First Time Deadlifting Soreness and Ideal Volume

I am currently 23yo and was lifting from the age of 16-20 before slipping into a three year period of being pretty bad mentally and physically and losing all my gains (anorexia…). I am trying to get back in decent shape. So, after about 10 months of doing mostly pull ups, dips and 0 leg training - but making some pretty good upper body gains - I decided to get back in the gym and start a more ideal workout program. I did deadlifts for the first time 4 days ago, and knowing how sore I would be given its my very first session, I only did 2 sets of 8 and 11 reps with about 2 reps in reserve with just 225 pounds, which felt like nothing in terms of fatigue. Today, 4 days later, I was still slightly sore in my erector muscle complex but decided to do the exact same thing in terms of weight and sets, but was only able to do 8 and 8 reps and felt quite a bit weaker. I take it that given my body is very new to the movement the stimulus from the first workout was quite high and I couldn’t recover.

However, the main question I wanted to ask both coach CT and anyone here who is experienced with the deadlift is, how many working sets to failure of conventional deadlifts would be appropriate to program into a workout routine PER WEEK. The goal being hypertrophy. Also, how would that volume change if I were to totally eliminate squats or other leg exercises?

Thank you very much.

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Umm like 1? Going to failure on something with high CNS impact like Deadlifts has a, uhh, systemic response… to say the least (it’s not about soreness).

Recovery is very individual - but the stronger you get in the big lifts, the less frequently you will be able to perform them. If you do deads once per week, you will do just fine - and I don’t recommend you do them to failure… form>reps.

It sounds like you’ve recovered from your eating disorder - this isn’t easy and deserves to be recognized.


Absolutely this.

In my opinion, zero is the correct answer. As someone with no experience of deadlifting, you shouldn’t be going to failure, or close. Get stronger using sensibly planned, submaximal deadlifting, then use that strength to build muscles using exercises where you can really push the intensity without risking breaking yourself.


This seems to happen to everyone who just joins the gym and does deadlifts without a real plan so you are not alone. It’s probably a combination of form and a recovery issue but as others said, 1 top set a week will be enough for a long time without having to do much more thinking about it.

As long as your squat keeps going up, you’re doing the rest of a balanced program and eating right, it’s likely you’ll be able to add 2.5kg a week for at least 6 months if you’re at ~100kg right now.

When progress stops, then you can figure out which different training methods/principles you want to adopt. You are a long way from that though.


As some pointed out earlier, the correct answer is NONE.

Here is the thing: not all lifting exercises should be done according to the same rules. Even if they all revolve around lifting weights, different exercises require different approaches due to their nature.

Going to failure is perfectly fine (although not necessary) on lower-stress exercises like single-joint movements or machine exercises. But on exercises in which there is a lot of different muscle involved, a lot of coordination and spine loading, you should not go closer than 2 rest to failure.

Similarly, deadlifts are not a great exercise to do with higher reps. I personally do not recommend going over 8 reps on it (and typically I prefer to stick to 4-6, even for hypertrophy). On higher reps of deadlifts, especially if you are new to the movement or detrained, form/technique will break down WAY before you reach failure and will make the exercise both ineffective and dangerous.

The deadlift is best trained with:

  • Fewer reps
  • Not going close to failure
  • More sets

So, for example, instead of doing a set of 8 and a set of 11 like you did (19-20 reps), close to failure, it would be better to use the same weight and do 4 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 6.

However, if you want to use the deadlift for hypertrophy (which might not be your best option as the deadlift isn’t that great for hypertrophy… the Romanian deadlift or trap bar deadlifts being better choices) I would recommend around 25 reps/workout. Something like 5 x 5 or 4 x 6 with 2-3 reps in reserve on each set.

That would be a bad idea. Well, at least if gaining lower body muscle mass important to you.

The deadlift is just not at good lower body exercise for hypertrophy.

At best, if you do it with VERY good form it is an OK exercise for the hamstrings and maybe glutes. But it doesn’t do much for the quads. AND the fact that you were sore in the lower back but not your hamstrings tell me that your form is not adequate to develop your legs.

The deadlift is a fantastic strength movement and an efficient exercise if you don’t have a lot of time to train because it does involve a lot of muscle.

But its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: there are so many muscles involved that none actually receive maximum growth stimulation. It is mostly an exercise that develops strength via neuromuscular improvements and minor muscle development overall.

The deadlift is efficient as it will give you gains in: hamstrings, glutes, lower back, upper back, traps and some quads. BUT the gains are small for each of these muscles.

Simply put, doing only the deadlift for the lower body will not give you muscular/well-developed legs. And you might be OK with that; not everyone wants to build their legs.

But if gaining muscle mass in your lower body is important to you, you will need other exercises than the deadlift.

A lot of guys (rarely girls) don’t like to train their legs: they just want a big chest, arms and shoulders. These guys will often do deadlifts as their only leg work because it still involves the upper body and makes them feel better. And that is better than not doing anything for your lower body. But it is mostly a mind-trick to make the person feel good about their training; it won’t actually lead to much leg growth except in super beginners, for a short time.

If you are one of those guys who just doesn’t like/want to train legs seriously and are looking to do deadlifts to get some leg work without feeling like you are doing legs, I would recommend at least doing trap bar deadlifts, which involve the quads a bit more than traditional deadlifts.

By the way, the reason why you were not able to get 8 and 11 reps on your second workout was likely because of technique breakdown: the bar might have been pulled just a bit more forward or your lost tension in the core (or some other technical issue), which is the reason why you shouldn’t go to failure on deadlifts.


Just for clarification in my mind. I assume you disregard that for RDLs and TBDLs (due to the likelihood of form breakdown being not near as prevalent)?


Wow, that was an entire essay. Thanks a lot for the long reply, everything is very clearly written!

@Christian_Thibaudeau What do You think is the best option for a regular guy who sits a lot next to the computer during the day to train the lower body?
I have a little scoliosis and a lot of stiffness. My fizjoterapeutis don’t allow me to do back squats.
At the moment I’m doing snatch grip high pull (because it is great exercise for whole back and posterior chain) plus some bike sprints on one day and more lower body focused day with:
Zercher Squat because weight is easier for my back - but still hips are not doing well with that so I’m wonder If I can replace that with trap bar deadlifts as main exercise?
After this I’m doing some one leg split squats and one leg RDL.
Will that work for putting some healthy mass on the lower body?

Any options for belt squats? Or something that doesn’t load your spine?

Hip thrusts and glute bridges.

If you have the proper equipment to do it, it is a fantastic exercise. But I don’t like to use make-shift equipment to do it.

Rogue, EliteFTS, Stand Efferding and Bells of Steele all make very good units.


Unfortunately no option for belt squat in near gyms :(`

But in general do You think that:

  • Main exercise: trap bar deadlift or zercher squats
  • Assistance: Some one leg squat and one leg RDL
  • Plus Snatch grip high pull, bike sprints and running

Will be enough to build strong and protect lower body or I’m missing something?

That looks good. I personally do not like single-leg RDLs. The instability makes it harder to get full high-threshold fiber recruitment. If you absolutely want to do single-leg RDL I recommend doing them while supporting yourself with the arm on the opposite side of the working leg (and holding the weight on the same side as the working leg). Either a fixed post or a stick.

I actually like to do the same with the single-leg squat.

Unless you are using those mostly for balance rather than muscular development, then forget the support.

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Thanks coach :muscle: