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How Many Deadlift Reps Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Deadlifts are an excellent functional strength training exercise for athletes looking to improve performance in other lifts or types of exercise as well as “regular” people looking to be stronger, fitter, and more injury-resilient for real-life physical demands.

But, when putting together your workouts, you may wonder, how many deadlift reps should I do to increase strength? Or, how many deadlift reps should I do to build muscle?

In this workout guide, we will discuss how to do deadlifts, variations, and modifications of deadlifts to add to your lower body workouts, and ultimately answer your question, how many deadlift reps should I do based on my fitness level and training goals?

Let’s dive in! 

A person doing a deadlift.

How Do You Do Deadlifts?

Before we discuss how many deadlifts you should do, let’s review how to perform the deadlift exercise.

There are actually several types of deadlifts, the two most common being the traditional or conventional deadlift and the Romanian deadlift.

In addition to the differences between traditional deadlifts vs Romanian deadlifts, there are also lots of ways to vary deadlifts in terms of the type of resistance you use and how you perform the exercise (single-leg deadlifts vs standard deadlifts, for example).

Barbell deadlifts are most common for competitive powerlifters, bodybuilders, and Olympic weightlifters.

Athletes looking to increase maximum strength, or their deadlift 1RM, also tend to favor barbell deadlifts.

You can also use dumbbells or kettlebells for deadlifts and personally, I am a proponent of trap bar deadlifts, also known as hex bar deadlifts.

Here are the steps for how to perform Romanian deadlifts with a barbell:

How Do You Do the Romanian Deadlift Exercise? 

  1. Rack the barbell so that it is at mid-shin level and stand facing the bar so that it’s hovering over the middle of your foot.
  2. Brace your core as you sit your hips back to squat down and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing down). Make sure to keep your chest up, shoulders down, and back straight (do not round your back).
  3. Carefully take a step back away from the squat rack so that you have space to move.
  4. Contract your glutes and hamstrings as you press through your heels to extend your hips and knees to stand upright, keeping your back straight. Bracing your core and locking your shoulders down will help stabilize your spine.
  5. Allow the barbell to track up along the shins and once the barbell passes your knees, drive your hips forward, sliding the bar against your quads as you stand all the way up.
  6. Once you are standing fully upright, squeeze your glutes to achieve the full lockout position in hip extension.
  7. Slowly reverse the motion, bringing the bar back down towards your mid-shin/ankles as it tracks just in front of your quads and shins by sitting your hips back and allowing a gentle bend in your knees. Remember to keep your chest up, your core tight, and your back straight.

The conventional barbell deadlift is similar but the weight is lifted all the way from the floor.

The reduced range of motion for Romanian deadlifts vs conventional deadlifts can potentially reduce the risk of injuries, particularly low back pain or excessive stress on the intervertebral discs and smaller ligaments in the lower back. 

For this reason, I highly recommend performing RDLs vs traditional deadlifts unless you are specifically training for powerlifting competitions or have great deadlift technique and hamstring flexibility.

While each deadlifting exercise has its pros and cons, all deadlifting exercises strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain, which are those found along the backside of the body.

The primary posterior chain muscles worked by deadlifts include the erector spinae group in the lower back, the glutes in the buttocks, the hamstrings along the back of the thighs, and the calf muscles on the back of your lower legs.

Depending on how you perform deadlifts, you will also strengthen your abs and other core muscles, the smaller stabilizing muscles in your hips and glutes, your hip flexors along the front of your hips, your traps and rhomboids in your upper back, your posterior deltoids and the rotator cuff muscles, the brachioradialis and other grip strength muscles in your forearms and wrists, and your arms and chest to some degree.

How to Vary Deadlifts

Here are some Romanian deadlift variations to target different RDL muscles worked:

Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

The single-leg Romanian deadlift greatly reduces your base of support because of its unilateral nature.

This helps better engage all of the glute muscles, especially the gluteus medius and deeper hip rotators and abductors because these smaller muscles in the hips and glutes have to work to provide stability to your pelvis.

To this end, you’ll have greater activation of the core muscles worked by deadlifts and all of the smaller muscles in the ankles to help you remain in a single-leg balance.

Ultimately, you won’t be able to lift as much weight due to this inherent instability of a single-leg RDL compared with a barbell or dumbbell Romanian deadlift with both feet on the ground.

However, the unilateral Romanian deadlift is a more functional strength training exercise in running, in particular. 

Here are the steps to perform this deadlift exercise variation:

How To Perform Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent, chest up, arms at your side, holding a dumbbell in your right hand.
  2. Bring your left arm out to the side for balance and engage your core.
  3. Lift your right leg off the ground and extend it behind as a counterbalance as you bend your left knee (the one on your standing/support leg) about 20 degrees to activate your glutes and hamstrings and hinge from your hips to bring your torso towards the floor.
  4. Reach your right hand with the weight down towards your left foot.
  5. Engage your core and glutes to stand back up, extending your hips until they are fully locked out. If you need to regain your balance, you can tap your right foot back down on the ground; otherwise, try to keep it lifted and move into your next rep.
  6. Complete all of your desired reps and then switch sides.
A hex bar deadlift.

Trap Bar Deadlifts

Particularly for beginners or those who don’t have to practice barbell deadlifts for competitive powerlifting or weightlifting, I find that the hex bar deadlifts are easier to teach, master, and perform properly and safely, especially if the goal is to lift heavier weights for fewer reps.

Hex bar deadlifts decrease the stress and strain on the lower back1Swinton, P. A., Stewart, A., Agouris, I., Keogh, J. W., & Lloyd, R. (2011). A Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research25(7), 2000–2009. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e73f87 relative to using a barbell for traditional deadlifts because the trap bar allows the weight to be directly in line with your center of mass2Malyszek, K. K., Harmon, R. A., Dunnick, D. D., Costa, P. B., Coburn, J. W., & Brown, L. E. (2017). Comparison of Olympic and Hexagonal Barbells With Midthigh Pull, Deadlift, and Countermovement Jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(1), 140–145. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001485 rather than in front of your body.

Another benefit of the trap bar deadlift vs barbell deadlift is that the hex bar design better supports the optimal range of motion by helping to prevent hyperextension and locking out at the end of the deadlift.3ESCAMILLA, R. F., FRANCISCO, A. C., FLEISIG, G. S., BARRENTINE, S. W., WELCH, C. M., KAYES, A. V., SPEER, K. P., & ANDREWS, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise32(7), 1265–1275. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200007000-00013

Additionally, the improved ergonomics4 Lake, J., Duncan, F., Jackson, M., & Naworynsky, D. (2017). Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance. Sports5(4), 82. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports5040082and weight distribution for a hex bar deadlift vs barbell deadlifts allows you to deadlift more weight using a trap bar than with a traditional barbell, helping you make greater improvements in your strength, hypertrophy, and power.5Camara, K. D., Coburn, J. W., Dunnick, D. D., Brown, L. E., Galpin, A. J., & Costa, P. B. (2016). An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(5), 1183–1188. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001352

Romanian deadlift.

How Many Deadlift Reps Should I Do Based On My Fitness Goals?

Your primary training goal ultimately affects how many deadlifts you should do as well as how much weight you should use for deadlifting workouts.6Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032

‌The following table provides recommendations for how many reps to do and how much weight to lift for different strength training goals based on the average guidelines from the American Council on Exercise 7(ACE)How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/ and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.8Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf

Training GoalSetsRepsRest PeriodIntensity
General Fitness1-3 12-15 30 to 90 secondsVaries on exercise and ability level
Muscular Endurance3-4 >15 Up to 30 seconds<67% of 1RM
Hypertrophy (building muscle mass)3-6 8-12 30 to 90 seconds67% to 85% of 1RM
Muscle strength4-6 3-62 to 5 minutes>85% of 1RM
Power3-51-52 to 5 minutes85%–100% of 1RM 
A person doing a deadlift.

Using the recommendations above along with experience, here are some suggestions for how many deadlift reps to do based on your training goal and level: 

  • A good starting place for beginners is two sets of 10-12 reps. Build up to three sets. Once you can do 10 to 12 reps, you can increase the weight.9Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1
  • If your goal is to increase strength, use a weight that corresponds to at least 85% of your 1RM, or a weight that you could manage for just 3 to 6 reps with proper form. Build up to 4 to 6 sets with at least 2 minutes of rest in between sets.10de Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, J. da S., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)39(9), 765–777.
  • If you are doing deadlifts to build muscle, strive for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 deadlift reps. Use enough weight that you can manage all of your reps but that you feel fatigued by the last 1-2 reps of every set.11Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764
  • To increase muscular endurance with deadlift workouts, perform at least three sets of at least 15 reps with no more than 60 seconds of rest in between each set.

If you are mostly interested in how many deadlifts to do to build muscle, check out our muscle-building guide here.

A person doing a deadlift.

References

  • 1
    Swinton, P. A., Stewart, A., Agouris, I., Keogh, J. W., & Lloyd, R. (2011). A Biomechanical Analysis of Straight and Hexagonal Barbell Deadlifts Using Submaximal Loads. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research25(7), 2000–2009. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181e73f87
  • 2
    Malyszek, K. K., Harmon, R. A., Dunnick, D. D., Costa, P. B., Coburn, J. W., & Brown, L. E. (2017). Comparison of Olympic and Hexagonal Barbells With Midthigh Pull, Deadlift, and Countermovement Jump. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research31(1), 140–145. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001485
  • 3
    ESCAMILLA, R. F., FRANCISCO, A. C., FLEISIG, G. S., BARRENTINE, S. W., WELCH, C. M., KAYES, A. V., SPEER, K. P., & ANDREWS, J. R. (2000). A three-dimensional biomechanical analysis of sumo and conventional style deadlifts. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise32(7), 1265–1275. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200007000-00013
  • 4
    Lake, J., Duncan, F., Jackson, M., & Naworynsky, D. (2017). Effect of a Hexagonal Barbell on the Mechanical Demand of Deadlift Performance. Sports5(4), 82. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports5040082
  • 5
    Camara, K. D., Coburn, J. W., Dunnick, D. D., Brown, L. E., Galpin, A. J., & Costa, P. B. (2016). An Examination of Muscle Activation and Power Characteristics While Performing the Deadlift Exercise With Straight and Hexagonal Barbells. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(5), 1183–1188. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001352
  • 6
    Schoenfeld, B. J., Grgic, J., Van Every, D. W., & Plotkin, D. L. (2021). Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports9(2), 32. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032
  • 7
    (ACE)How Many Reps Should You Be Doing? (n.d.). Www.acefitness.org. https://www.acefitness.org/resources/everyone/blog/5867/how-many-reps-should-you-be-doing/
  • 8
    Sands, W., Wurth, J., & Hewit, J. (2012). The National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (NSCA) BASICS OF STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING MANUAL. https://www.nsca.com/contentassets/116c55d64e1343d2b264e05aaf158a91/basics_of_strength_and_conditioning_manual.pdf
  • 9
    Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No Time to Lift? Designing Time-Efficient Training Programs for Strength and Hypertrophy: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine51(10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01490-1
  • 10
    de Salles, B. F., Simão, R., Miranda, F., Novaes, J. da S., Lemos, A., & Willardson, J. M. (2009). Rest interval between sets in strength training. Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.)39(9), 765–777.
  • 11
    Schoenfeld, B. J., Contreras, B., Krieger, J., Grgic, J., Delcastillo, K., Belliard, R., & Alto, A. (2018). Resistance Training Volume Enhances Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise51(1), 1. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001764
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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