The correct number of deadlift sets for you depends on your goals and experience level. Here’s the quick guide to deadlift sets:
- Beginners: 1–5 sets per workout, depending on your program.
- Deadlift for Muscle Mass: 5 sets.
- Deadlift for Strength: 3–5 sets.
It’s just as important to modify the number of deadlift reps you perform for each set depending on your goals. Your set number is only part of the equation. Below, we’ll walk through how to train deadlifts to attain your goal. This includes sets, reps, and rest.
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Do Deadlifts Actually Build Muscle?
Asking if deadlifts build muscle is a bit like asking if birds fly. The answer is a resounding yes. Conventional deadlifts are one of the most essential muscle size and strength-building exercises. A deadlift works muscles throughout your body, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, spinal erectors, trapezius, and grip strength.
- Deadlifts are a foundational muscle-building exercise.
- Deadlifts work several major muscle groups in your lower and upper body, allowing for significant muscle size and strength gains.
- Deadlifts allow you to move heavier weights than other exercises, which means you can push your muscles further and encourage them to grow.
Not only do deadlifts work several major muscles, but they also allow you to move heavy weights. This ability to progressively load your deadlift allows you to constantly push your muscles. Progressive overload is one of the keys to muscle development. Doing deadlifts the right way will build muscle more effectively than nearly any other exercise. You can see now why it’s so important to dial in the right number of sets and reps for your deadlift training.
The Optimal Number of Deadlift Sets and Reps for You
For this guide on optimal deadlift sets and reps, we’ll be considering conventional deadlifts only. Other deadlift variations, such as the Romanian deadlift and trap bar deadlift, may have different optimal sets. Also, it’s important to note we are discussing working sets only. Warm-up sets are crucial when performing heavy deadlifts, but they don’t count as working sets. What we’re concerned with is how many sets of deadlifts you’re performing at the heaviest weight you can lift. Now that that’s covered, let’s dig in so you can get the most out of your conventional deadlifts.
Deadlift Sets for Beginner
If you are a beginner that is training deadlifts as the main compound lift of your workout, perform 4–5 sets of 5–6 reps each workout.
- Perform 4–5 sets of deadlifts per workout as a beginner.
- Do 5–6 reps of deadlifts each set.
- Rest 90 seconds to 3 minutes between sets.
- Alternatively, follow a beginner lifting plan that asks you to perform 1 set of deadlifts 1–2 times weekly.
If you are performing deadlifts as part of a beginner lifting program, such as Starting Strength or Stronglifts 5×5, your program may ask you to perform 1 set of 5 deadlifts 1–2 times per week. This set and rep range is effective for beginners. Because you will have performed squats earlier in these workouts, it’s too much to ask to perform several sets of deadlifts. Don’t worry, this deadlift plan will still build strength and muscle. In fact, it might be one of the most efficient ways to do so. This study showed that performing 1 set of resistance training was just as effective as performing 3.
Deadlift Sets for Muscle Mass
If you want to build muscle with conventional deadlifts, you need to work in a set, rep, and frequency range that drives muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth). For deadlifts, this means performing 5 sets of 8 reps.
- Do 5 sets of deadlifts each workout to build mass.
- Perform 8 repetitions for each set.
- Your rest time between sets should be 45 seconds to 2 minutes.
Although traditional hypertrophy training calls for rests of 30–60 seconds between sets, take 45 seconds to 2 minutes between deadlift sets. The deadlift works your entire body, raises your heart rate, and speeds up your breathing. You need a bit more time to recover from each set so you can perform at your best throughout the workout.
Deadlift Sets for Strength
If your goal is to build strength and increase your max deadlift, train like a powerlifter. This means you’ll be performing 3–5 sets of 1–5 reps each time you deadlift. After all, the only way to train your body to lift heavier weights is by lifting heavier, and that means reducing the number of reps you perform.
- To build strength, perform 3–5 sets of deadlifts each time you do them.
- Perform 1–5 reps each set.
- Rest for 2–3 minutes after an average deadlift set.
- Rest for 5–10 minutes after an exhausting deadlift set.
This training technique will build explosive power and push your deadlift to the next level. However, each set can leave you gassed. Although 2–3 minutes of rest between sets is normal, if you need to take 5 or even 10 minutes after an extreme lift, allow your body time to recover.
How Many Sets of Deadlifts Should You Do Per Week?
To encourage strength and muscle gains, you should work on each muscle twice per week for a total of 10–15 sets for the week. For example, if you want to build bigger, stronger biceps you need to perform 10–15 sets of bicep-specific work across 2 weekly training sessions. Deadlifts are a bit of an outlier though. Although beginners and those looking to build mass will do best if they perform 10 weekly sets of deadlifts, there are exceptions to this rule.
- Beginners: 10 sets per-week.
- Athletes training for mass: 10 sets per week.
- Beginners on a squat-heavy program: 1–2 sets per week.
- Athletes training for strength: 6–10 sets per week.
If you are a beginner on a Starting Strength or Stronglifts program you will likely be doing 1–2 sets of deadlifts per week. Why? Because you’re performing squats 3 times per week on these programs for a total of 15 sets. Squats work many of the same muscles as deadlifts. So, performing many deadlift sets would overtrain these muscles and actually reduce the progress you make. Finally, a powerlifter may only perform 3 sets of deadlifts per workout, but these sets are performed at high weight and are incredibly taxing, making it ill-advised to deadlift more than twice per week. In short, if you’re training for strength, 6–10 sets of deadlifts per week is highly effective.
Is it OK to Deadlift 3 Times a Week?
Because deadlifts are such an exhausting total-body exercise, it is generally best to train deadlifts no more than 2 times per week. Doing deadlifts more often than this can lead to overtraining, fatigue, reduced development, and injury. If you are on an Upper/Lower split or PPL program, plan to do deadlifts only twice per week.
- It is best to perform deadlifts no more than 2 times per week.
- Training deadlifts too frequently can result in overtraining and injury.
- Only perform deadlifts 3 times per week as part of a total body training program where deadlifts are the primary lower body lift.
If you really want to do deadlifts 3 times per week, you will have to do it as part of a total body workout program. The deadlift should be your main lift, in this case, meaning you will perform it to open your workout. The other exercises in the program should be upper-body focused with minimal lower body lifts besides deadlifts. This is the only way your body will be able to recover between intense deadlift sessions.
How Many Days Should You Rest After Deadlifts?
At a minimum, rest 48–72 hours between deadlift workouts. This means that if you do deadlifts on Monday you should not do them again until Wednesday or Thursday. For optimal recovery time, allow for a full 72 hours of recovery. This will give your muscles more time to bounce back after an exhaustive deadlift workout.
How Many Deadlift Sets of Deadlifts Does it Take to Build Muscle?
If you’re looking to build muscle mass with deadlifts, perform 5 sets of 8 deadlifts twice per week. If you are looking to gain strength and increase your maximum deadlift, do 3 sets of 1–5 deadlifts 2 times per week. Although beginners can benefit from doing 5 sets of deadlifts twice per week, some very beneficial beginner lifting programs only include 1 set of deadlifts 1–2 times per week.