floor? There's no good in bouncing the weight, is there? What's a good number of total sets? Are DLs even necessary for weightlifters who aren't strength-oriented?

(OK so that's 7 questions, sorry)

My DL workout today looked like this:

stretch for 5 minutes
good mornings with the bar
the bar for a few reps of DLs
135x12 (warm up, very slow)
225x10 (still a warm up)
275x8 (again, pretty much a warm-up)

Ok, so at this point I'm fairly loose. The rest of the sets look like this:

315x6 (not to failure)
365x6 (closer to failure, but not completely. Also, I use the straps starting with this set)
405x3 (I had maybe a half rep left, maybe)

All these sets are done with a reset between each rep, so I didn't bounce the bar at all at the bottom. I use the best form I know how: butt down, head up, shoulders back, feet close to the bar, back arched, weight on heels.

What would you guys/girls suggest? Let me know if I left anything out.

  • TF

P.S. - I was talking to an ex pro-bodybuilder who works out at my gym from time to time (he was 5th in the 1994 Olympia) about DLs and he said that maybe he did them 2-3 times TOTAL in his whole career! I asked him what he did for overall thickness and he said "Squat and Row."



Although I train the DL for pure strength.... I have found over the years that doing so have provided me with aesthetic benefits as well. In my opinion, if you are training for strength, the appearance is a natural by product..... I have always keep the reps in the 2-4 range....

Just more or less working up to a max.... I do not do DL all the time, however I tend to rotate my lower body exercises every 3-4 weeks, mainly with some variation of squats and goodmornings, and when its the Dead's turn to make an appearance.... It does.

I think you have to find what works best for you to stimulate muscle growth... Nothing works forever. Go with what you got if you wish... When you feel the need to... change it up... There is indeed a science behind it all...But always remember, it is your experiment.


Thanks for the reply Speddie. I do change things around every so often.

Anybody else have any thoughts?


Why are you doing so many reps with a light weight before you get to your heavy sets.
why not do
225 x 3
275 x 3
315 x 3( maybe do 2 sets if you need to work on your form)

Since you are looking to add overall mass I would try 5 x 5 with 335-355

Have you tried variation of deads
deads from a deficit
( standing on an elevated surface 2- 4 inches high) or
snatch grip deads
sumo deads
these really hammer the glutes
dead lockouts from either above or below the knees ( add upper back thickness)

Waterbury and others mention that regardless of a clients goal limit strength is there number one priority how can you add muscle if you are weak?


The light sets are mainly just warmups. I've found that doing these lighter sets in the beginning helps to loosen up my back and keep it from getting stiff. It seems like my back has a tendency to tighten up if I go straight to heavy sets.

I like the idea of a 5x5 scheme, but I'd probably up the weight closer to 380 or so. If I go too light I feel like I'm not pushing myself hard enough.

I'm still unclear as to the difference between a sumo deadlift and a regular deadlift. I've heard good things about sumo deads but I'm not sure exactly how they are supposed to be done. Also, what is a snatch grip? My left hand is usually pronated and my right is supinated.


Warm up sets? Goood idea.

I personally don't go over 5 reps for DL. They're a great lift, but pretty hard on your structure.


I'm not a fan of high reps on deadlifts, even with light weights because your form will go to shit after a few reps. It's better to stick with lower reps (<6) for all sets.

In fact, I prefer doing 1-3 reps for most sets. This way, I can focus on keeping good form with each rep and lift more weight = bigger and stronger.



im kinda in the same boat as you with deads. two years ago i went from 154 to 170 practically over a christmas break (~6 weeks) and i attribute most of that to the fact that i started deadlifting. for whatever reason, call it stupidity, about 6 months later i stopped doing them. now after a year and a half vacation from deads i figured id bring them back in. im 195lbs now at 5'9"- about 7 weeks ago i was 174lbs--tried bulking the first time this year--anyway, my goal is 220lbs by feb or march so i figured id bring back what worked so well in the past for back thickness. >>point of my rambling is that ive been considering different set/rep schemes that i should do them with and im feeling like its going to be the 5x5. i saw that someone suggested you do like 335 5x5, and you responded youd try 380. it is obviously your decision, but based on the numbers you posted from one of your dead workouts im thinking that might be a little tough. you did get up to 405 for 3 which is great, but you were pyramiding, 5x5 with the 380 seems harder. i dunno, certainly try what you want, i just know ive had a couple workouts where ive tried to jump too heavy and then gotten pissed off because i didnt feel like i had a good workout. not trying to fight though.

also--snatch grip deadlift basically means youre deading with a wider, palms down grip, as if you were going to perform a "snatch"- olympic lift, if you arent familiar use the search, i know you can find pics of it, probably pics of C. Thibaudeau actually.

anyway goodluck, in my experience deads have been something that have put size on my back like nothing else ive done- i dont know what the hell i was thinking completely abandoning them for a year and a half


Nate, I hear what you're saying. I make it a point to keep my form in check at all times. That's why I stick with a reset between each lift.

As far as one rep sets, this is where I start to question the value in bodybuilding. As I mentioned, I'm not really interested in finding my max lift. Do you think only one rep is enough time under tension to induce hypertrophy?


I have some problems with your numbers, but let's stick with what you wrote.

I don't personally like the 5x5 program for heavy deads. To me, that means most of them are waste reps. I mean, if you are pushing yourself at 380?? then how could you possibly do 25 quality reps?

I see little to no reason for someone lifting to look good naked(which bothers me anyways) to lift more than a couple of heavy deads. If you can do 405x3, my advice would be to go:


You've lifted more weight and saved your body. Now go to rows or pullups to finish off your back. Hit some OHP and cleans on other days for the upper back/traps. Work some stiff legged or GM's and you have done a great amount of work up and down your whole back. And you haven't even squatted yet.


Dez, thanks for the reply. You might be right about the 380 on 5x5 sets. I just like to make sure that I don't leave anything in the gym when I go home so I try to push myself harder all the time. Maybe 365 in 5x5 would be better to start with. I'll probably give that a try first.

Thanks for the explanation on snatch grip too.


What are your problems with my numbers? And why does lifting to look good naked bother you too? I don't plan on entering any powerlifting competitions, so why worry about my numbers?

As far as your answer, I can see what you're saying about wasted reps in 5x5 scheme. On the last set you suggested, does that mean to do 405x2 three times? If so, I think I like this idea, but I still have the same question I posted in Nate Dogg's response: Is that enough time under tension to induce hypertrophy? Does the fact that I'm lifting near max weights make up for the fact that the sets are relatively short?


time under tension may have its place-may not
It does not matter here.

Total weight lifted and increasing said weght matters for strength gains. Staying in control and avoiding injury are much more valuable here than how long your muscle is under load.
Yes that is what I meant. Lift 405x2 and do three sets of this.
Next time maybe lift 405x2 two sets and try 410 for 2 on the third. I find this a great way to slowly add volume during a volume phase.

My question was wrt your own 'admission' that 405x3 was very tough, yet you were going to do 380x5x5. Those numbers are a tad skewed. Doesn't mean you can't do them, just alot of volume with alot of weight with a max at that weight.

Again, I don't like to mess with deads. I do them heavy at low reps and worry about 'refining' myself--or maybe as you would say, look good naked--with the other exercises that put me at much less risk.
Not to editorialize, but I just don't like it much when guys say that about lifting. It's not personal to you or anyone else.

I've just really never liked that generalization or excuse for lifting. It's like all the guys who are lifting in the gym and ask you for a spot while benching 185, and then drone on and on about this being their light day or how they have a sore shoulder and are just getting back into it. Just sounds weak to me.

I guess I editorialized.
Nothing personal--hope this works for your deads.



I ripped that off from somebody here on T-Nation the other day ... pretty much covers it.



I see what you mean about doing most of my work in the high weight/low rep end of my training. This makes sense and I like the idea of not pounding out rep after rep with lower weights.

As far as the 380 for 5x5, that was just a guess. I was probably overestimating. Maybe it's closer to 365.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy getting stronger. In fact, I've taken this winter to bulk up and I don't exactly look my best naked right now :slight_smile: But in the long run, I just want to see a great image in the mirror. That's what I'm after right now. I have noticed that BBing and PLing have many similarities, and I might focus more on getting stronger sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you for the reply, I'll definitely try out your suggestion.

P.S. - You'll never see me asking for a spot with 185 lbs. on a bench :slight_smile:


I don't know if this is necessarily true all the time. I see quite a few guys who, if you put a shirt on them, wouldn't even look like they lifted weights, yet those same guys can lift a lot more than I can. Just because someone can pull heavy doesn't always mean they'll look the part.


It is a simple yet easily and often overlooked statement. I agree with you that it isn't necessarily true all of the time, but generally it is. Specifically to deadlifting, there are not many small guys deadlifting serious weight. Looking at it from the opposite angle, tell a lifter that he needs to be get strong enough to deadlift 500 pounds AND tell him to stay small in the process.



If you load it up enough, then yes, a bunch of singles are enough. Read CW's "Singles Club" article for more info on using singles for hypertrophy.

I treat deads like O-lifts, low reps per set and focus on form, although you could go slightly higher on the reps for deads compared to O-lifts. It is best to finish off the posterior chain with other exercises such as good mornings, back extensions and romanian deadlifts if you want higher reps. Have a look at CT's recent article "Deadlifting for Stubby Guys". This shows how to treat the different deadlift variations and assistance exercises with appropriate set/rep schemes.




Agreed. I just wanted to point out that functional strength wasn't my top priority.


Thanks for the article references, I'll read these today at work :slight_smile: So far it seems I'm getting the same general idea from everyone that low reps & near-max weight is the way to go.