Deadlifts are one of those exercises that you either really love or really hate. They are intense and quite literally bring ALL of the energy out of you.
So, in the midst of your leg day- you’re probably sitting there wondering: Are Deadlifts Worth It?
Well, yes. Deadlifts are SUPER worth it. Deadlifts provide 95% EMG activation on your quads just to begin with. I mean, it’s hard to beat an exercise like that. Furthermore, deadlifts work your: abs, forearms, traps, upper back, core, hamstrings, calves, biceps, spinal erectors, and more.
Simply put, you’re missing out on one of the best exercises for muscle growth if you skip your deadlifts. Plus, isn’t it awesome just picking up something like 400 pounds off the ground over and over again like it’s nothing? It reminds me of the progress I made, I used to not be able to even get 100 lbs off of the ground.
But, if you need to skip deadlifts here or there- don’t worry too much. Your squats are the bread and butter of leg growth and as long as you’re doing those you should be fine with an occasional deadlift skip. (You don’t want to do squats either? I don’t blame you…)
Let’s cover this more in-depth, and look at some of the science behind what deadlifts do for us.
Deadlifts GROW Your Legs Big Time
I will always die on the hill that squats are the KING for leg muscle growth. I personally do not think there is a better exercise to grow your legs other than squats.
However, we can’t just do 20 sets of squats in the gym and expect muscle growth, it just doesn’t work like that. And while squats technically work every muscle in your body, they don’t really grow things like your biceps or forearms like deadlifts do.
But here’s the thing: deadlifts grow your legs big time. Perhaps squats are a little better, but doing deadlifts after your squats is a sure way to supercharge your leg growth.
Deadlifts provide nearly 95% EMG activation in your quadriceps. That is huge. This means that basically your whole quadricep is activated when you deadlift.
Now, you might go- why is that important? Generally speaking, the higher the EMG number, the more muscle you will grow from doing that lift.
Well, there are a lot of leg exercises that actually do not activate your whole quadricep or whatever leg muscle you want to choose. That’s been a huge debate with Hex/Trap/Sumo deadlifts recently, as they all have varying EMG numbers.
So, if you want to target quadriceps, you would want to choose the 95% EMG activation deadlift instead of say hamstring curls. While hamstring curls technically activate your quadriceps, they won’t really grow any muscle.
Rest assured, however, that deadlifts grow your legs good. They activate every single muscle of your leg- including those stubborn calves.
Overall, when you deadlift you are putting the biggest muscles in your legs at near 100% capacity and you work them hard. Doing a tough, intense set of deadlifts after your squats is guaranteed to get a ton of muscle growth.
(There’s a reason you feel so hungry after deadlifts, they work your muscles good and your body screams at you for protein immediately.)
But, there are a lot of other muscles that deadlifts target that make the lift worth it.
Your Glutes Are Worked By Deadlifts
Let’s be honest, MOST of us skip glutes.
And, I learned from a farmer friend that just had a severe spinal injury that weak glutes actually cause a lot of back pain and lead to spinal injuries. Surprisingly enough, that’s true- and I never knew that before.
Turns out, weak glutes are one of the reasons that so many of us are having issues with our backs as we grow up. The doctor told him that most men just have weak glutes and that’s how we are.
Ever since he said that, I’ve been working really hard on making sure I get my glutes strong to prevent an injury down the line. And in the process, I learned that our glutes do a ton of lifting for us that I never even realized.
There’s a reason so many of us HATE squatting- and the truth is: we just have weak glutes and don’t know it. When you have strong glutes, squatting becomes completely different, a ton of pain is removed from the knees and you feel much more control in the movement.
And that’s not to even mention how much strong glutes benefit our balance and mobility.
I could go on all day about this, but the point is, deadlifts work our glutes, and that’s something most of us forget.
If you’re interested in being in a bodybuilding competition, weak glutes will easily get you last place in the competition, as it’s super noticeable.
If you’re interested in powerlifting, stronger glutes can add a TON of weight and strength to your squat and deadlift. I discovered that since most people neglect working their glutes, some people can easily add 30-50 pounds to their squat and deadlift just by adding 1-2 glute exercises per week.
And it doesn’t stop there, glutes help you when you overhead press and bench press too- but that topic gets way more complicated.
Besides all of this, it reduces our risk of injury- which is unfortunately too common in the gym. So, deadlifts are worth it for the fact that they work our glutes alone, which has so many benefits in the long run.
How many of you regularly skip working out forearms? I know I do, and I know most of you reading this do too.
It’s not really our fault, there are not a lot of great forearm exercises, and understanding how forearms growth isn’t necessarily scientifically proven yet.
(Remember, this whole bodybuilding thing only really took off 2-3 decades ago, it’s still new!)
Thankfully though, deadlifts are a GREAT forearm exercise. I mean, there is just not a much better exercise for forearms than quite literally lifting hundreds of pounds up and down with them.
Deadlift are one of the greatest forearm exercises out there. Plus, working your forearms out on multiple days throughout the week (not just your arm day) is really good for their growth due to the type of muscle it is.
Your forearms are used LITERALLY every day in basically everything you do. Many bodybuilders agree that unless you work out your forearms every day, you won’t ever see them grow. It kind of makes sense if you think about it, it all ties into the whole ‘progressive overload’ theory.
If your forearms aren’t even being stimulated in the gym every day, when they are used every day normally- how would you ever expect them to grow?
Who doesn’t like abs? Abs are one of the most defining muscles on any bodybuilder. I mean, you always see the ads about having that ‘beach bod’ with a shredded 8 pack and EVERYONE is looking at you.
Deadlifts actually workout your abs. While they don’t activate your abs as much as a direct ab exercise like abdominal crunches, they certainly contribute a lot, and everything helps.
But think about it, when you do your normal ab workouts at the end of your workout, you’ve already added a ton of stress to the abs already from the deadlifts earlier. This means you’ll see increased muscle growth.
There’s an old saying in bodybuilding that basically says you don’t need to work out your abs as long as you do squats and deadlifts. This saying originates because they believed the exercises are enough to make your abs shredded.
While it’s a controversial statement, there is certainly merit to it. You will see noticeable ab definition from doing squats and deadlifts without doing any other ab exercises. But, I still recommend tossing some ab stuff in there.
Your upper back is one of the hardest muscles to grow in your body. This is why you ALWAYS see people complaining about having underdeveloped lats and struggling in the gym to put muscle on back there.
Deadlifts are great for the upper back. Your upper back kind of supports the weight and does a LOT of the lifting with your legs to get that weight up.
While your legs are doing the MOST of the lifting, without your upper back that weight will not come off of the ground.
That’s why some programs have people deadlift on their back days. I recommend deadlifting on your leg days, that way you’re working out your back over multiple days, which should really help with muscle growth overall.
Okay, most of us started going to the gym just to grow our biceps in the first place- admit it.
Strangely enough, deadlifts work your biceps quite a bit.
Now, hear me out- they won’t work your bicep as well as curls do, but the impact is definitely there.
In fact, quite a few people have actually torn their biceps deadlifting- which goes to show that your bicep is quite an important muscle in the lift. (Although, the chances of you tearing a bicep given you rest and use proper form is incredibly small, so don’t worry about that)
Ugh, calves are IMPOSSIBLE to grow. So, we really need to try and throw everything at them to make them grow.
Deadlifts are a great way to work out your calves. They actually pull their weight really well during deadlifts, as they really have to balance your body and keep you in place when you start lifting the bar off of the ground.
Doing these in combination with calf exercises and squats will make sure you FINALLY see that calf growth.
Deadlifts Are Fun
Am I the only one that thinks deadlifts are fun? Well, yes, probably…
Here’s the thing, deadlifts are so fun when you get used to them. You are basically taking a TON of heavy fricken weight and lifting it up. It makes you feel powerful, knowing if there was for some reason a 400-500 pound rock you could just pick that up, MOST people cannot do that.
It’s also a good reflection of your progress in the gym. As you put on more muscle, you’re going to be deadlifting more. When I first started going to the gym, I could only deadlift 135 pounds, now I can deadlift close to 500 pounds.
But here’s the thing, as I dieted right, put more time in the gym, that deadlift steadily increased.
It reminded me that, even if I doubted myself, I was making progress.
Can You Sometimes Skip Deadlifts?
Yes! If you sometimes feel too sore to do deadlifts, it’s okay to skip them.
Some programs in fact recommend only deadlifting once a week to not overload your spinal erectors. Personally, I do deadlifts every OTHER leg day, so about once a week.
That’s still a good amount of deadlifting to get muscle growth and make sure you aren’t injuring anything.
So, let’s recap:
Deadlifts ARE worth it! They build a ton of muscle, they are super fun, and are a critical exercise in most routines. However, if you need to skip deadlifts here or there, don’t worry about it too much.
In fact, some people don’t recommend deadlifting more than once a week anyways, and that’s okay. Just try to do them semi-regularly once a week, and you’ll see great results from it.