Does the Deadlift Build Size?

How to Pull if Muscle Growth is the Goal

Want bigger hams and glutes? Rethink the conventional deadlift. Here’s why.

The conventional deadlift isn’t your best bet if you’re trying to build bigger legs and glutes. Here’s why and what to do instead.

The Bullet Points

  • The deadlift isn’t the best exercise for hypertrophy, at least not the conventional or sumo deadlifts. But they’re great for strength. All the details: Not the King of Exercises – Deadlift
  • Since tension is spread out over multiple muscle groups, few muscles are worked to a high level of fatigue. None of them are significantly taxed.
  • In addition, the neural drive required for the deadlift is divided over many muscle groups. This makes it harder to recruit the fast-twitch muscle fibers during the deadlift.
  • You can use a lot of weight during the deadlift, but none of the joints reach a thoroughly stretched or closed position.
  • During hypertrophy, you want to lengthen the muscles to their fullest state. The glutes do get some lengthening, but not fully.
  • The RDL (Romanian deadlift) is a much better option for hypertrophy. It WILL create a stretch in the glutes.
  • The stiff-leg deadlift stretches the hamstrings and increases the stretch required for hypertrophy.
  • The traditional deadlift is great for competitive lifting and strength but not so much for muscle growth.

Note: For weekly videos like this and more Q&A with Coach Thibaudeau, join him in his exclusive T Nation Plus forum.

Metabolic Drive Metabolism Boosting / Award-Winning Protein


1 Like

I do RDLs one session in the week, and SLDLs in another right now. SLDLs are still a relatively new exercise for me as I’ve spent more time with either conventional DL or a TBDL…but I feel wonderful doing them. My hamstrings feel fantastically targeted and lifting a weight in that style with my posterior feels like it’s going to do wonders over time to my erectors etc. I never really have back pain with conventional deadlifts but something about it feels way safer too. I don’t go for big grinders, but on the tough reps, lifting weight without my quads driving it seems to have my posterior always stay as tight as required and I can say “nope” before I think there’s any chance of failure. With a conventional I can be more likely to leave a leak somewhere whilst just grinding through with my quads.

With this massive positive it’s also way more natural to do slower eccentrics, which means the bosu ball squatters and elliptical lords can stop complaining about the noise.

Now, if only there was a way to subdue my ego and let people know I’m doing a different exercise to a deadlift and can actually lift more than this. :sunglasses:


I don’t know. For an overall mass builder, the deadlift certainly puts weight on the scale.

If targeting hamstrings is the goal, I don’t understand comparing a multi-joint compound lift with a hip hinge.

What are your thoughts on rdl’s and sldl’s vs hamstring curl variations, glute ham raises and reverse hypers for hamstring concentration?


If you are not super proficient with DLs, then starting a “back” or “pull” day with the king of strength exercises adds the benefit of turning on your CNS to the max. With experienced lifters it makes less and less sense because they need more and more time to properly warm up and get in the groove, and the systemic fatigue is also bigger.

1 Like

I don’t think he denies that to be fair, just that there are better options "for bigger legs and glutes". There is an important point to be made here though in that it depends on quite a few things. I believe it is one of the best exercises for muscle growth… until it’s not, and then at some point later it might be again. It comes down to training economy, training history, training age, strength levels, and the rest of the program. There is nothing better than the deadlift in terms of firing up your CNS, and even if people try to say it’s not fantastic for hypertrophy, it definitely is when you consider how well strength on the deadlift transfers over to so many other pulls. Many of the best backs/entire posteriors have been built with the help of deadlifts.

For a new or time-limited trainee, there is close to nothing that is as good as the deadlift. Hitting that many muscle groups is remarkable and it being the lift where you can handle the most weight, regardless of all this “no muscle is fully stretched” people preach, the signals sent throughout your body… a lot stuff is gonna grow if you take you deadlift from 300lbs to 600lbs. Yes it’s a leverage lift but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton to be gained from it.

The problem with it lies in when people want to do higher frequency/higher volume splits. Shoehorning it in can be difficult and there comes a point where you might get better results doing 4-5 exercises targetting those individual muscle groups fresh as opposed to trying to do them all after being beat up by a heavy deadlift. This is another thing, when you get properly strong the deadlift is extremely fatiguing and there is no getting away from that. It can eat into the rest of your workout on that day, and for some people even sessions later in the week. Progress on it will also slow down leading to more and more fatigue for diminishing hypertrophy returns.

That’s where the nuance comes in though and the best thing to do is probably phasing it in occasionally as a switch-up to regain new stimulus from it in the context of the rest of the program. I am talking from a pure hypertrophy standpoint here.

What people get wrong is they use stuff like “fatigue” and “it hurts my back” as an excuse to not do the hard work. It is a wonderful exercise and a BRILLIANT muscle builder for many many people. I feel that many of these articles are misread and are taken as black-and-white ammo against the Deadlift when people need to work out the nuance for themselves. Thibaudeau himself has spoken before about his own anthropometry putting him into a very squatty Deadlift, so he doesn’t get a great deal out of it that he’s not already getting from other exercises. Many taller lifters can also struggle due to the arbitrary height of the Olympic plates.

The article starts with "The conventional deadlift isn’t your best bet if you’re trying to build bigger legs and glutes." If you’re trying to build bigger legs are glutes, it outright isn’t the best exercise. Overall mass though? As explained above, there are a lot of considerations that need to be figured out before a trainee or coach can figure out whether or not it’s a good choice to program.


The title suggests deadlifts aren’t mass builders with no mention of leg and glute development specifically. The article does mention leg and glute development specifically.

So one, they are a great mass builder and the title is a little confusing and two, as a discussion around leg and glute development, I would circle back to my original questions comparing the further specific rdl’s and sldl’s with other isolation or single joint lifts.

Okay, the title of the article isn’t perfect. It is clarified instantly within it though.

I know you’d rather have an answer from an elite coach for some real science and experience as I’m just a guy who reads books, but my answer to these sorts of questions for hypertrophy would always be “Why not both?”. If you can only pick one it’s probably best to choose the exercise with the higher load and other muscularity involved, but doing a ton of sets of them would run you into the ground so we add volume with less intensive stressors. That’s where the hamstring curls/GHRs etc come in. Rather than worrying about what’s best, just hitting the muscle in slightly different ways and finding the appropriate volume for you is where the muscle money is made.

1 Like

What is the difference between the RDL and the SLDL ?

I am fairly ambivalent whether the deadlift is a good size builder.

Before I powerlifted, I did hanging power cleans, targeting mostly upper back and all of traps. When I tried powerlifting I already had much of the strength to pull a good deadlift, since some of the same muscles involved in the hanging power clean as is the deadlift. I would think that some hypertrophy occurred as a result of deadlifts, but how much, I don’t know.

After my lower back injury got much better and I was competing in Master’s bodybuilding I re-incorporated the deadlift. Because my traditional deadlift was more of a hinge, with little legs bent, I used it as a back builder on “back day.” But it was not my power builder. I used a heavy bent-over barbell row as mass builder. After barbell rows I did 2 sets of 10 reps of deadlifts, then finished back with a few other exercises. Once again I don’t know what contribution the deadlifts had for hypertrophy, but I did them anyway. The 10 reps were heavy, but I had a few reps left in the tank.

1 Like

SLDL starts from the floor

Thanks for the info.

1 Like

Stand on a plate when you do SLDL so the difference from conventional dead is more apparent.


My biggest part of subbing them in was my gym telling me off for noise. My plan is to work up to a number where they start telling me off again and then add plates to stand on so I can keep getting more out of less weight. I never really considered that the appearance of the exercise would look way more apparent with deficits added though. I look forward to it quelling my insecurity!