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Do the deadlift’s benefits outweigh its risks?

Some people say that unless you’re a competitive strength athlete, the answer is no because the chances of getting seriously hurt are too high and the injuries are too severe.

They’ll also often claim the deadlift wears your nervous system to a frazzle and is far harder to recover from than many other exercises, making it impractical.

Lastly, they’ll usually add, the deadlift isn’t necessary for getting fit and strong and can be easily replaced with safer exercises that train all of the same muscles.

I mostly disagree. Here’s my position:

1. When performed correctly, the deadlift is safe for most of us.

The operative phrases here are “when performed correctly” and “for most of us.” That is, when us everyday gymgoers use proper form, the deadlift isn’t dangerous, even as the weights get heavy (for us).

Many competitive strength athletes, however, prime themselves for injury in a few ways, including performance-enhancing drugs and extreme training protocols, and for these people, deadlifting can become far riskier what with their extraordinary loads, training volumes, and performative feats.

2. While even an intense deadlift session is difficult, it doesn’t produce a meaningful amount of CNS (central nervous system) fatigue.

In one study, for example, 30 minutes after doing 8 sets of 2 reps of deadlifts at 95% of one-rep max, resistance-trained men only experienced a 5-to-10% reduction in CNS output.

At bottom, CNS fatigue is a real phenomenon that can impair muscular performance, but it’s also a nonentity for us recreational weightlifters. 

3. The deadlift isn’t essential for building a great physique, but it does train nearly every muscle in your body, making it highly efficient.

Think of how many isolation exercises are needed to train all of the muscles it directly and indirectly trains (calves, hamstrings, glutes, paraspinals, upper-back muscles, quads, etc.).

So, if you’re a natural weightlifter with enough discipline to learn and use good form and enough patience to expect and accept plodding progress, you have nothing to fear from the deadlift.

And if you’d like to take the first step down this path, here are a few articles to get you off on the right foot: