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Is Deadlift on Leg Day or Back Day? Your Questions Answered

lifter doing deadlift on back day

If you're a regular gym-goer or someone who's just started their fitness journey, you might have found yourself pondering whether the deadlift should be a part of your leg day routine or back day routine. It's a common dilemma, and in this article, we'll dive deep into the factors that can help you decide when and how to incorporate deadlifts into your workout routine.

Why Does the Day You Deadlift Matter?

Incorporating the deadlift into your fitness routine, be it on leg day, back day, or any other day, is a flexible choice, given its full-body engagement. However, optimizing the benefits of this powerful exercise is more complex than it appears. The deadlift, while highly rewarding, demands careful consideration.

If you want to increase your lower-body strength and leg size, incorporate deadlifts into your leg day workout since the exercise targets your glutes and hamstrings. If you want to build your major back muscles, then add deadlifts on your back day. 

Casually inserting deadlifts into your leg or back workout might have unintended consequences. It can place excessive strain on your lower back, impair your stability during subsequent exercises, overtax your grip strength, or leave you too fatigued to effectively complete the rest of your training session.

When to Deadlift on Leg and Back Day

You should do deadlifts last on leg day and put them first on back day. Deadlifts put a considerable amount of physical strain on your back, which is why you need to prioritize the exercise first on back day. On leg day, you’ll be doing other physical exercises alongside the deadlift, such as the squat. 

Related:Squat vs. Deadlift

Benefits of Doing Deadlifts on Leg Day

Plenty of gym-goers do deadlifts on their leg day. Your leg workouts tend to be more draining and test your strength. However, there’s plenty of cause to do deadlifts when hitting legs. Here’s why.

1. Quadriceps Engagement

Including deadlifts on leg day is beneficial because it engages your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thighs. While deadlifts are often associated with working the back and hips, they also give your quads a good workout. 

Working your quads during deadlifts also boosts your overall leg strength, making everyday activities easier and improving performance in sports. Additionally, adding deadlifts to your leg day routine adds variety to your workout, which can keep things interesting and help you continue making progress in your fitness journey. So, by doing deadlifts on leg day, you're giving your quads some extra attention, creating better leg symmetry, and enhancing your overall lower body strength.

2. Balanced Leg Development

When you include deadlifts on leg day, you're essentially giving your entire lower body a comprehensive workout. While deadlifts are often associated with working the muscles in your lower back and hips, they also engage your quadriceps, the muscles at the front of your thighs. This engagement of your quads on leg day is a strategic move to ensure balanced leg development. A well-rounded leg development means that not only will your legs look better, but they'll also perform better. It's all about symmetry, which is key to a well-proportioned physique.

Moreover, balanced leg development plays a significant role in injury prevention. Muscle imbalances between the front and back of your legs can lead to joint stress and posture issues. By incorporating deadlifts into your leg day routine, you're actively working to reduce the risk of potential imbalances, which can help you stay injury-free and maintain better posture. In summary, deadlifts on leg day provide the opportunity for a more well-rounded leg workout, both in terms of aesthetics and functionality, while also contributing to long-term health and injury prevention.

3. Energy Preservation

Deadlifts are quite demanding because they work not only your legs but also your lower back and core. By doing them on leg day, you ensure that you have plenty of energy to focus on leg-specific exercises like squats and lunges. This approach allows you to get the most out of your leg workout. You'll be able to do these exercises with good form and intensity, which is essential for building strong leg muscles. 

Benefits of Doing Deadlifts on Back Day

Why should you do deadlifts on back day? Adding this exercise into your workout split comes with its own set of benefits unique to leg day deadlifts. Let’s take a look now. 

1. Emphasis on Back Muscles

While deadlifts primarily engage the muscles in your lower back and the erector spinae, they also involve the upper back, traps, and lats. Doing deadlifts on your back day ensures that you can target several important muscle groups, like your erector spinae, rhomboids, and lats. 

2. Can Usually Deadlift More

If you start with heavy deadlifts, you might not have enough energy left for heavy squats, and the same goes if you begin with squats. This happens because deadlifts are so intense; they demand a lot of your attention and physical effort, making it tough to give your best in other movements during the same workout.

However, on a back day, this issue is less pronounced since you use machines or cables for exercises. These machines require less stability and focus, allowing you to manage your energy better throughout your workout. Where you place deadlifts in your routine can have a big impact on your performance in other exercises, so it's essential to think about the order of your workout for the best results.

When to Deadlift on Back Day

We’ve covered when you should deadlift on back day and when you should deadlift on leg day. However, there are certain scenarios that can help you determine which day to incorporate your deadlifts. Let’s take a look: 

If You're Focusing on Technique

The best time to work on improving your technique is usually right at the beginning of your workout when you're feeling fresh both mentally and physically. When you're tired, your muscles might struggle to hold a particular position against resistance, and your central nervous system could be low on energy, affecting your strength.

So, if you want to make changes to how you do deadlifts, it's a good idea to move them to your back day. Adjusting your form often involves using less weight, which won't impact your other back exercises negatively. Additionally, starting your session with deadlifts helps you stay focused and primed to work on your technique improvements. This way, you can fine-tune your deadlift form without compromising the effectiveness of your overall workout.

If You Don't Focus on Weight

The deadlift is incredibly versatile, offering advantages like muscle stimulation, promoting proper movement patterns, and enhancing posture. The best part? You don't have to lift extremely heavy weights to achieve these benefits.

If you prefer to maintain a more moderate intensity level in your workouts, incorporating deadlifts into your back training is a smart choice. This approach allows you to achieve a substantial muscle stimulus while also serving as an effective warm-up for the rest of your back exercises. So, whether you're lifting massive weights or keeping it moderate, the deadlift has something to offer everyone in their fitness journey.

When to Deadlift on Leg Day

Similarly, there are other reasons for you to deadlift on leg day over back day. Here are the three main scenarios when we choose to deadlift during our lower-body workout. 

Weak Grip Strength

Unless you’re usingweightlifting straps, a successful back workout relies heavily on having strong hands. If you find that your grip strength is lacking, it could be a more strategic choice to incorporate deadlifts into your leg day routine. This is because most compound leg exercises don't demand fresh, strong hands to perform at their best. By doing deadlifts on leg day, you can allocate your energy and focus on developing your leg muscles while allowing your hands to recover, setting you up for a more effective back workout later on.

You Like to Do Sumo Deadlifts

If you opt for thesumo deadlift over the conventional version, you should include deadlifts in your leg day routine.Sumo deadlifts place more emphasis on your quadriceps than the conventional style, making them somewhat of a quad-focused exercise.

Incorporating sumo deadlifts with your other quad-centric movements can be particularly beneficial for hypertrophy, as it targets this muscle group from a different angle. Additionally, it's wise to avoid overloading your quads with sumo deadlifts on one day and then having to perform leg exercises just a day or two later. By integrating sumo deadlifts into your leg day, you can effectively work your quads and manage your training schedule for optimal results.

You're a Beginner

If you’re a beginner, it’s good to keep it simple. Many beginner gym routines typically involve just 2-3 workouts per week, which can leave little room for maneuvering when it comes to scheduling deadlifts. As a novice, performing deadlifts on leg day is not only acceptable but can be quite beneficial.

In the early stages, you're not typically lifting heavy weights that might compromise your technique. Additionally, as a beginner, you can expect to witness significant improvements in strength, muscle growth, and muscular endurance in your lower body through just a few well-executed sets of deadlifts.

You Like Doing Rows

Dumbbell and barbell rows both require a strong spine. If you’re doing rows on your back day, then it might be a good idea to deadlift on leg day. This will keep your muscles from wearing out before hitting the higher-intensity exercises. 

Deadlift Variations to Try

If you want to perfect the deadlift, then you’ll need to add some variations to your split. These deadlift variants will help you strengthen certain muscle groups and perfect the movement that goes into doing a deadlift correctly.

1. Single-Leg Deadlift

The single-leg deadlift is a variation in which you balance on one leg while lifting a weight with the opposite hand. This exercise demands greater stability and balance as it isolates one leg at a time. During a single-leg deadlift, you hinge at the hip of the working leg while extending the non-working leg straight behind you. The back remains straight throughout the movement. This exercise not only works the muscles of the posterior chain, similar to the traditional deadlift, but also engages the stabilizing muscles in your core, hips, and the leg you're balancing on.

2. Stiff-Legged Deadlift

The stiff-legged deadlift involves a slight bend in the knees and a focus on maintaining a straight back as you lower the weight down the front of your legs. Unlike the traditional deadlift where you start with the weight on the ground, in the stiff-legged deadlift, the barbell usually starts at hip height on a squat rack or similar apparatus. This exercise specifically targets the hamstrings and lower back, placing greater emphasis on hamstring flexibility and posterior chain strength. Because of the greater emphasis on the hamstrings and lower back, it is often considered more of an isolation exercise for these muscle groups.

3. Romanian Deadlifts

When performing the RDL, you maintain a slight bend in the knees but focus on a significant hip hinge movement. When youcompare deadlifts to RDLs, the main difference is that your back remains straight as you lower the weight down the front of your legs, emphasizing the stretch and contraction of the hamstrings. 

Related:Stiff-Legged Deadlift vs. RDLs

4. Rack Pulls

Instead of starting by lifting the weight from the ground, in this modified version, you'll be pulling it from a specific set of rack pins. The starting height of the bar can be adjusted as needed to focus on various phases of the lift. Rack pulls are particularly useful for putting extra emphasis on the lockout phase of the deadlift, a crucial aspect primarily dependent on the strength of the muscles in your back. By altering the initial height and honing in on this specific part of the lift, you can work on strengthening your back muscles even more effectively.

Related:Rack Pulls vs. Deadlifts

Tips for Improving Your Deadlift

Whether you’re using deadlifts as abarbell back exercise or a barbell leg exercise, the goal is the same. Build muscle and increase your overall strength. Here are some tips for improving your overall deadlift.

Using Straps for Deadlifting

When you lift heavy weights during deadlifts, your grip strength might become a limiting factor before your leg and back muscles reach their full potential. Straps essentially "outsource" the grip component of the lift, allowing you to focus on engaging and strengthening your target muscles more effectively. This means you can lift heavier weights without being hindered by a weak grip, helping you to progressively overload your leg and back muscles and thus improve your overall deadlift strength over time. If you’re interested in learning more, we have an article onhow to use straps for deadlifting

Try a Lifting Belt

Wearing a lifting belt for your deadlift can be beneficial for several reasons. Firstly, it provides support to your lower back by increasing intra-abdominal pressure, which helps stabilize the spine and reduce the risk of injury during heavy lifts. This added support allows you to lift heavier weights with greater confidence, thus promoting strength gains over time. Moreover, the lifting belt forces you to brace your core effectively, helping you to maintain proper form. It’s important to note that while a lifting belt can assist in these ways, you should focus on learning how to brace properly first. A lifting belt should not replace a strong and stable core.  

Deadlift Barefoot

Whendeadlifting without shoes, your feet have direct contact with the floor. This gives you a more natural, stable base and better grip to lift from. Additional benefits include improved balance and control during the lift, which in turn allows you to engage your lower body and back muscles more. 

Deadlifting barefoot can even help promote better ankle mobility and proprioception, the body's awareness of its position in space, leading to a more efficient deadlift technique. Keep in mind that you do risk more extreme injuries if you do not deadlift properly since dropped weights can severely harm your feet. 

Keep Your Bar as Close as Possible

Keeping the bar as close as possible to your body throughout the deadlift minimizes the moment arm which reduces the mechanical disadvantage and makes the lift more efficient. By doing so, you decrease the amount of work your lower back and hips need to do, placing a more significant emphasis on your leg muscles, particularly the hamstrings and glutes, which are the primary movers in the deadlift. 

This not only optimizes your biomechanics but also helps you maintain a more upright posture and reduce the risk of injury by minimizing unnecessary stress on the lower back. If you plan on doing deadlifts on leg day, then keep this tip in mind. 

Final Thoughts

Whether you choose to do deadlifts on leg day or back day depends on your fitness goals, preferences, and current fitness level. Both options have their advantages, and you can even experiment with different workout splits to see what works best for you.

Don’t forget to add in some other types of deadlifts and if needed, use equipment like a TuffWraps lifting belt or deadlifting straps to help you lift to your potential.


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