The Size-Building Deadlift

Build your hamstrings and prevent future injuries with this unconventional exercise.

Conventional barbell deadlifts are a bad choice if you’re looking to build bigger legs. Here’s an unconventional take on them that’ll add slabs of meat to your hamstrings, while also preventing future injuries.

Don’t Lower Your Conventional Deadlifts

The aim here is to overload the eccentric/lowering phase of a Romanian deadlift (RDL). In short, you’ll deadlift the weight up the usual way, then RDL the weight down.

RDLs are the better choice for placing targeted load through your hamstrings. By overloading them eccentrically we increase their benefits even more.

A word of warning, this lift is best reserved for more experienced lifters that don’t mind messed-up hamstrings for days afterward!

How To Do It

  • Place some plates or lifting blocks on the floor. Set these at a height that’s close to the deepest point of your RDL. The closer it is, the easier the transition will be.
  • Work up to a load that’s approximately 20% greater than you’d typically use for any given rep range when doing RDLs. For example, if you usually use 200 pounds for 6 reps, then work up to using approximately 240 pounds.
  • Lift using a conventional deadlift technique. Stay tight and push the floor away from you to stand up.
  • Once you reach the top, lower down using an RDL. Push your hips back to “close the door behind you with your butt.” Allow your shoulders to travel in front of the bar. You want to take at least 3-4 full seconds to lower down.
  • When your hamstrings say “hello” and you’ve exhausted your full active range of motion, drop down to start your conventional deadlift again.
  • Aim for around 5 sets of 6 reps with a 3-4 second eccentric/negative phase. Do it no more than once every seven days.

Why This Works

The eccentric phase of your lifts can be 25-40% stronger than the concentric or lifting phase, depending on the movements and muscles involved.

Most overload the eccentric by just spending more time there (e.g., 4-6 second eccentrics using the exact same weight). But manipulating the mechanics of your deadlifts will allow you to overload the eccentric phase by using more weight than you’d otherwise be able to use with regular RDLs. These also don’t require the use of specialty equipment like weight releasers.

Overloaded eccentrics create high levels of mechanical tension and tissue breakdown, both primary drivers of muscle growth. That’s good news if you need to add some hamstring size.

Overloaded eccentrics also develop strength at greater muscle lengths. Injuries often occur in your hamstrings at greater lengths largely due to their bi-articulate design (they cross both the knee and hip joint). Increasing the potential of your hamstrings to produce more force at greater lengths will work to bulletproof them from future injury.