Training Talk: Deadlift on Leg Day or Back Day?

Training Talk: Deadlift on Leg Day or Back Day?
Which training day should you actually be deadlifting? Is it the perfect low back exercise to kick off a back day or a hamstring exercise for leg day?

We’re back with another installment of Training Talk here on M&S!

We really appreciate everyone in our community being so involved and engaging in discussion of all things iron.

For those of you that are new to this, here’s how Training Talk works.

We pick a topic every month with two opposing viewpoints. Then you get to join us in the discussion via the comments section below with your take on the topic.

While we start off with sharing the topic and popular viewpoints, it really is you, the M&S community that makes Training Talk special so we hope you’ll continue to share your insight with us.

Deadlifts

As for this month’s topic, we’re going to cover the most basic but also the most respected movement in the iron game. It’s the deadlift. As simple as it is to perform, it’s also among the most intimidating to prepare for.

Related: Deadlifts Hurt Your Back? Here Are 4 Pain Free Alternatives

You walk up, grab the bar, pick it up to waist height, lock out, and lower it to the floor again. To paraphrase Eddie Hall, who deadlifted an amazing world record 1,100 pounds in a strongman competition, "the guy who can do the most is considered in the eyes of many the strongest man on the planet.”

I already know what many of you may want to say about Hall’s pull and we’re going to cover that too because the deadlift is so important we’re going to cover not just one but two topics about it so stay with me here.

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Topic #1 – Leg or Back Day

While the deadlift might be simple to perform, it definitely isn’t an isolation movement. It involves the entire body in some form or fashion. You have to maintain hold of it with your grip and arm strength, lift it off the floor with the legs, straighten out with the lower back, and lock out by bringing the shoulders back, chest out, and tighten your core.

The areas that are emphasized the most are the legs and back. So because of that there is a lot of discussion and thought behind where to place the deadlift when creating a routine.

Should it be on leg day with your squats, leg presses, leg curls, etc.? Or should it be a part of your back training with the rows, pullups, pulldowns, and hyperextensions?

We’ll highlight the benefits of both and then cover topic #2 of this discussion.

Leg Day

When you start to lift the bar off the floor or blocks, you plant your feet into the floor and activate your legs to start off. Your hamstrings are tight, your quads are firing, your calves are stabilizing everything below the knee, and your glutes will even come into play by the time the weight comes up and you’re ready to lock out.

So it would make sense to include deadlifts with your leg training. I’ve met athletes who do nothing but squats and deadlifts for their leg training because they feel that is all they need. There are others who will do a little more than that though. A sample leg day routine with an emphasis on power that includes deadlifts might look something like this.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Squats 5 5
2. Hack Squat 3 10-12
3. Leg Extension 3 20
4. Deadlifts 5 5
5. Lying Leg Curl 3 10
6. Standing Leg Curl 3 15
7. Seated Calf Raise 3 15

The opposing viewpoint on training this way is that the other leg exercises minimize your ability to perform the deadlift to the best of your ability because they were preceded with quad work.

If you start with deadlifts on leg day and follow with quads, then your squats could be affected negatively. So many lifters including powerlifters prefer not to train these two beast moves together.

Back Day

While the legs are definitely recruited during the deadlift, the back is just as involved, especially during the second half of the movement when the bar passes the knees. Your upper back and shoulders are assisting in pulling the weight up and are staying tight throughout the movement.

The lower back is the main focus when it comes to bringing the weight to the lockout position. While you’re standing with the weight, the entire back is working to provide that strong foundation for you to secure that position without damaging your spine.

Because of this, some trainers and athletes feel that deadlift should be included on back day since the lower back is a part of…well...the back. This sample workout places the emphasis on deadlift power as a part of a mass-building back program.

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Hyperextensions 3 8
2. Deadlift 5 2-4
3. One Arm Dumbbell Row 3 6-8
4. Wide Grip Pullups 3 failure
5. Seated Row Machine 3 8-10
6. Close Grip Pulldown 3 12

While this is great for back, the fact is that legs are still involved so some trainers feel that doing deadlifts with back creates a second leg day which could lead to a greater chance of getting hurt than simply doing them along with the other major leg moves in one day.

The fear is if you train legs and then work deadlifts without enough time to recover in between, then the hamstrings or knees are more susceptible to injury.

Before we get into discussing this further, let’s briefly talk about topic #2 for the deadlift.

Topic #2 – To Strap or Not to Strap?

Remember when I talked about Eddie Hall and his 1,100 pound world record deadlift? What if I told you there was a controversy about that lift? There are some experts and fans that felt like he didn’t really set the record because that particular competition allowed the athletes to use lifting straps.

Related: Ditch the Wrist Straps and Build Better Grip Strength

In strongman, straps are allowed but in powerlifting, they are not. The powerlifting version of the deadlift calls for the athlete to use his bare-handed grip strength. No straps and no gloves are allowed. They are only allowed to use chalk for their hands.

So there are many who feel that the world record in powerlifting, held by Benedikt Magnusson at 1,014 pounds is the true world record. This debate won’t be ending anytime soon either until a standard set of universal rules is established that the strongman and powerlifting communities can both agree on.

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What do YOU think?

This is called Training Talk for a reason and now it’s your turn to talk to us. There are two questions we pose in this edition and we want to hear your thoughts on both.

  1. Do you do deadlifts as a part of your back training or on leg day and why?
  2. Do you use straps when you deadlift or do you go after it bare handed?

The answers you share here can help someone new who is looking for information to help them reach their goals so please contribute.

If you want to share your own program that you follow, go for it. What is your belief about deadlifts? If you don’t do them at all, why not?

Also, if you have any ideas or topics you’d like us to cover in future Training Talks, we’d love to hear them.

Let us know where you stand and feel free to add any information that you feel would be relevant to the discussion that we may not have included here. This is why we do this column. We want, no, we need to hear from you.