Tag Archives: Training Volume

Deadlift Training – Frequency and Intensity


Deadlifts can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. They are a gut wrenching exercise and the ultimate test of strength.

The deadlift is popular because it is one of the most effective exercises – perhaps even better than the squat – and, of course, is one of the big three in Powerlifting.

However, deadlifts can leave you feeling like you are dead if done too frequently or intensely. The deadlift places much greater stress on the central nervous system compared to other back exercises such as the barbell row and power clean.

I didn’t really consider this phenomenon until I started recording some of my workouts to assess my technique. I noticed that the average deadlift can take more than several seconds to perform, while other movements take only perhaps a second to perform and most had a shorter range of motion. The Olympic lifts, the exception, are both a longer range of motion and also performed exceedingly fast.

There is definitely a power output difference that can be calculated for each exercise but it is already evident that deadlifts performed too intensely and frequently will fry out the nervous system compared to other exercises.

The only exception to this rule would be new lifters who still haven’t fully adapted neurologically to the movement. Beginners are potentially the only group that can get away from deadlifting as frequent as 2 or 3 times a week. Even squatting everyday wouldn’t fry your nervous system as bad as deadlifting 3 times a week.

The only other exception would be a specialty program designed to increase the deadlift which would require doing less volume for virtually every other body part.

Now using this theory we can assume high frequency training using short range and fast movements would be as effective as a conjugate to increase deadlift strength. The only variable that would have to be further isolated would be the power output of the said exercise.

Some obvious exercises would be shrugs, barbell cheat rows, power cleans, dumbbell rows, seated cable rows, and lat pull downs.

Some evidence supporting this would be the fact that many bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger could deadlift over 710 lbs raw and Ronnie Coleman could do doubles with over 800 lbs using a squat suit. These well-known bodybuilders didn’t specialize in deadlift training and in fact were more concerned with the lats.

In bodybuilding if you don’t have lats then just shut up about your lower back and deadlift. Wide lats are the big show piece muscle when it comes to back in bodybuilding. So these bodybuilders for sure didn’t become Mr. Olympia by specializing in the deadlift or they for sure would have some of the greatest deadlift records in the sport of Powerlifting.

So if you are having nightmares about your next back workout consider what your goal is. If you want a big back and are more interested in bodybuilding then you should train like a bodybuilder and use the deadlift an assessment tool rather than an exercise.

On the other hand, if you are more worried about your max deadlift then there is no way around the principle of specificity. You have to deadlift and learn to love it. There is no way around it.

Training Volume – How Many Sets and Reps?

The number of sets and reps depends on your goal: strength ranges from 1 to 5 reps, muscle size 6 to 12 reps, and endurance 15 to 25 reps.

If only if it was this simple. Powerlifters train in the rep range of 1 to 5, bodybuilders 6 to 12, and all other endurance athletes train in the high reps range of 15 reps and beyond.

Based on the principle of specificity this is true, but only to a certain degree. As an advanced athlete you begin to reach a level where gaining anything is hard to do and seldom occurs. Elite athletes often need to train outside of normal boundaries to reach new levels.

For example, an elite powerlifter might have to deadlift in the 20 rep range for awhile in order to further increase their strength boundaries. Likewise, a bodybuilder that typically trains their back with high rep lat pull-downs and seated cable rows can greatly benefit from heavy low rep deadlifts.

Regardless of the rep ranges you choose, having a quantified number of sets and reps provides an invaluable way to measure training volume.

High volume programs based on sets and reps provide an easy way to manipulate training volume. German volume 10 x 10 and Vince Gironda’s 8 x 8 are extreme examples of high volume routines. Nevertheless, these volume programs yield a quantified amount of work completed. The result is a training variable that can be manipulated.

For example, if you are accustomed to bench pressing 150 lbs for 5 sets x 10 reps, the total pounds bench pressed in a workout would be 7,500 lbs . The total work done or workout volume is measured in total pounds lifted.

If the number of sets is reduced to 4 sets the total pounds lifted or work done is halved to 6,000 lbs. The total work has been reduced, creating a the need to increase other training variables such as intensity. To balance this deficit, intensity can be increased by adding 5 or 10 lbs to the lift.

The reduction in volume can be offset with an increase in intensity – lifting a heavier weight. This juggling act between volume and intensity can be repeated over time – the end result is a training cycle.