Should You Deadlift On Back Or Leg Day? – Garage Gym Pro

Everyone can agree that deadlifts are the ultimate exercise for building strength and power. It’s the ultimate test of overall strength. When included correctly, it's one of the best moves for a shredded physique!

While it's perfect for working your posterior chain muscles, deciding whether you should deadlift on leg or back day can be tricky.

Continue reading to learn exactly what factors you should consider when deciding where to include deadlifts in your workouts and how to modify the exercise to target a particular muscle group.

Deciding when to deadlift depends on various factors like your training goals and current workout schedule. Other than just a back or legs day, another option is having a dedicated deadlift day.

Weightlifters generally tend to split muscle groups and train them on separate days. Powerlifters, on the other hand, will often include a deadlift day in their routine. Let's take a closer look at the specific factors to consider:

Your Training Goals

When it comes to weightlifting, every lifter has their own set of goals they’d like to achieve.

Whether it’s maintenance or gearing up for a powerlifting competition, your training goals will help determine when to include a back day.

To Build Strength

If your goal is to build your strength, then deadlifting can be done on both back and leg days. It should be the main priority in your workout, and you should focus on the eccentric phase of the lift for maximum muscle growth. [1]

To Get Shredded

If getting shredded is your main focus, then deadlifting shouldn’t be a top priority in your workout routine. In this case, it’s best suited as an accessory movement at the end of your leg workouts on leg day.

When doing deadlifts on back day, you’ll want to put it as your first back exercise within the routine. Do a heavy deadlift with low reps, and avoid training for muscle failure.

deadlift on back or leg day

Your Current Workout Schedule

Push Pull Legs (PPL) Workout Routine

The Push Pull Legs (PPL) workout routine splits your training days into exercises that involve push, pull, and leg days. If you’re following this workout schedule, you might be unsure whether to do deadlifts on pull or leg day.

Many people think of a deadlift as a push exercise (like bench pressing) since you're "pushing the ground away" at the start of the lift.

However, it's important to know that the deadlift is, in fact, a pull exercise (like pull-ups). This is because we pull the bar toward us as we stand up.

See Example - Push Pull Legs 5 Day Split Routine

Full Body Split (FBS) Workout Routine

The Full Body Split (FBS) workout routine, on the other hand, does not split muscle groups into specific days and instead trains any muscle in a single workout. So you can do a deadlift, pull-ups, and bench press - all in the same workout.

To get the most out of your workout, you'll typically need to focus on compound exercises (exercises that use multiple muscles) when doing this entire body routine.

Barbell squats are a great example of a compound exercise, as they work your upper body strength (including your lower and upper back), quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, and abdominals. Similarly, barbell deadlifts are an excellent compound exercise.

The main advantage of this routine is that, unlike the PPL routine, where each muscle group gets a specific day of training, missing a day won't throw off your progress.

While there is no set training schedule you need to follow, training your full body in each workout does require a longer recovery time. For this reason, you'd generally only work out 2-4 times per week.

should you deadlift on back or leg day

Deadlift Variations For Back (Sample Workout Program)

Snatch Grip Deadlifts

The snatch grip deadlift is an excellent exercise for working the poster chain. While similar to the conventional deadlift, the snatch grip calls for a wider overhand grip.

The benefits of this deadlift variation include increased hamstring and glute activation since the hips are positioned slightly lower. Additionally, the lats work harder thanks to the wider grip.

Other benefits of this exercise include the carryover to overall snatch exercises. For people who struggle with their form when doing standard snatch exercises, it helps train both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift.

In addition, the snatch grip deadlift is perfect for training your grip strength and improving hip extension.

Stiff Leg Deadlift

As the name suggests, the stiff leg deadlift is similar to a standard deadlift, except you'll maintain a more straight leg, with your knees slightly bent and hip hinge instead. Avoid having your knees locked completely.

This leg exercise is an effective training exercise for increasing muscle growth and strength, while the hip hinge also helps to work the correct hamstring range of motion.

While similar to a Romanian deadlift, the two exercises have notable differences and should not be confused.

With this exercise, the lack of knee flexion sees a decreased demand placed on the quads but an increased demand placed on the erector spinae, hamstrings, and glutes during the entire deadlift.

Related Article - Stiff Leg Vs Romanian Deadlift

Sample Back/Pull Day Program

Here is a sample program you could follow for your back day workout. While you can switch out the deadlift warm-up for something else, be sure to incorporate at least two varieties of deadlifts on back-day sessions.

If you were wondering, "is deadlifting a back workout?" - I think this answers your question!

  • Traditional deadlift warm-up: 4 sets of 5 reps with a lightweight (80% of your 1RM)
  • Snatch grip deadlift: 3 sets of 5-8 reps
  • Stiff leg deadlift: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Lat pulldowns: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
are deadlifts for back or legs

Deadlift Variations For Legs (Sample Workout Program)

Sumo Deadlifts

The sumo deadlift is an underdog when it comes to doing deadlifts on leg day. If you’re not already familiar with this variation, it entails positioning your legs wider apart (outside of shoulder width) in the starting position.

According to research, the sumo deadlift places more emphasis on the quads and adductors. Additionally, compared to a conventional deadlift, less strain is placed on the lower back. [2] It's also less taxing on the central nervous system.

Read Also - Sumo Vs Conventional Deadlifts

Deficit Deadlifts

Deficit deadlifts are very similar to conventional deadlifts, except that you’ll be standing on an elevated surface and lifting the barbell from the ground.

This creates a deficit which helps to improve the starting mechanics of the lift. Both conventional deadlifts, as well as sumo deadlifts, can be done with a deficit.

When doing this exercise, the entire posterior chain will be heavily worked. Deficit deadlifts will help to strengthen the glutes, hamstrings, calves, spinal erectors, upper back, and lower back muscles.

Trap Bar Deadlifts

The trap bar deadlift is a full-body pulling exercise that will help to strengthen your legs, lower body, and overall fitness.

This lower body exercise is ideal for both increasing strength and building muscle needed to perform heavy deadlifts or even train squats. If you’re working toward heavier deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts are an excellent choice.

The advantage of trap bar deadlifts over other exercises includes putting your back in a more upright position which places less strain on your back (and central nervous system) - especially when heavy lifting.

Learn More - Trap Bar Deadlift Benefits

Sample Leg Day Program

To achieve an effective leg workout, here is a sample program you could follow for your leg-day workout.

Although opinions are divided on when to perform deadlifts within the routine, placing them at the start helps to ensure most of your energy and strength is focused on the primary exercise, and your accessory movements or other leg exercises come after.

  • Traditional deadlift warm-up: 4 sets of 5 reps with a lightweight (80% of your 1RM)
  • Sumo deadlift: 3 sets of 5-8 reps
  • Trap bar deadlift: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
  • Leg curls: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
  • Leg presses: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
is deadlifting for back or legs

Muscles Worked During Deadlift Movements

Since deadlifts engage several muscles at once, it’s one of the best compound exercises you can do.

According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Exercise and Fitness, deadlifts primarily target the gluteus maximus, rectus femoris, and biceps femoris muscles. [3]

In addition to being a great exercise for training these major muscles, it’s also excellent for engaging the synergistic and stabilizer muscles too.

In terms of joint actions, the deadlift includes mostly hip and knee extension, with shoulder extension occurring sometimes.

Quadriceps

Although your quadriceps play a small part in deadlifts and most deadlift alternatives, they’re essential for starting the movement.

As knee extensors, your quads work to help lift the barbell off the ground at the start of the lift. However, they become less engaged through the rest of the movement.

The quadriceps consists of four parts: the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings play two roles during a deadlift. They’re active right from the start of the lift, supporting your glutes.

The second role of the hamstrings is to support the knee joint by functioning as a stabilizing muscle at the starting portion of the lift. The hamstrings work harder as the knees straighten to help bring the hips to the bar.

Gluteus Maximus

The gluteus maximus (or glutes) are an essential muscle needed to extend your hips forward and bring them toward the barbell.

Although your glutes are activated throughout the exercise, they become primarily engaged once the barbell has passed over your knees.

Also Check Out - Best Gym Machines For Targeting Glutes

Spinal Erectors

The spinal erectors (or erector spinae) muscles are a group of long muscles that run along the length of your back, ending at your sacrum. These back muscles are positioned on either side of your spine.

Despite having to maintain a neutral position with a straight back when deadlifting, your back muscles still have a lot of work to do. The primary function of the erector spinae is to protect the spine. They do this by contracting hard, making deadlifting one of the best exercises for building strong back muscles.

Lats, Traps & Rhomboids

When you deadlift, your latissimus dorsi muscles (your lats) isometrically stabilize your torso. If you want to lift effectively, you need to maintain shoulder joint stability from the beginning right through to the end of the deadlift.

Keeping your lats contracted through the movement ensures that your back stays in a neutral position and the bar remains close to your body.

The trapezius muscle (your traps), on the other hand, helps to support your shoulders against the heavy resistance of the barbell through the movement—particularly the lower and middle sections of the trap muscle.

Similar to the traps, the rhomboid's primary function is to support the shoulders as well.

Obliques & Abdominals

Your obliques and abdominal muscles work alongside the main movers to help stabilize and support.

When you deadlift, your abdominals and obliques contract, resisting the urge to collapse your trunk. This helps to maintain good form and generate maximum power through the movement.

Since these muscles work more as stabilizers, there isn’t enough contraction to obtain notable growth. However, the deadlift is still an excellent workout for your whole body.

deadlift muscles worked

Deadlifting Questions Answered

Should my hamstrings feel sore after deadlifts?

It’s very common to experience sort hamstrings after deadlifting. This can be caused as a result of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), muscle fatigue, or injury.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), DOMS can be caused by any exercise that subjects the muscles to loads they are not used to. It's a different type of soreness from injury in that it typically only develops only after 12-24 hours post-workout, with pain being most significant around 24-74 hours. [4]

Can deadlifts make your legs bigger?

Yes, they can. However, to build muscle, you need to ensure that you are in a caloric surplus.

In addition, you'll want to be training with a progressive overload to build your legs and increase muscle mass. This means using a heavy weight, adding additional reps, or increasing the number of sets every time you train.

Should I squat and deadlift on the same day?

If you’re still working on perfecting your form, it’s best to separate your squats and deadlifts to different days. However, it’s certainly possible to do two leg workouts on the same day  (just ask competitive powerlifters!).

In this case, you should squat first and then deadlift (ideally with some light exercises in between). Consider including squat and deadlift variations too.

How many times per week should I deadlift?

There is no hard and fast rule here. Many strength training programs only include one deadlift session per week, while others will include it twice per week.

By adding in a second deadlift, you’ll be able to experiment with deadlift variation exercises and target certain muscles more. In general, deadlifting three times or more per week is not recommended.

How long should you rest after deadlifts?

It depends on the weight of your deadlifts and your own level of strength. The absolute minimum rest time is at least one day in between.

However, if you’re doing heavy deadlifts or feeling particularly fatigued, waiting at least 3 days in between is completely acceptable.


Conclusion

That wraps up our guide on whether you should deadlift on back or leg day. Deadlifts can be included in both your back or legs workouts or even as a standalone training day.

With advantages and disadvantages to each strategy, deciding which is best ultimately depends on your own lifting style and training goals.

Now that you know what factors to consider, what muscles are worked during deadlift movements, and what deadlift variations you can do to fine-tune your workout -  you’ll be able to include deadlifts into your training routine and achieve your weightlifting goals in no time!

References:

1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7046193/ 

2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301887259_Exercise_Highlight_The_Sumo_Deadlift 

3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6323186/ 

4. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/delayed-onset-muscle-soreness-(doms).pdf?sfvrsn=8f430e18_2 

Last Updated on September 12, 2022