When Should I Do Deadlifts on an Upper/Lower Split? (Explained!)

So, you want to know when you should do deadlifts on an upper/lower split?

This isn’t so much about whether deadlifts are classed as an upper or lower body exercise.

But rather, how deadlifts will affect your training and recovery.

Perhaps you’re worried that deadlifts on upper body day will impact your ability to row.

Then again, maybe deadlifts will affect your squats on lower body day, or vice versa.

So, the question remains, when exactly should you be doing deadlifts on an upper/lower split?

Allow me to reveal all.

Deadlifts Upper/Lower Split

Deadlifts are typically always best performed on a lower body day when training an upper/lower split. If you perform deadlifts on an upper body day it’s likely that it will impact the rest of your training. Upper body days typically involve more exercises, plus your grip strength will be a factor when it comes to performing pull-based exercises. Additionally, if you’re worried about the effect deadlifts will have on your lower body training, you should split your lower body days into one squat-focused and one deadlift-focused day.

Here’s Why Deadlifts Are Better on Lower Body Day

I don’t wish to open a can of worms and start talking about whether deadlifts are actually an upper or lower body exercise.

However, if you must know, for me, they will always be a lower body exercise.

A Woman Performing Deadlifts

Admittedly, in terms of building muscle, deadlifts may not be the best exercise in terms of the protocols required for hypertrophy-based training.

What I mean by this is that building muscle typically comes down to volume, using a full range of motion, focusing on the eccentric, etc.

All these factors are typically things that you wouldn’t actually do when training deadlifts.

In other words, although you can deadlift for high reps, it is typically seen as a strength-building exercise, so you generally focus on lower rep ranges.

Furthermore, there isn’t actually that great a range of motion, and if you are deadlifting heavy there often isn’t any eccentric portion of the lift.

That being said, deadlifts are mainly a posterior chain exercise, with a specific focus on the glutes and hamstrings.

However, your upper back, lats, and traps will definitely go through isometric contraction.

Nevertheless, I would still categorically state that deadlifts are mainly a lower body exercise.

Let’s Look at an Upper Body Workout Example

Now, this isn’t the only reason I would say that you should be doing deadlifts on lower body day.

When it comes to upper body training there are also a couple of other factors that you need to consider.

Firstly, you will generally be performing more exercise on an upper body day.

What I mean by this is that your lower body workout could simply consist of one quad exercise, one glute/hamstring focused exercise, and finally a calf-related exercise.

I guess you could say that your upper body day may only require one push and one pull exercise.

However, in truth, you will typically want to hit separate push and pull exercises while your torso is both horizontal and vertical.

Plus let’s not forget that you’ll probably want to hit your arms too.

So, this could consist of:

  • Pull Ups – vertical torso
  • Bent-Over Rows – horizontal torso
  • Overhead Press – vertical torso
  • Bench Press – horizontal torso
  • Skullcrushers – triceps
  • Curls – biceps

As you can see, this is a lot of volume, so by adding deadlifts to your upper body day you could end up in the gym for a lot longer than you initially intended.

Secondly, you must remember that deadlifts will typically tire your grip out.

Regardless of how you choose to deadlift, you’ll generally find that your grip tires before the working muscles.

And of course your grip is essential for other upper body exercises, especially those that are pull-related.

Realistically, you’re going to struggle with pull ups, rows, and curls if your grip has already been annihilated by deadlifts.

Plus, you probably don’t want to be performing deadlifts last in your workout after you’ve completed all these other exercises.

This is why, for me, you should always perform deadlifts on lower body training days.

Use Squat & Deadlift Variations on Lower Body Day

I would hazard a guess that you may not be worried about whether deadlifts are actually an upper or lower body exercise, but rather the impact they may have on the rest of your training.

Let’s face facts, deadlifts are extremely physically demanding, plus they hit your Central Nervous System very hard too.

Plus, a loss of grip strength can often be attributed to Central Nervous System fatigue.

And I’ve already spoken about how grip is going to be a factor if you try to train deadlifts on upper body day.

That being said, you also have to consider the impact of doing squats and deadlifts in the same workout.

As tiring as deadlifts are for your nervous system, squats definitely come a close second.

So, the question of whether you should do deadlifts on upper or lower body day could also be related to trying to keep squats and deadlifts separate from each other.

Now, there are few ways around this.

Firstly, if you’re doing an upper/lower split you’ll generally be working out 4 days a week, two upper body days and two lower body days.

So, you could split your lower body days into one squat-focused day and one deadlift-focused day.

Okay, I understand that they are both compound exercises that hit a huge number of muscles, but your squat day could be mainly quad-focused, whereas your deadlift day could be mainly glute and hamstring-focused.

Additionally, if you’re doing upper/lower then taking a day’s rest you’re going to have 72 hours between each lower body day (and upper body too obviously).

This should provide ample time for rest and recovery.

Another possible way to go about it is to do squat and deadlift variations based on your main lower body exercise for that day.

So, let’s say that on your first lower body day you want to do heavy conventional deadlifts.

I would much prefer to perform front squats or Bulgarian split squats as my “quad-focused” exercise on that day.

Yes, they are both still fairly taxing exercises, but you probably won’t be lifting as heavy as you would with barbell back squats.

Then on your second lower body day your main lift is the barbell back squat.

So, on this day I would aim to perform Romanian deadlifts or even the Jefferson curl.

Basically, there is no need to be performing two of the biggest exercises on the same day if you feel it may hamper your training or your recovery.

Therefore, once again, I believe you should be doing deadlifts on lower body day, but just be sensible with your overall exercise selection.

How to Do a Jefferson Curl

Final Thoughts

So, I hope you understand that for me personally I would much rather do deadlifts on lower body day.

Firstly, I have always viewed deadlifts as a lower body exercise.

However, deadlifts will still put many of the major upper body muscles through isometric contraction.

That being said, my main worries with performing deadlifts on an upper body day is that you’ll usually perform more exercises on upper day, plus grip is likely to become an issue.

In other words, you’re extending your workouts and making them even longer and your pull-based exercises may suffer due to grip issues.

So, it makes much more sense to perform deadlifts on your lower body days.

However, if you’re worried about the impact deadlifts will have on your squats you could split your lower body days into a squat-focused and then a deadlift-focused day.

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with using squat and deadlift variations on either lower body day.

You may also wish to read my article about whether squats and deadlifts are enough for legs.

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