The deadlift is basically the king of all exercises, working the whole posterior chain, and helping you get stronger, bulkier, and fitter with each rep. If you’re a bodybuilder, powerlifter, or crossfit enthusiast (oh no!), you have moved beyond the stage at which deadlifts are daunting. You’ll welcome the challenge every time.
Yes, you know the importance of working out your legs regularly to avoid the dreaded chicken leg syndrome. Your question isn’t whether to do deadlifts, but when.
What’s better — doing deadlifts on leg day or back day? Once you move beyond the fact that deadlifts primarily work the hamstrings but also get almost every other part of your body involved, there are some powerful arguments in favor of both options.
We’re not here to tell you what to do. That’s up to you. Here, however, is a quick look at the decision-making process you should go through as you choose whether deadlifts are best reserved for leg day or better done on back day.
Why Do Deadlifts on Leg Day?
Yes, deadlifts work your back, core, and arms, but they predominantly focus on the hamstrings and activate your quads, calves, and glutes, too. By this logic, you’d do deadlifts on leg day because that’s where they are going to make the biggest difference.
Some folks decide to do deadlifts on leg day for the simple reason that deadlifts are leg day to them, with a few squats thrown in for good measure. This gives you the chance to fully concentrate on your deadlifts, choosing to focus on form and reps.
Most serious fitness “junkies” have a fuller agenda on leg day, though — one that includes exercises like squats, leg presses or leg press-type alternatives, hack squats, leg extensions, lying leg curls, standing leg curls, and calf raises. Fitting deadlifts into a more involved leg workout is a valid choice, but if that is the way you want to go, you may want to consider saving them for last.
If you start your leg day with deadlifts, the risk of feeling fatigued when you’re done is simply too high. Doing too many heavy compound lifts in a single day often results in sub-optimal weighting and often breakdown in form, which, can lead to injury, which in turn can hinder progress.
With that, the odds of losing motivation (or worse, being injured) shoot right up. That’s why it makes sense to save deadlifts for last if you’re planning to do them on leg day. In this case, there’s a lot to be said for doing more reps with slightly lighter weights.
Why Save Deadlifts for Back Day?
Your lower and upper back, your shoulders, and even your arms have to work hard to perform the perfect deadlift, too. That’s why some folks prefer to save deadlifts for back day, when deadlifts can form the core part of your workout.
If you choose to go this route, you’ll want to do your deadlifts early on in your workout, priming your body for exercises like hyperextensions, wide grip pullups, and a seated row machine workout — all of which will seem easy in comparison. You can make your deadlifts a true test of your strength, while opting to do fewer reps.
Why Choose at All?
Deadlifts are a fantastic exercise, but the fact that deadlifts work your entire body to the max makes it inescapably difficult to decide when to do them. Back day or leg day? Deadlifts don’t fall into a neat category, and could be done on either one of them — but, potentially, with radically different results.
Because deadlifts are engage so many of your muscles and take up more than their fair share of mental strength (which is why so many people hate them) nobody will tell you to do deadlifts on leg day as well as back day. There’s no reason to pick one and stick with it forever, though.
If you cycle through, doing deadlifts on back day one month and on leg day the next, you’ll experience this exercise to its fullest potential. One month, deadlifts will be a lighter icing on the leg day cake. The next, they’ll form the core of your back day.
When you alternate, you’ll get the best of both worlds — and that’ll inevitably shine through in the gains you make.