Are Deadlifts for Back Day or Leg Day?
Written by Keith Hansen
May 31, 2018
I've heard this topic come up a lot over the years, and seen it most recently on Instagram.
One of the great debates for strength training is the question "Are deadlifts a back exercise or a leg exercise?".
The answer is they are a leg exercise, and specifically a glute/ham exercise. But not in the traditional sense.
We don't deadlift to make muscles big. We use other lifts to make muscles big, and use the deadlift to tie them all together to develop strength.
Let's get into the specifics.
What Makes Muscles Grow?
The primary driver for hypertrophy (muscle growth) is eccentric (lowering the weight, think easy) and concentric (lifting the weight, think concentrate) contractions. This is what you do when lifting weights normally. Pick them up, and put them down.
There is a third type of contractions called isometric. This means the muscle is neither lengthening nor shortening. An exercise example of this would be doing a wall sit, a plank, or doing a dumbbell curl and holding it half way up for time.
Isometric contractions do not lead to muscle growth, but they can increase strength at that joint angle by improving your nervous system.
What makes Muscles Strong?
The two most important components of our ability to generate force are:
- how much muscle do you have?
- how well does your nervous system recruit that muscle?
This is why most strength training programs include heavy weight & low reps to improve your nervous system, and lower weight with moderate to high reps to increase your muscle mass.
We need both components for true strength.
And the deadlift is very good at improving your nervous system's ability to recruit muscle.
Why you shouldn't Consider Deadlifts a Back Exercise
When you do a great deadlift your back begins in a neutral position and stays that way throughout the entire lift.
When you do a good deadlift your back stays isometrically contracted. This means your back muscles will get stronger in a neutral position, but they won't grow much from it. Your low back really suffers from this.
If you're after a big back, thick lats, and massive traps the deadlift shouldn't be your weapon of choice. It's great for improving your backs ability to hold a neutral position, increasing hip strength, and this is something critical for lifting any load. But deadlifts will not build a big back.
then Which DAy is Deadlift day?
Deadlifts should be done on deadlift day.
Do deadlifts to improve your body's ability to lift heavy weights. Add posterior chain work that hits the glutes and hams after your deadlifts to stimulate maximal hypertrophy in those muscles.
Do rows, pull-downs, and farmer's walks to stimulate hypertrophy in the back. This will make your back bigger and have transfer over to your deadlift.
Get Started with the DEadlift
Read The Serious Guide to the Conventional Deadlift to familiarize yourself with the king of strength exercises.
Then get started with a deadlift program. Below is our free beginner program that will instill great deadlift mechanics.