High rep deadlifts are gaining popularity recently but are there any benefits?
It is so common to ramp up the weight on the bar and deadlift as much as humanly possible. It is always nice to boast about your PRs at the BBQ get together.
But, have you ever considered the high rep deadlifts? And does it have a place in a workout program?
So, without giving away too much I am going to say YES!
Based on this notion, I have covered what we consider to be high rep deadlifts, the benefits and drawbacks.
To finalize, we have given a take home message and answered some frequently asked questions (FAQs).
What are High Rep Deadlifts?
As a matter of fact, high rep deadlifts are subjective. Everyone has a different idea of where the ballpark for high reps are. I consider the deadlift as a heavy strength training exercise, which should normally be observed around 1-5 reps for 3-6 sets during a workout.
In my opinion, anything above 8 reps could be considered as the high rep range. This type of deadlifting can draw different benefits as we will cover in the following section.
Personally, I go as high as 20 reps per set. The range is typically limited to 50-70% of my maximum intensity, better understood as the maximum amount I can deadlift for 1 Rep. (1)
Read more about 8 Best Deadlift Accessory Exercises to Increase Strength
Benefits of High Rep Deadlifts
There are 4 notable benefits for doing high rep deadlifts. Have a read and see if any of them are meaningful enough to include the high rep deadlift in your workout program.
1. Build Muscle
Traditional deadlifting at a really high intensity and a low rep range draws a mechanism called mechanical stress, which can help to build strength for the most part.
But it does not stop here, there are two other mechanisms of growth that can be tapped into at a higher rep range. (1)
a) Myofibrillar Hypertrophy
When a lifter goes a little lighter and begins to lift more reps, another mechanism called myofibrillar hypertrophy takes most of the limelight.
Myofibrillar hypertrophy is basically a fancy term for saying that the muscle fibers contract, break down, recover, then adapt bigger and stronger to some extent.
To take advantage of this mechanism, I periodize the deadlift at around 70-75% intensity, and lift around 8-12 reps per set for 3-6 sets.
b) Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy
When we start to dive into even higher reps 12+ (50-70% intensity), we will begin to get an influx of lactate concentrated blood and growth factors like IGF-1, GH, and testosterone.
This blood pools with the muscle which has a muscle growth effect. Moreover, as the slow and medium twitch muscle fibers would likely be fatigued, the fast twitch muscle fibers should be firing. Fast twitch muscle fibers have the capacity to grow larger.
Overtime, this type of deadlifting may increase the capacity for sarcoplasm in each muscle fiber, giving the appearance of being more muscular.
For those of you who are interested in the nitty gritty information, sarcoplasm is a water type of solution that has lots of different enzymes, ATP, and phosphagens. (1)
Muscles Worked with High Rep Deadlifts
Without going into too much detail, I have highlighted a list of the main muscle groups that would grow larger from high rep deadlifts.
- Calf Muscles
- Gastrocnemius (back of lower leg)
- Soleus (outer lower leg)
- Vastus lateralis (outer thigh)
- Vastus medialis (inner thigh)
- Vastus inter-medialis (Centre thigh)
- Rectus Femoris (deep center thigh)
- Bicep Femoris (outer back of upper leg)
- Semitendinosus (center back of upper leg)
- Semimembranosus (inner back of upper leg)
- Gluteus Maximus (the butt)
- Erector spinae (Lower back)
- Trapezius (Upper middle back)
- Posterior deltoids (back of shoulder)
2. Improve Maximum Strength
Building muscle mass for someone who is trying to get stronger and more powerful is essential. It puts a bit of weight behind a lifter, and that being functional weight. (force= mass x acceleration).
In other population groups, higher rep deadlifts may give enough stimulus to build muscle, as well as improve maximum strength directly.
Novice-intermediate lifers would probably find that their strength levels would go up, especially if they have never deadlifted before.
To be honest, high rep deadlifts at low-medium intensity would probably be a great place to start for newbies. Such intensities could allow a lifter to learn the movement pattern of a deadlift and build a foundation before starting a max strength effort.
Learn about 20 Best Exercises to Improve Deadlift Strength
3. Burn More Calories
As we know the deadlifts at high reps takes so much movement and recruits so much muscle mass. This brings about body heat and burns energy, or as we like to call it calories.
Over the long halt, burning lots of calories with a variety of deadlift rep ranges can help to modify body composition, possibly adding muscle and reducing fat mass.
Furthermore, as we mentioned that the high rep deadlift may build more muscle than strength training, the metabolic rate may increase overall.
In fact, per each pound of muscle, we burn 6 extra calories (2), which adds up towards daily energy expenditure and long term weight management.
4. Effective for Deloads
Working out at high intensities for a long time can bring forth something called overreaching.
As matter of fact, this is where the central nervous system becomes fatigued, muscles, joints and bones have been overworked.
This can be a good thing, if you take a deloid, by periodically cutting down the intensity of exercise, giving your body time to regroup stronger.
This is where the low load and high rep deadlift comes in. I do not recommend scrapping the deadlift as a whole, because the idea is to keep the movement pattern fluent.
If you do not replace the heavy deadlift once in a while, there is a chance of overtraining, injury and illness. Therefore, setting your gym goals back by months.
Deloads can be controversial, I know of advanced lifters who are only forced to take a deload when they are feeling ‘broken’.
Personally, I plan and slot in a deload every 4th week of my program. I go for a 50% intensity deadlift, cutting my max in half.
Say if you can deadlift 400 pounds, you may want to mellow down to 200-240 pounds for the short term. (3)
Drawbacks of High Rep Deadlifts
In all honesty, there are not really any significant drawbacks. I have mentioned 2 variables which may be the closest things to a drawback.
1. Not Optimal for Strength
As we learnt, the high rep deadlift works on building muscle size from two main mechanisms.
For advanced lifters trying to maximize their deadlift strength, I would never recommend scrapping heavy lifting for high reps.
I do not see a problem with including high rep deadlifts now and again, but strength training must be prioritized at 80-100% intensity.
2. Not as Exciting
Any dedicated lifter should understand what I am talking about here. Deadlifting a lower load does not give me that same kick of adrenaline just before attempting a deadlift PR. Truly a priceless feeling most us lifters crave.
The satisfaction of actually hitting the PR just tops it! A feeling that can not be explained, or replicated in any other area of life.
So, if you are always going for high rep deadlifts, chances are you would not experience this exhilaration.
We have learnt that high reps for the deadlift are considered in the ballpark of 8-20+ reps.
High rep deadlifts have the following benefits;
- Build Muscle
- Improve maximum strength
- Burn more calories
- Effective for de-loads
A couple of drawbacks of high rep deadlift include;
- Not optimal for strength
- Not as exciting as max deadlifts
Frequently Asked Questions
It really depends on the individual. Coaches should not be afraid of programming more than the generic 3 sets. Personally, I’ve done up to 10 sets per workout.
You can, as the straps could help you squeeze a few extra reps. Although straps are generally designed for heavy deadlifts to help hold onto the weight without losing grip.
Note, by using straps you are taking away from grip efforts, so expect less improvements in grip strength.
Essentially, you should train to failure or near failure with the intensity you are working at. You might deadlift at 50% intensity and get 20 reps or 70% intensity and only get 12 reps.
You have probably realized that maximum strength efforts take like 4-5 minutes to rest to recover in-between sets.
For lower intensities, you probably don’t need as much rest. If going for the 8-12 rep range (myofibrillar) my suggestion would be to rest for 1 minute.
For higher reps of 12-20, I would say Resting 30 seconds would be beneficial, so you do not lose too much of that ‘blood pump’, which has muscle building properties.
- Haun, C.T., Van, C.G., Roberts, B.M., et al. ‘A critical evaluation of the biological construct skeletal muscle hypertrophy: size matters but so does the measurement’ Frontiers In Physiology. 2019; 10(1): 247
- Wang, Z., Heshka, S., Zhang, K., et al. ‘Resting energy expenditure: systematic organization and critique of prediction methods’ Obesity Research. 2012; 9(5): 331–336
- Androulakis-Korakakis, Fisher, J.P., Steele, J. ‘The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’ Sports Medicine. 2019; 50(4): 751–765
- Fitnesswithfun4384 (2022) ‘It’s better than drugs Jeremy| Deadlift 160kg| workout Motivation’ Available at:https://youtube.com/shorts/lrfmKlSA34k?feature=share (Accessed 10/01/2022)