Last updated on February 11th, 2023 at 12:11 pm
There are few better exercises for building superhuman strength than deadlifts.
However, if you’re anything like me, an intense deadlift session can leave feeling tired and absolutely wiped out.
Here’s why this happens and what you can do about it.
It’s natural to feel tired after deadlifts because it’s such a big lift. The deadlift is a compound exercise that incorporates many muscles of the body, and therefore it can be taxing on the Central Nervous System. You should also be wary of factors such as your deadlift volume, intensity, and whether you’re getting enough food, water and sleep.
Table of Contents
Deadlifts Are Tough
Pure and simple, deadlifts are tough.
You’re using a lot of muscles to get that bar off the floor.
Plus, they also happen to be some of the biggest muscles in the body.
This is one of the ultimate movements when it comes to a compound exercise.
I would also hazard a guess that the deadlift will see you lift the most weight with a barbell.
Additionally, the deadlift involves you lifting a “dead” weight from the floor, so there is absolutely no momentum involved whatsoever.
I understand that all exercises should be performed without any momentum.
However, the vast majority of exercises will allow for the slightest amount of “additional help” when going from concentric to eccentric, and vice versa.
Deadlifts Are CNS Intensive
Deadlifts are extremely taxing on the Central Nervous System (CNS).
This is typically because of all the factors I’ve just mentioned above.
The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord, and is responsible for controlling the functions of both the mind and body.
It’s also true that deadlifts are more taxing on the CNS because you are lifting from a dead start.
You don’t have the advantage of stretch reflex that you will with other exercises.
So, the central nervous system will need to activate your muscles more than usual in order to get the weight moving.
Too Much Volume
As the deadlift is such a physically demanding exercise, the amount of volume you train with could be an issue.
When I say volume, I’m talking about the reps and sets you may be performing in a workout, and even how often you choose to deadlift.
I’m sure we all know that when it comes to strength and body composition that the deadlift is a beast of an exercise.
There are few exercises that will help you get stronger.
Plus, irrespective of your goals – whether you want to lose weight, burn body fat, or build muscle, deadlifting can help you achieve this.
So, as the deadlift is such a fantastic exercise, surely we should be doing as much of it as possible, right?
Don’t get me wrong, you can certainly build up to deadlifting with higher volume sessions, and indeed more often.
However, just going back to the points I’ve mentioned about deadlifts being tough and CNS intensive, this could be a case of “less is more”.
I’ve always viewed the deadlift as a strength exercise, and I tend to keep my sets in the 3-5 rep range.
I often see people deadlift with a much higher rep range, and even all the way up to 10-12 reps a set.
Okay, you’ll be lifting much less weight than if you were performing sets of 3-5 reps.
But, you are still using the various muscles I mentioned earlier.
Additionally, I would suggest that the higher volume and a longer deadlifting session would actually cause greater CNS fatigue.
How Often Are You Deadlifting?
How often you deadlift could also be causing an issue.
As the deadlift places such a high demand on the body, it’s only natural that it will take longer to recover.
So, if you’re deadlifting 2-3 times a week, you’re probably not lifting to your full potential, plus you’re probably also hampering your other workouts too.
Depending on how long you have been deadlifting even once a week could be too much for you.
I’m certainly not telling you to stop using the deadlift, but you may need to play around with volume until you hit a sweet spot.
Don’t forget that exercise is all about progression.
So, as you get better and stronger at the deadlift, there’s no harm in upping your volume at a later date.
Too Much Intensity
It may seem somewhat counter intuitive to say that you’re using too much intensity.
After all, the deadlift is a strength exercise, so surely you should be lifting as heavy as possible.
Once again, this comes down to how much experience you have with deadlifting.
But, you definitely shouldn’t be “killing it” every deadlift session you do.
In fact, you will find that constantly maxing out on deadlifts could have a negative impact, and I’m not just talking about tiredness here.
I’ve already mentioned numerous times how taxing the deadlift is on both your muscles and CNS.
This could have negative consequences for your upcoming workouts.
You may find that you simply don’t have the energy to train as hard for the rest of the week.
It may even have ramifications on your dietary habits, sleep, and mental health.
Okay, this may all sound a bit over-the-top, but stressing the body to such a degree can have a knock-on effect.
I will say that the deadlift is one of the best exercises ever, but there’s a fine line between success and failure.
So, try not to overdo it.
Food & Water
I typically train first thing in the morning nowadays.
For me, this is the perfect time.
It gives me a sense of achievement before my day’s really started.
I tend to find that the gym is less busy first thing in the morning.
And I usually get a fantastic energy boost, thus allowing me to have a productive day.
I’ve spoken often about habits and “building up” to things.
And believe it or not, I usually train on an empty stomach, and yet I find that I have strength and energy to bang out a really decent workout.
In fact, I have little more than a cup of coffee most days, but occasionally there may be a banana thrown in for good measure.
But, I have “built myself up” over a period of time to be able to do this.
I Didn’t Always Train First Thing
However, it wasn’t always this way for me.
Due to work commitments, laziness, preference, etc. I have played around with the time of the day I train.
So, a lot of the time I had eaten prior to my workout.
Therefore, when I initially started training in the mornings, if I hadn’t had a decent meal beforehand, I simply didn’t have the energy to lift.
Is this an issue for you?
We know that food is fuel for the body, and so it makes sense that we should be satiated before we train.
And as I say, I may train nowadays on an empty stomach, but it definitely took me a few years to “build up” to this.
Plus, I will also say that we often mistake hunger for dehydration.
And this is especially true first thing in the morning.
Even though I always train early mornings, I have consumed at least a litre of water prior to even warming up.
And I take on plenty more water throughout my workout.
So, if tiredness after deadlifts is an issue, make sure that you are fed and watered before you train.
It could make all the difference.
It’s obvious when you think about it, but if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, this can affect your workout.
Regardless of what we’re doing, a poor night’s sleep will leave us feeling tired the next day.
So, if you generally find that you feel okay whenever you train and even afterwards, this could be the reason.
I’ve spoken enough now about how tough and taxing the deadlift is.
Therefore, if you’re hitting your deadlift workout and already feeling tired, the additional stress on your muscles and CNS will simply make you feel more fatigued.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how important sleep is to recovery, building strength and muscle growth.
So, if you are coming to the gym feeling exhausted already then you may be better off concentrating on something less physically demanding.
Believe it or not, how you’re feeling mentally has a huge impact on how you perform physically.
Plus, let’s not forget that deadlifting will be demanding on the central nervous system.
And we know that the CNS controls the functions of the mind and body.
Therefore, much the same as coming to the gym physically tired will impact on your performance, the same can be said for mental tiredness.
If you’re stressed out about something, this will affect not only how you lift, but also how you feel afterwards.
You may even find that the gym environment is causing your mental anxiety.
Too many people in the gym, and don’t get me started on how busy gyms are on a Monday.
You can’t get to the equipment that you want to use.
Too hot, too cold.
There’s a myriad of reasons.
We don’t always put the two together, but our mental and physical well-being are forever connected.
Key Learning Points
- Deadlifts use a large number of major muscle groups in the body.
- Deadlifts are very taxing on the Central Nervous System.
- Your deadlift volume per workout could be too much.
- If you train the deadlift multiple times a week you may need to cut back or look at varying the intensity of your workouts.
- Poor nutrition, hydration, sleep habit will all impact on your physical wellbeing. Plus, as deadlifts are such an intense exercise you must fuel your body and use recovery correctly.
- If you suffer any form of mental anxiety this can and usually will affect your physical performance. It is even possible that your training could be causing you these issues.
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.