Last updated on October 30th, 2022 at 06:12 pm
Have you ever considered doing deadlifts with low weight for high reps?
I’m sure you’re used to the conventional way of deadlifting.
You know what I mean by this.
We all typically deadlift once a week and typically in the 1-5 rep range.
This is what we know, plus it seems this is what everyone else is doing anyway.
But, is this really the only way to deadlift?
Would deadlifting with higher reps encourage new muscle growth?
Or are you just asking for an injury to happen?
Let’s find out.
Deadlift With Low Weight & High Reps
You can do deadlifts with low weight for high reps, although this may not be suitable for everyone. Deadlifts, whether performed with low/high weight or low/high reps are extremely taxing on the Central Nervous System. Plus, it can be very difficult to maintain perfect form throughout a high-rep set. Furthermore, due to the fact that a deadlift bar will always be 8.75 inches from the floor, high reps could cause issues for tall lifters. A better alternative for anyone looking to perform high reps would be to use the trap-bar deadlift.
Should Deadlifts Be Low Reps?
I always feel when you talk about rep ranges with deadlifts there are two very distinct and different sides to the story.
There are those who claim that deadlifting in the 1-5 rep range is the only way to go.
Then, there are others who believe that occasionally increasing the reps to 8, 10, 15, 20, or even 25 reps per set does you no harm.
I’ll honestly say that I am in the second camp, and I often perform high rep deadlifts.
However, I am also fully aware of the potential disadvantages to deadlifting for high reps and I will discuss these in a moment.
That being said, ever since I introduced high-rep deadlift training, I feel it has done me the world of good, as well as improving my physique.
Now, I know a lot of people claim that deadlifts won’t do much for hypertrophy, but I don’t completely agree.
If you’re able to hold your form together throughout a long set you can definitely build muscle mass.
There is much talk about deadlifts only really allowing for isometric holds for the major muscle groups being worked.
Then again, you may also hear that the lack of an eccentric portion of the lift, time-under-tension, and a wealth of other reasons that will stop you building muscle with deadlifts.
Each to their own I say, you’ll never know until you try.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that every single deadlift session involves a low weight and high reps.
In fact, I still mainly deadlift in the 3-5 rep range, but as I like to deadlift more than once a week, this allows me ample opportunity to deadlift with high reps quite regularly.
So, I can confirm that deadlifts do not have to be low reps.
That being said, I don’t believe that high-rep deadlifts are for everyone.
So, let’s look at the main reasons why.
The Disadvantages of Low Weight High Rep Deadlifts
Okay, as I’ve mentioned, a lot of people are dead-set against high-rep deadlifts.
And even though I’ve said that I regularly perform high-rep deadlifts, I definitely see their point.
Central Nervous System Fatigue
Firstly, deadlifts are the most taxing exercise on the Central Nervous System.
This is irrespective of whether you’re hitting a one-rep max or deadlifting an easy weight for 30 reps.
It all has to do with the movement patterns, all-over body tension, correct bracing, and the fact that you’re using a huge number of muscles.
In fact, I would go as far to say that high-rep deadlifts, even with a lot less weight, are more taxing on the nervous system than traditional low-rep, heavy deadlifts.
So, it could be a case that you absolutely fry your Central Nervous System, which will typically leave you feeling like crap.
Plus, you’ll probably be in need of twice as much rest and recovery.
This is clearly not something that will help with your body composition goals and overall training.
Furthermore, if your nervous system is fatigued, this typically leads to a drop in grip strength.
And once more, reduced grip strength is not something that will help you deadlift more efficiently.
One of the major disadvantages to high-rep deadlifts is form.
More specifically, it’s very difficult to maintain proper form throughout.
If you think about it, deadlifts have various cues that you’re constantly trying to hit with every single rep.
In effect, you have to literally reset yourself with every rep.
You’re required to brace your body, create full-body tension, keep your chest up and back flat. Maintain vertical shins, bar over midfoot, etc.
So, as you start to fatigue, as you soon will with high-rep deadlifts, it becomes harder-and-harder to adhere to all these cues.
And to be honest, you can actually deadlift, especially with low weight and high reps, with poor form.
However, you know as well as me that this eventually only going to lead to one thing, namely injury.
Okay, this is something that I said I didn’t entirely agree with, but once more I can see the naysayer’s point.
There’s no real range of motion, time under tension, or “proper” eccentric portion to the deadlift.
And these are all things, as well as volume, that will generally lead to muscle growth.
Furthermore, you’re never really fully contracting the muscle groups, and they are effectively only going through isometric contraction.
However, the simple fact remains that you are lifting a load, and therefore applying stress to the muscles.
Therefore, there is some potential for muscle growth.
The Height of the Barbell
The final factor to consider if you’re wondering whether high-rep deadlifts are for you is the height of the bar from ground.
Well, more specifically, your height in comparison to this.
Now, regardless of whether you’re 4’3” or 7’2”, the barbell, with at least one 45lbs either side, is always going to be the same height from the ground, 8.75 inches.
So, we are all pulling the weight from the same height, irrespective of how tall we are.
And I think this is why someone like myself, fairly short, can get away with performing high-rep deadlifts.
However, someone much taller than me will need to go through a far greater range of motion.
And this is where their problems start, and unfortunately it will only get worse with high reps.
Realistically, not everyone is suited to performing conventional deadlifts.
In fact, there are advantages and disadvantages to a huge number of lifts, depending on your height, arm length, leg length, etc.
So, just because an exercise is classed as “fantastic”, this doesn’t mean that you’ll receive the same benefits as someone else.
Personally, I would say that high-rep deadlifts should be avoided by tall lifters.
Plus, even their normal low-rep deadlifts should actually be elevated slightly off the ground by at least placing a couple of weights flat on the ground underneath the weight plates attached to the bar.
However, if you’re still struggling to get comfortable, this could simply be a case that you’re too tall to efficiently and effectively perform the conventional deadlift.
What’s the Alternative?
Now, there is a deadlift variation that lends itself quite well to high reps.
Plus, you probably won’t even need to go as light as you think.
Furthermore, no-one can argue at the muscle-building potential of this deadlift variation.
In fact, it’s one of the best exercises there probably is for building muscle.
I give you the trap-bar deadlift.
Not only does it hit all the above factors, but it works for everyone, regardless of height, and it’s much safer for your lower back.
You can’t go wrong.
I actually came across a workout program a number of years ago that simply had you start off the week doing 10 sets of 10 reps of trap-bar deadlifts on Mondays.
The rest of the week involved fairly normal hypertrophy training, but every Monday started with the trap-bar.
The idea was obviously to progress in weight on a regular basis.
However, I had little problems in smashing out 100 reps of deadlifts for a workout, and I always felt fantastic afterwards.
Plus, the muscular gains were plain to see.
Trap-Bar Deadlifts – Old-School Mass Gain
So, I hope you understand that whether low-weight, high-rep deadlifts are worthwhile very much depends on you as an individual.
For me, due to my size and my penchant for always using strict form, it’s perfect.
That being said, there are many potential downsides to high-rep deadlifts.
These include Central Nervous System fatigue, breakdown of form as the set progresses, potentially limited muscle growth for some lifters, and the difficulty for a tall lifter to do this.
In truth, there are probably more reasons to avoid high-rep deadlifts, although if you are able to adhere to good form and can recover well then I don’t see it as a problem.
That being said, the trap-bar deadlift is a fantastic alternative, and definitely an exercise that the vast majority of us can do for high reps.
Something else that should be of interest to you is my recent discussion about whether you should deadlift two days in a row .
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.