How Many Sets of Deadlifts Should You Do?

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
October 30, 2022

The deadlift is one of the workouts people think about when they wish to advance their fitness or weightlifting goals to another level. Lifting something and putting it down again seems easy enough. There are many deadlift exercises, but even its most basic variation is quite a challenging movement to master for a beginner. 

Adding more sets to a deadlift routine is not a straightforward task to accomplish, considering the factors and variables involved in meeting the criteria of an individual's goal. However, more recent studies of the effects of varying workout volume, intensity, and frequency on different types of muscular training have demonstrated that the application of these variables in a workout program has more flexibility than previously thought.

Determining how many sets one should do for a deadlift has become a topic of contention for gymgoers and athletes alike. Unfortunately, some coaches even prescribe a one-size-fits-all program for their athletes or trainees, and sometimes they do so with little consideration of the individual's goals and characteristics.

Benefits of Increasing Deadlift Sets

Better Deadlift Technique and Form

It is always preferable to execute a workout with a lower amount of weight utilizing excellent form than lifting larger weights poorly and risking one's self to injury.

Incorrectly performing a deadlift compromises the body's stability, putting undue strain on the muscles, joints, and tendons. In addition, good form maximizes the recruitment and activation of the targeted muscle groups, facilitating better muscular growth.

barbell deadlift movement

Although the deadlift appears to be a simple exercise, it is a complex movement to master. A deadlift technique must exhibit balance, muscle coordination, and fluid motion to prevent injury and maximize gains in mass and strength.

An increase in deadlift sets means more repetition leading to familiarity with the motions, which helps to teach the muscles how to coordinate their movements for a more fluid action demonstrating proper form.

Enhanced Whole-Body Strength and Mass

The deadlift contributes significantly to the development of strength and mass from the hands all the way down to the feet. In addition, it helps strengthen the fingers to provide the grip needed and the toes for added balance. 

Several major muscle groups are engaged in a deadlift exercise: the lats, traps, erectors, rhomboids, abdominals, obliques, glutes, adductor magnus, hamstrings, and quads. Additional deadlift sets develop these muscles leading to increased work capacity for other exercises.

Breaking Plateaus

Most people have a deadlift problem where they slow down about halfway through the range of action. Utilizing more repetitions or heavier weights to overcome this obstacle is a zero-sum game since this problem is the main reason that prevents a person from doing more reps or increasing intensity in the first place. 

This slow-down halfway through the motion saps more strength from a person than a deadlift executed with one swift and fluid movement. The only way to overcome this plateau is by adding more sets in a deadlift routine, lowering intensity by several percentage points of 1RM, and doing the same reps or higher.

Factors to Consider Before Modifying a Workout Program

When adding more sets to a person's session, we may realize that his once-a-week deadlift routine may not be enough to accommodate all the added volume. Forcing too many sets in one workout schedule may lead to excessive muscle fatigue and a more extended recovery period that may affect other training sessions. The only solution is to increase training sessions to twice or thrice a week and equate volume with training frequency.

However, this may come with its problems when we fail to consider the factors that may hinder a person’s commitment to a new workout program. Several factors may affect adherence to a modified program, and the three most significant influencers are motivation, schedule, and resources

Math Lessons Before Adding Sets in a Deadlift Routine

If one cannot afford a personal trainer or a weightlifting coach to do all the calculations for his training requirements, then it would be wise to learn some simple math and make calculations than rely solely on some generic guides on the web.

Though these guides may be helpful as a sample blueprint for a workout program, we might need to do some calculations when considering other factors, such as the type of muscular training applied.

Variables in a Workout Program

A workout program has three main variables that help us measure the total amount of work done for an exercise routine for a specific period. These variables are as listed below.

Intensity

This is the maximum weight utilized in a workout represented as a percentage of a person's one-repetition maximum (1RM). Another way to quantify intensity is by determining the maximum number of repetitions a person can complete for a specific set using the weight designed for that exercise. 

Volume

Volume is the total amount of work done. It is calculated by multiplying sets by reps to weight. If somebody deadlifts 150 pounds for ten repetitions and five sets, the total session volume is 7,500 pounds.

Frequency

The quantity of workout sessions in a specific time frame (usually a week) is referred to as frequency.

Percentage-Based Training

To really make good progress, a person must use percentage-based training in his workout program. A training log is a must to keep track of the previous sessions' volume, intensity, frequency, deadlift variations performed, and type of muscular training.

But before one can begin using percentage-based training in a workout program, a one-repetition maximum (1RM) must first be established. One-repetition maximum is the heaviest weight a person can lift once using maximal effort. 

Theoretical 1RM

Though there are many 1RM calculators online, some people prefer to do their own calculations. Listed below are different formulas used to calculate 1RM.

  • Lombardi: 1RM = W x R^0.1
  • Mayhew et al.: 1RM = (100 x W) / (52.2 + (41.9 x e-0.055 x R))
  • O'Conner et al.: 1RM = W x (1 + (0.025 x R))
  • Wathan: 1RM = (100 x W) / (48.8 + (53.8 x e-0.075 x R))
  • Brzycki: 1RM = W x (36 / (37 - R))
  • Epley: 1RM = W x (1 + (0.0333 x R))
  • Lander: 1RM = (100 x W) / (101.3 - (2.67123 x R))

Where,

1RM = One Repetition Maximum

W = Weight Lifted

R = Repetitions Completed

e = Euler's Number = 2.71828 (approximately)

The formulas above have been experimentally tested to be within 10% of the actual achieved 1RM values for the deadlift. 

So, let’s assume that a person can deadlift 200 pounds for a ten-repetition maximum (10RM). Then using any formula above we can predict his 1RM. However, for this example, we will use O'Conner et al.’s formula.

1RM = W x (1 + (0.025 x R))

1RM = 200lbs x (1 + (0.025 x 10))

1RM = 200lbs x (1 + 0.25)

1RM = 200lbs x 1.25

1RM = 250lbs

Actual or True 1RM

Now that a person’s theoretical 1RM has been established, it can now be utilized to test and determine the actual 1RM. Since 200 pounds is already 80% of our theoretical 1RM value of 250 pounds, one can work his way up by using 85%, 90%, and 95% as a warm-up before performing a deadlift at 100% of theoretical 1RM (85% 1RM for 4-5 reps, 90% 1RM for 3-4 reps, and 95% 1RM for 2 reps).

If a person can do more than a single repetition at 100% of theoretical 1RM then he may add around 5% of weight until a true 1RM is established. However, keep in mind that proper form must always be utilized. Using compensatory movements to lift heavier weights actually does not represent your true 1RM.

Prilepin’s Chart and NSCA’s Recommended Training Volume

Prilepin’s Chart

Percent of 1RMReps Per SetOptimal Total RepsRange of Reps
55-65%3-62418-30
70-80%3-61812-24
80-90%2-41510-20
90%+1-2410

The first column represents the percentage range of 1RM or intensity for a certain exercise. The reps-per-set column represents the recommended range of repetitions. The third column represents recommendations as determined by Prilepin as the optimal number of repetitions for a certain intensity range. The fourth column provides a range of repetition values goes below and beyond the optimal recommendation.

The inclusion of Prilepin’s chart here is to make it a programming tool to design a workout program and is not intended as a strict set of rules to be followed. This may be utilized as a reference for determining intensity and volume for future adjustments and as a gauge for training history.

NSCA’s Recommended Training Volume for Different Types of Muscular Training

Type of Muscular TrainingRepetitionsIntensity (% of 1RM)
Muscular Strength685%
Muscular Hypertrophy6-1267-85%
Muscular Endurance1267%
Muscular Power1-570-90%

The chart above is the recommended training volume for different types of muscular training issued by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

Putting It All Together

We will be using the above example for theoretical 1RM to demonstrate how we connect the dots between all the math lessons and the charts above. We assume that the person’s true 1RM was determined to be 265 pounds after adding about 5% more weight to his theoretical 1RM of 250 pounds.

Let’s say that the person wants to train for muscular hypertrophy, so we look at NSCA’s chart and choose to train at 85% 1RM for 6 reps every set. To determine the number of sets, we look at Prilepin’s chart and find out that 85% of 1RM belongs in the 80-90% range of intensity with a range of 10-20 reps. So, if the person finally decides to do 3 sets of 6 reps (18 reps total) at 85% 1RM, he is still within the Prilipen’s chart’s range of 10-20 reps.

To compute the volume of that deadlift routine, we first get what 85% of 1RM is in pounds. So, 85% of 265 pounds is 225 pounds. We then multiply 225 pounds with 3 sets and 6 reps, giving us a total amount of work done or volume of 4,050 pounds.

Percentage-Based Training vs Rate of Perceived Exertion

Some might think that all these calculations and looking through charts would be too much work and would rather prefer an RPE- based training. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring the level of effort a person feels during physical activity. However, the degree of interpretation of each value may differ in different sessions.

RPE-based training is more like shooting from the hip, and percentage-based training is a tactical strategy. Some people can go with their gut and massively gain strength and mass over a considerable amount of time. However, shooting from the hip is never the best strategy to maintain a more consistent progression in the gym. Most people will succeed better with a planned approach and a more structured methodology.

References

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Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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