New research shows that the way we think about deadlifts is wrong. Contrary to popular belief, traditional deadlifts neglect the hamstrings and mostly provide a workout for your quads and lower back. If you want a good hamstring workout, avoid traditional deadlifts. Do Romanian deadlifts, stiff-legged deadlifts, or single-leg deadlifts instead.
Table of Contents
Why is Everyone Wrong about Deadlifts?
Most people think of traditional deadlifts as a hamstring workout. This is due to popular myths that were repeated for years before the exercise was properly studied. However, this scientific article shows that across many studies, the main muscle used during traditional deadlifts are the quads. Standard deadlifts offer a poor hamstring workout.
How Do You Work Your Hamstrings?
Your hamstrings are built by adding resistance to at least one of three movements: knee flexion (bending your knee), hip extension, and eccentric contraction of the hamstring. Movements like leg curls add resistance to knee flexion, while deadlift variations are meant to focus on hip extension. However, they both miss out on the key to a great hamstring workout.
- Add resistance to knee flexion.
- Workouts that add resistance to hip extension.
- Eccentric contraction is essential to building strong hamstrings.
Your hamstrings are worked hardest when they are subjected to eccentric contraction. Eccentric contraction occurs when your hamstrings tighten as they are being stretched. Romanian deadlifts and stiff-legged deadlifts are amazing workouts that focus on eccentric hamstring contraction.
Why are Deadlifts a Bad Hamstring Workout?
Because you bend your knees somewhat during a traditional deadlift, you eliminate eccentric hamstring contraction and transfer the workload from your hamstrings to your quads. Your quads are responsible for straightening your knee. So, your quads end up powering your deadlift. This results in a minimal hamstring workout.
- Deadlifts do not add resistance to knee flexion.
- There is very little eccentric hamstring contraction during traditional deadlifts.
- Your quads and lower back are used to straighten up from a deadlift, not your hamstrings.
Due to their knee bend and form, traditional deadlifts fail as a posterior chain exercise and place a lot of strain on the lower back. Scientific analysis found that instead of working the hamstrings and glutes, deadlifts mostly use your quads and lower back for the lift. This may be the reason traditional deadlifts are commonly linked to low-back injuries.
What are the Best Deadlift Hamstring Workouts?
Avoid traditional deadlifts if you want stronger hamstrings. Instead, focus on deadlift exercises that incorporate little-to-no knee bend. Romanian deadlifts and stiff-legged deadlifts are among the best exercises for building strong hamstrings. Because your knees don’t bend much during the movement, your hamstrings lengthen and contract as you lower the weight. Then, as you push your hips forward to rise up from these exercises, your hamstrings are used for hip extension. This reduces strain on the lower back at the same time it builds stronger hamstrings.
- Romanian deadlift (nicknamed RDL): instructional video.
- Stiff-legged deadlifts: instructional video.
- Single-leg deadlifts: instructional video.
Single-legged deadlifts are an incredible hamstring workout that allows you to work each leg independently. This leads to symmetrical muscle growth and improves your balance. Each of these options is far better for hamstring development than traditional deadlifts.
What Deadlift Variations Don’t Build Hamstrings?
If you’re looking for a workout that strengthens your hamstrings, avoid standard deadlifts, sumo deadlifts, and trap bar deadlifts. These lifts take the focus off your hamstrings and instead target your quads—the muscles in the front of your thigh. This means you’ll lose out on hamstring gains.
- Traditional deadlifts.
- Sumo deadlifts.
- Trap bar deadlifts.
- These deadlift variations are better suited for developing strong quads.
This does not mean that sumo deadlifts and trap bar lifts are bad exercises. Sumo deadlifts are a great deadlift choice to relieve back stress. Similarly, trap bar deadlifts reduce knee joint pressure. So, they can be used as a pain-free replacement for squats.
Should Your Hamstrings Hurt After Deadlifts?
Post-workout soreness is common after doing hamstring-focused deadlift variations. However, your hamstrings should not be in prolonged pain after your lift. If your hamstrings are in pain, this could be the result of a strained muscle.
- Hamstring soreness is common for 2–3 days after a hamstring-focused deadlift workout.
- Reduce soreness through rest, hydration, nutrition, and massage.
- Pain in your hamstrings could indicate a serious muscle strain.
- If your hamstring pain continues for more than 3 days, consult a doctor.
My hamstrings are usually sore for two days after I do Romanian deadlifts. If you can’t walk after leg day, we have strategies to reduce soreness and get you back in the gym. If your pain continues after rest and recovery, it could be the result of an injury. In this case, consult your doctor or other medical professional.
How Often Should You Deadlift?
No matter what type of deadlift you choose, deadlift one to three times per week. Remember, your muscles only grow stronger when they are given time to recover after training sessions. So, always allow at least 48 hours between deadlift workouts. During this time, take a day off from the gym or work other muscle groups.
- Deadlifts can be done up to 3 times per week.
- 1–2 weekly deadlift workouts are common and effective.
- Allow at least 48 hours between workouts that include deadlifts.
All types of deadlifts are demanding workouts, so it’s best to avoid overdoing them. For most weightlifters, training deadlifts two times per week yields the best results. This allows you to recover and perform at peak intensity each time.
Do Deadlifts Build Stronger Hamstrings?
When considering deadlift exercises for hamstring development, keep these facts in mind:
- Traditional deadlifts don’t build strong hamstrings.
- Romanian deadlifts are one of the best exercises for strengthening your hamstrings.
- Stiff-legged deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts are also great for hamstrings.
- Sumo deadlifts and trap bar deadlifts are not designed to strengthen your hamstrings.
By selecting the right deadlift variation for your workout program, you’ll get better hamstring strength training results.