Can't Do More Than 1 X 5 for Deadlifts?

Posted on 25 Feb 2015 18:50

The subject of today's blog post is an old pet peeve of mine. Of course it is about deadlifts. That shouldn't be a big surprise. Specifically it is about the amount of deadlifts you can do, or, as some would have it, that you should be allowed to do. I've already been complaining a lot about the idea that nobody except competitors "should" ever lift max weights. I think you know why I put the word should in quotes: Because it speaks of values. What you can do is much different than what you should do. Should overlay's a set of values on what you do. You CAN do many things that perhaps you should not do, according to this set of values. On the other hand, some people's values should be kept to themselves. The prevailing opinions about how many deadlifts you can do per week, or per day have everything to do with values!

Over and over and over again people repeat a silly little myth about deadlifts. It stems primarily from what people do on 5x5 programs and all the variations of 5x5 programs but it has has found its way past the needs of one way of programming full-body workouts into a general statement about deadlifting volume for all trainees…pretty much regardless of circumstances.

When the perpetrators of this myth don't just quote their favorite authority figure they usually stick to a number of common premises which I will refute in a sec. To start, let's deal with the authority figure. If someone says "so and so says you can only do 1x5 and they know more than you" or some such thing this is an "appeal to authority." It is a non-argument. Ignore it and ask the person who made the statement to provide some well-reasoned explanation to back up their statements based on the circumstances at hand. You are not saying their authority figure is wrong, you are only saying that appeal to authority in an of itself is not a strong argument (its not always a fallacy) unless the claimant can actually explain the reasons for the statement convincingly. So, here are the common premises (at least to my knowledge):

1. Deadlifts, by virtue of the weight you lift and the amount of large muscle groups that come to play, "deplete the CNS" and thus must be kept to one set. It is unsafe and/or unnecessary to do more than five reps.

So, where's the proof that deadlifts do something like that? There is no proof because there is no concrete explanation of what it means to "deplete the CNS". What are we depleting? What substance? ACH? What is neural fatigue? Is it some change in central nervous system (CNS) motor drive or a failing neuromuscular transmission? How do you measure it and monitor it? How is it effected by other exercises, volume, frequency, overall intensity, etc.? (There are proposed definitions of “neural fatigue” but nothing based on a direct observance of what it is…in other words the definitions are not really descriptive of the underlying physical process).

Always keep this in your back pocket. When someone throws terms at you without explanation…ask for it. If they can't provide it then they have failed to argue their case. Terms mean nothing without a clear understanding of what they stand for. Neural fatigue, CNS burnout, and all that jazz, is something I've discussed, and debunked, again and again. Enough so that there is a neural fatigue category at GUS.

2. The deadlifts murder the lower back and thus you can't do more than one set.

Based on NOTHING but anecdotal evidence and circular thinking. Deadlifts seem no tougher on the lower back than squats to me, and to many others, but then again, I know deadlift. This is a case of "speak for yourself", I think.

Deadlifts are the bastard child of strength training. They tend to be viewed in a vacuum without any consideration of the training that surrounds them. People are always, for instance, finding that deadlifts are bothering their back during their 5x5 program and thus the myth, but nobody seems to consider the squats they did twice that week with much higher volume. Not to mention the weighted Goodmornings, or any number of lower back murdering mumbo jumbo.

Weight room injuries and tweaks are rarely a one-off thing. They are usually a result of cumulative trauma. I know we have seen some pretty gruesome and scary injuries due to out-right technical failure, too much weight, etc. and I know these stand out…but they are relatively rare.

Some, of course when they make the statement above, just mean deadlifts "over-train" the lower back. But, if you dig deeper you will almost always find these are people who view the deadlift as a "back" exercise. And you can surmise how, then, they are "over-training" the back since the back, although very strong, is not good at being the prime mover of heavy weights over a long career of living. For some, not even over a short career of lifting.1

Another aspect of this perception that the deadlift is centered in the back and makes the back feel over-fatigued is that the prescription itself, a ridiculously low exposure to deadlifts, can cause this very symptom! It may seem counter-intuitive, but it should make more sense after you read Why Do I Feel Deadlifts Mostly in My Back?

Deadlifts just "take a lot out of you"

I don't know how to argue against such an unscientific and imprecise statement except to point out that it is unscientific and imprecise.

Deadlifts are a demanding exercise but they are still part of the whole training interchange with overall stress and recovery. Deadlifts have become the bad guy to people who don't even have a decent deadlift (relatively speaking). There are only a handful of really big deadlifters who do "no deadlift" deadlift training. Most people with big deadlifts get there by pulling their butt off.

For some reason, the deadlift is the crook even though it's programmed as part of either high volume or moderate volume with aggressive loading. Why is this?

Because the people who trumpet the one set of deadlifts myth think that the back squat is MAGIC and that you always must prioritize it and hit it like it's a congo and that it will just give give give because it, apparently, is handed down from the Gods.

Logically, as long as one is not willing to program the squat, and others, any other way, the deadlift may be seen as the "bad guy" in the equation. Training is always a set of compromises and risk assessments based on priorities.

Frankly, there are many trainees obsessed with squatting, thinking it will make them super strong, super big, and super athletic ad infinitum while giving them 19 inch arms through some kind of osmosis. These people of course, have a vested interest in believing the deadlift to be a bad guy. They do deadlifts grudgingly out of some misguided sense of duty but to make room for real deadlift training in their programming would simply challenge their entire belief system. To use the favorite GUS analogy again, the squat is an important card in their house and to jiggle it would cause the whole thing to crash down.

This is not to say that the squat is the only other exercise in the equation. It's just one of those lifts that people refuse to compromise on. You cannot always progress all the lifts. That's what it really comes down to. If you want to deadlift heavy at some points in your training you will need to give the lift priority and this will entail placing other lifts on "maintenance".

There is a wide range of volume and intensity that is used successfully to train the deadlift. Although there are many ways to do something it is like the saying about skinning a cat: Unless you want to use your teeth you should at least bring a knife! No offense to cat lovers. I like cats. Really…

Deadlifts hurting your lower back is one thing. What about the claim that they cause biceps strains? Is there any truth to that? Read my post Biceps Strains from Deadlifts to find out.

Some Other Posts I'd Like to Point Out

They Are Not Smarter Than You: Facts, Knowledge, and Reasoning Skills

I know that many of you may not be interested in a long article about critical thinking and science. But I really hope that you'll give the above a read. And if that is not long enough for you, you might try What if the Fitness Industry Really Was Scientific? Learning how to separate the wheat from the chaff is crucial to continued success in your strength training. And this is what critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills are all about.

In the next post, I talk about wave loading again and put the kabash on "Max Interval Training". I want to dispel this notion that very popular programs can somehow become the same thing as "programming methodology". This is nothing more than spin. I use a discussion of training methods to do it and there is plenty of technical information along the way:

An older post Programs and Methods Versus Principles: Wave Loading and Interval Training

Also see, The Other Side Of Dogma - Alternative a Euphemism for Untested? This is a continuation of the strength training and nutrition dogma post. Nobody like dogma for it's own sake. But that doesn't mean the "dogma defense" is valid!

Then, Learn what "amplitude of movement" means and how the "law of repetitive motion" figures into strength training, at least in my opinion, in Amplitude Of Movement, Law of Repetitive Motion, and Plyometrics.


This page created 25 Feb 2015 18:50
Last updated 15 Apr 2016 18:10

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