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I’ve churned through over 150,000 emails, social media comments and messages, and blog comments in the last 6 years.
And that means I’ve fielded a ton of questions.
As you can imagine, some questions pop up more often than others, and I thought it might be helpful to take a little time every month to choose a few and record and share my answers.
So, in this round, I answer the following question:
- Are deadlifts worth the risk?
If you have a question you’d like me to answer, leave a comment below or if you want a faster response, send an email to [email protected]
Lastly, if you want to support the show, please drop a quick review of it over on iTunes. It really helps!
5:22 – Are deadlifts a risky or dangerous exercise for your average lifter or lifestyle bodybuilder?
10:52 – What’s the best alternative to the conventional deadlift? Rack pulls.
11:22 – Do deadlifts hurt your biceps?
15:56 – Is deadlifting especially difficult to recover from? Is 3 sets too much?
16:25 – What is CNS fatigue?
18:42 – Why should you deadlift? What are the benefits of deadlifting?
20:37 – Can deadlifts affect your hormones like testosterone?
24:18 – Do you need to deadlift? Are deadlifts required?
Mentioned on the Show:
What did you think of this episode? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
Imagine your doctor says you have a fatal disease and the only way to cure it is to whirl around in circles for two hours per day. Now, after accepting that you do indeed have the strangest disease in the history of the human race, what would you do? Would you slink off and resign yourself to your fate, or would you somehow free up the time to spin Wi Shins?
We both know without a doubt, that you’d find a way, regardless of how busy you are, maybe you would work a bit less, Maybe you would banish streaming apps. Maybe you would disappear from social media, but somehow you would make the time right. Think about that because you just admitted that you do have a couple of hours per day waiting in the wings available for immediate use toward any goal of your choosing, such as transforming your body.
So what’s going on here? Many people understand that I don’t have time to exercise is just another way of saying it’s not important enough to me. But these people struggle with prioritizing working out when the demands of their work, their marriage, their children, their errands. All pound like jungle drums from sunrise to sunset.
When these people are told that they don’t lack the time, they only lack the will, they bristle and understandably on a good day, they have maybe 30 minutes to themselves maybe. Before bed, after all the important stuff on the to-do list has been checked off, and so such situations can seem hopeless.
But remember, every problem has a solution. Even this one. And the first step is shifting how. People view health and fitness in relation to their lives because the time given to eating well and to exercising regularly is often considered a luxury, or even worse, a self-indulgence. But here is the rub. You can make your health and wellness a priority now, or it will make it itself a priority later.
There is no third choice. Now, if you. And you’re ready to make your health and fitness a priority without having to live in the gym or eat like a tongue list, monk. Then my new book, Muscle for Life is for You. It’s currently available for pre-order. It’s coming out in January of next year, and it’s an eight isard guide to gaining muscle, gaining strength, losing fat, getting healthy at any age, and at any.
Level. So regardless of where you’ve been, regardless of where you are, muscle for life, we’ll meet you where you are and bring you to where you want to be. Go to www.muscleforlifeorlifebook.com and preorder it now. Hey, I’m Mike Matthews and this is Muscle for Life. Welcome to another episode, and thank you for joining me today.
And quickly do me a favor, subscribe to the show in whatever app you are listening to this in so you don’t miss new episodes. And so you help boost the rankings of the show, which then helps other people find it. Okay? So every day. Field quite a few questions via email, Mike at Muscle for Life, o r life.com if you want to email me and Instagram mostly.
Those are the two biggest channels that I communicate with people on. And if you wanna follow me on Instagram, that’s at most for life fitness and every so often there’s a question that. Comes up a lot or just strikes my fancy, and I choose to answer it here on the podcast. And so that’s what today’s episode is going to be, me answering a question that I’ve been asked a number of times over the last several months, and that is, Are deadlifts worth the risk?
So there is a strong man champion named Robert Oberst, and he went on Joe Rogan and he said that deadlifts are not necessary for anyone who is not a strength athlete because the risk. Two reward ratio is so great, and instead you should just do front squats or cleans. Basically if you don’t need to deadlift for a competition, there’s no reason to do it.
And what are my thoughts on that? So that is the question that I’m gonna be answering. Now, if you don’t know Robert, he is a very well known strong man athlete. Somebody who actually likes certainly liked, probably still likes what Legion is doing, my support nutrition company. And we were looking at possibly sponsoring him, but we just weren’t.
Able to pay him what he wanted to be paid. And so that didn’t work out. However, he did he did like legion and legion’s products. And strong man, of course, is a sport that tests your strength in various untraditional ways. And in a fairly recent interview, Robert did go on Joe Rogan and he suggested that people should not do the deadlift unless they’re training.
Part in some sort of strength sport, strong man power lifting and so forth, because of the risks posed by deadlifting, they’re just too great compared to the rewards. And I understand where Robert is coming from, but I think that position is not applicable to your average gym goer and to your average maybe lifestyle bodybuilder, which would include me, I am maybe.
A bit fitter than the average gym goer, but I’m not a professional competitive bodybuilder physique athlete. Strong man. I’m just a lifestyle bodybuilder who is strong ish for my for my build and for my body weight and pretty fit. And. The reason I say that is competitive, strong men and competitive power lifters, they are working up to deadlifting weights that most of us couldn’t even imagine lifting.
Like we wouldn’t even be able to budge that bar, let alone pick it up. And these people also do a lot of volume. Because it takes a lot of volume to get that strong and that big, and they push themselves very hard to make progress, and they’re often deadlifting or doing different types of deadlift variations several times per week.
So for example, Robert injured himself deadlifting a car that weighed over 800 pounds and he went for a second rep when he knew that he had expended almost all of his energy on his first rep, but he wanted to win the competition, and so he went for it and it didn’t work out. So not only do any of us not lift anywhere near that amount of weight, we also use more balanced tools.
We use a barbell, we use a trap bar, and we tend to not go for more reps or more sets when we are already exhausted. At least I don’t, and I talk about that every so often. I’ll bring it up in one tangent or another. The importance of managing your reps in reserve, especially on the big exercises, the squat, the deadlift, the bench press to some degree, the overhead press to some degree but more so the squat and deadlift, meaning never go to muscle failure on those exercises and.
All of your training sets with at least one good rep still left in the tank. I like to generally go for about two. If it’s my fourth and final set of deadlift for the session and maybe I started with two or three good reps left in, set one, and I’m ending in one ish, good rep left, maybe two. I think that’s fine.
But if in set one on a deadlift, I feel like I could only get one more good rep before I’d reach failure. Form would fall apart. That’s too heavy. If I have to do four sets, I’m gonna take a little bit of weight off the bar. I like to feel like I have at least two good reps left in me in the first set.
And why does that matter? When you lift very heavy weights, when you push yourself close to failure or two failure. Regularly, your chance of injury does go way up, and that’s true of the deadlift and every other exercise. That said, many people are especially concerned about the deadlift, the injury risk that.
Is generally associated with the deadlift. Many people think that the deadlift, any type of deadlift, whether it’s a conventional deadlift, a trap bar deadlift, a summa deadlift, it’s bad for your back and it increases the risk of lower back injuries. Many people also think it’s bad for your biceps and it increases.
The risk of tearing a bicep or injuring your bicep somehow. And people also often believe that the deadlift is very taxing on the body and it requires a lot of recovery. Even one hard set per week is hard to recover from four hard sets a week like you do on my beyond bigger, leaner, stronger program is inconceivable to some people, but, Research shows that concerns like those are mostly unfounded.
For example, studies show that the deadlift is the best exercise that you can do to train the paraspinal muscles, which are the muscles that run down both sides of your spine, and that play a major role in the prevention of back injuries. So if you want to have a strong resilient back, you want strong paraspinal muscles, and the deadlift is fantastic.
And that may be why one study found that the deadlift can be effective at treating lower back pain so people who have lower back pain can improve it by deadlifting. And I’ll say I have heard from many people over the years who have experienced that, and I know Mark ripe to from Starting Strength has not.
Heard from many people over the decades that he has been in the game. He has personally seen it again and again. People coming to him with back problems, lower back problems, getting strong on the deadlift, and no more lower back problems. No more lower back pain. Now that said, in some people who have a.
A history of lower back issues or very specific lower back problems. The conventional deadlift may not work. They may need to do a variation that places less stress on the lower back, like sumo deadlifts or trap bar deadlifts using the high handles as opposed to flipping the bar upside down and grabbing it a bit lower where you’re not grabbing on the handles you’re grabbing on the actual chassis.
Of the bar and a high handle though hex bar, trap bar deadlift, easier on the lower back. And another viable alternative to the conventional deadlift if you need to put less stress on your lower back is the rack pull. Fantastic exercise, fantastic accessory exercise to the conventional deadlift, so to speak.
Not that you would do them alongside each other, but the rack pole is, it’s similar to the deadlift. A little bit of a shorter range of motion allows you to add more weight and puts more of the stress just on your bigger back muscles and less stress on your lower back. Now, as far as the concerns over the biceps go tearing the biceps or otherwise injuring the biceps.
Anecdotally speaking, the biceps tears that immediately come to mind that I know of, that I’ve seen were in guys on drugs, deadlifting large amounts of weight with a mixed grip and the palm up. Hand is the hand that almost always all the instances that I can immediately remember. That’s the biceps that tears.
And if you are not that though, if you are not a very big, very strong guy on drugs, pushing yourself hard in your dead lifting, you’re deadlifting, you are probably not going to tear your biceps. That said, mixed gripping, if you don’t alternate. Some people alternate set to set when they mix.
Grip meaning let’s say set one, your right hand is palm up set two, your left hand is palm up. Some people do that. Some people alternate session to session. So let’s say they do three or four sets of deadlift in one session. Maybe that’s just one session per week. That week they do it with their.
Palm up. Then the next week they’re gonna flip that and do with their left palm up. And I think that’s smart if you’re going to mixed grip, because if you do it the same way over long periods of time, you may not acutely injure your biceps, but you can’t aggravate your biceps. And I experienced that first hand.
I pulled mixed grip for years, got fairly strong on it. A one RM of mid 400 s. I’m a little bit stronger now than I was. But that was a lot of deadlifting to get there because I was not naturally a big and strong person. I’ve had to work a lot for what I’ve got and eventually I started to develop some biceps tendonitis in my right biceps up in the bicipital groove on my right arm and the right shoulder region, and that was the arm I’m right handed.
So I was most comfortable with. Write palm up when I was mixed, gripping, and I wouldn’t alternate because I didn’t know that I was supposed to. That was years and years ago. And even if I did know, I would’ve probably just stopped because it’s it’s just awkward for me. I’ve tried when I did learn that you’re supposed to alternate and I didn’t want to go through the learning phase and reacquainting my myself to pull.
With my left palm up, so instead I just double overhand when I’m warming up and maybe my first heavy set if I can hold onto the bar. And then I use straps, or I’ll just use straps from the first heavy set if I already know that my grip is going to fail, like if I’m doing a set of six is eights or tens, and the weight is gonna be pretty heavy.
I’m not gonna be able to grip it throughout. I’m not gonna be able to hold onto the bar for the whole set or I’m not gonna be able to hold onto it securely enough to not lose power, because once your grip starts to fail on the deadlift, You just shut down as you have probably experienced. So again, now I warm up without straps and my warm up does get to a little bit of heavier weight, but not too many.
Not too many reps. And then I just use straps. And if you wanna learn more about deadlift gripping, just go over to legion athletics.com, search for Deadlift Grip, and you will find an article that I wrote. Do think I did a podcast on it as well. It probably be in the article or in my podcast feed, you can search for it.
That’s what I’d recommend for protecting your biceps. If you’re going to mixed grip, make sure you alternate either each set or just session to session minimally. I would say month to month, one month with maybe the right palm. The next month with the left palm up. But my preference is double overhand if you can do it.
But once you get to a certain amount of strength, you are not going to be able to hold onto the bar with a double overhand grip. At least not for. Your heavy sets and not for the entire sets, maybe half of them, you’d be able to hold onto it, and then it’s going to start slipping. Hook grip is an option.
It’s going to hurt your thumbs, I’m warning you, but if you can get over that, it does work. And then you have straps. Okay, now let’s talk about the claim that the deadlift is very difficult to recover from that it produces a lot of central nervous system fatigue, CNS fatigue. That is a common claim, and it is sometimes used as a reason to not deadlift at all or to do very little dead lifting.
Again, maybe one set per week or one set every other week, and. Let’s start with what is CNS fatigue? It is a thing. It does occur in the central nervous system, which would be the brain and the spinal cord. And if your CNS is fatigued, it has trouble activating your muscles, firing your muscles. So even though your muscles might be capable of producing a lot of force, let’s say, they won’t be able to because your CNS is not able to give the orders.
Effectively. So yes, that is a thing, but check this out. In one study conducted by scientists at Massey University, researchers had trained men do eight sets of two reps of deadlifts at 95% of one rep max, with five minutes of rest in between the sets. That’s. That’s hard. Eight sets of two at 95%. I’ve done four sets of two at 95% and that is not exhausting, but it’s difficult.
Eight sets would be quite difficult, so that’s what the participants did. And then the scientists running the study, they looked at various factors relating to CNS output, and they concluded that there was only about a five to 10% reduction. In CNS output after doing that workout. And so what that tells us is as long as you follow a workout program that manages volume, intensity, and frequency properly, semi intelligently, at least, you are probably not going to have any issues with CNS fatigue, with deadlifting and CNS fatigue, squatting and CNS fatigue, or any other exercise and cns.
Because it would take an extraordinary amount of training, an extraordinary amount of exertion to produce large and lingering reductions in CNS output to produce a meaningful amount of CNS fatigue that isn’t gone by the next day. So all of that summarizes why I don’t think the deadlift is as dangerous or is as costly as some people do.
But there still is a question of benefits. Let’s say you accept my premise, which is that the deadlift, the risks posed by the deadlift are relatively small. If you do it properly, if proper form and if you program it correctly. But why should you do. What’s in it for you? Because even if it only entails a small amount of risk, if it doesn’t also provide a fair amount of benefit, then it’s not worth doing.
You might as well just do other exercises. The deadlift is a great strength. And muscle builder. It involves a tremendous amount of muscle mass, and that’s why studies show that it helps develop your lats, your traps, your paraspinal muscles, like I mentioned, your glutes, your hip flexors, calves, quadriceps, forearms.
The core as well. Research shows that the deadlift is a great core exercise. So much so that if you are doing at least a few sets of heavy deadlifts and certainly heavy deadlifts and heavy squats per week, you almost certainly don’t need to do any core. Training, quote unquote core exercises, ab exercises.
That’s why my program for Intermediate and advanced Weightlifters beyond bigger, leaner, stronger doesn’t have core exercises. It’s really just not necessary at that point for who that book is meant for. And in the new fourth edition of Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, and Thinner, Leaner, Stronger, I’m not getting rid of the core exercises, but I’m making them optional, and I’m explaining why and where to insert them in the program.
if you want to do them just to help bring up your core a little bit faster. Some people do have very underdeveloped core muscles, and even if they get lean, they just don’t like how it looks, and I do understand that. And if they remain patient and just get really strong on their compound exercises.
That’ll probably resolve itself, but they can get to the six pack if they’re a guy or just the core the level of core development that they want to get to a little bit faster by including some core specific, some ab exercises. Dels are also great for progressive overload. They are great for increasing strength, for being able to add weight to the bar over time, which is the most effective.
Type of progressive overload that we can achieve. And research shows that heavy compound exercises like the deadlift, like the squat, they can increase natural testosterone production in men even when performed with moderate weights. And so that can give you a slight edge in building muscle, but it can make a difference in your sex drive.
Energy levels. I’ve spoken with a lot of middle aged guys, for example, over the years, who told me that they really did notice a difference in how they felt Their sleep was a little bit better. They had a little bit more energy, a little bit more sex drive when they started deadlifting and squatting.
Heavy ish, 75 to 85% of one rep max. In the rep range of, let’s say anywhere from four to 10 reps, when they started doing that, sometimes for the first time or for the first time in a long time, they noticed a difference quickly, a hormonal. Difference. And obviously in women, the hormonal environment is a bit different, and so the effects are a li a little bit different, but they also, these exercises have very positive effects on women’s hormones as well.
And so really what we’re left with then is, The deadlift is dangerous when it’s done with poor form, when it is programmed poorly, when you are doing too much of it, when you’re doing it too close to failure, when you are not deloading as often as you should be and racking up too much stress, that can eventually too much physical stress on your tissues, on everything that gets stressed when you’re training and not.
Rest and recovery. So to minimize your chances of getting hurt when you deadlift, make sure that you’ve practiced and you’ve ingrained proper form before you start going heavy. Put yourself on camera if you need to check your form. When you do start getting heavy, especially later in those sets, when they start to get hard.
And make sure that you have the flexibility to perform the deadlift with proper forms. So sometimes form issues like rounding the lower back come from a lack. Flexibility. So make sure that you can set up for the deadlift properly. Make sure that your hamstrings aren’t too tight, for example, to allow you to get into that flat back with your butt back, your chest up that position where you’re getting ready to pull.
Because if you can get into that position and hold it, With without pain or discomfort. If you can feel solid before you pull, then you are ready to go. As I mentioned earlier, I would also recommend to not take this exercise, not take the deadlift to failure and all of your hard sets, one or two reps shy of.
And if you are an intermediate or an advanced weightlifter, if you’re somebody who’s pulling fairly heavy weights and you’re doing it consistently spinal decompression exercises can help like the dead hang for example, and that can help relax your spine. It can help relax your biceps. Many people swear by it for shoulders where.
Hang on a pull up bar for 30 to 60 seconds, and you do that once or twice a day if you have access to a pull up bar. Many people have said that has worked wonders for their back, for their shoulders. It’s interesting. And lastly I’ll say that you don’t have to do the deadlift. It’s a great exercise.
It’s in all of my programs and I love it myself. It’s my favorite exercise personally, but it is not. Necessary. Some people will say that the deadlift is the nucleus of a good weightlifting program, and if you take that out, then the whole thing gets a lot less effective and they’ll joke that you’re not even lifting at that point.
Or do you even deadlift? If you’re not deadlift, you might as well not even train and. I totally disagree. There are plenty of exercises that train your back muscles, that train your posterior chain muscles, the muscles on the backside of your body, and I mentioned a couple of them deadlift alternatives like the rack pull, for example.
Fantastic posterior chain exercise that you can do if you can’t deadlift or you don’t want to deadlift, or you can look at. Muscles on the backside of the body and look at the different types of exercises you can do to train those muscles and you can do those exercises. Now the deadlift is very efficient in that it trains a lot of muscles at the same time, but of course you can use other exercises to train all of those muscles.
I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful, and if you did subscribe to the show because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes. And it also helps me because it increases the rankings of the show a little bit, which of course then makes it a little bit more easily found by other people who may like it just as much as you.
And if you didn’t like something about this episode or about the show in general, or if you. Ideas or suggestions or just feedback to share. Shoot me an email, mike muscle for life.com, muscle f o r life.com and let me know what I could do better or just what your thoughts are about maybe what you’d like to see me do in the future.
I read everything myself. I’m always looking for new ideas and constructive feedback. So thanks again for listening to this episode, and I hope to hear from you.