Do You Need a Break from Deadlifts?

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Q:  I feel as if I’ve stalled on my deadlifiting. I feel like the weight is not necessarily really heavy, but that I’m just tired.  Is it possible that your technique can go down the tubes when you are simply physically or mentally tired of a lift?

If so, how long should you go without performing the lift before you start back up again?

A:  Well, think about it:  in some camps, people only pull maximally (or close to it) every 4-5 months.  You can’t pull heavy** every single week and expect to make progress – it’s just not going to happen.  Well, at least if you’re an intermediate or advanced lifter, anyways.   Beginners, conversely, can get away with deadlifting a broomstick and get stronger.

You see, the stronger you are, the more neurally taxing a lift is (and the more likely chicks will want to hang out with you.  But that goes without saying).   Using a simple example, someone who grinds out a 500 lb deadlift is going to “stress” the body a tad more than someone who’s over in the corner repping out 225 – that’s just common sense.

However, using a more relevant example:  Eric (Cressey)- whose best pull is 660 lbs – might attempt a 600+ lb pull twice, maybe three times per year.  That’s it.  If he attempted to pull THAT heavy week in and week out, he’d hate life.

That being said, lets not forget, regardless of training age, effort, PRs, or how frequently you pull, deadlifts are freaking hard!!  There’s no beating around the bush there.   To me, there isn’t any one lift that challenges the body the way deadlifts do.  It’s the epitome of a FULL body lift – just about every muscle has to come into play in order to perform the lift.

  • The calves have to fire so as not to tip over.
  • The hamstrings, glutes, and quads have to fire to get the bar moving off the floor (as well as to lock it out).
  • The erectors, longissimus, iliocostalis, as well as all the muscles that help to stabilize the spine have to fire in order to fight the shearing force of the lift.
  • The “core” (rectus abdominus, internal/external obliques, TA) has to fire to transfer force from the lower body to the upper body.
  • The mid-upper back muscles (rhomboids, traps, lats, etc) have to fire to stabilize the shoulders, as well as to maintain proper spinal position throughout.
  • Your esophagus has to fire to resist the urge to want to vomit in your mouth.
  • Hell, even your arms are firing like crazy to assist in the movement – which is why, whenever someone asks me how to build big arms, I tell them to ditch the isolation curls and to start deadlifting.  For realz.

So, is it any wonder that you’re feeling the fruits of your labor?  Deadlifts are kind of a big deal, and definitely place a lot of stress on the body overall.

Feeling mentally tired or fatigued from deadlifting consistently isn’t uncommon, and it may not be a bad idea to back off for a month or two and just hit your accessory movements for a while – single leg work, GHRs, hip thrusters, pull-throughs, good mornings, etc.

Ideally, if you’re going to go that route, I’d focus more on less axial (spinal) loading.

Or, maybe just eliminate the heavy/grinder day altogether, and implement some “rep” days with a lighter load just to groove technique and build a little work capacity.  You know, nothing heavy or that’s going to tax the nervous system.  Just get in, use around 60-70% of your 1RM, and get some quality reps in.

All told, it’s not like you’re going to lose all your strength gains by NOT pulling heavy for a few weeks.  In fact, when it comes to maximal strength, you have a window of 30 +/- 5 days to MAINTAIN that quality before it diminishes.   So, contrary to popular belief, it’s not like you need a lot of exposure to a heavy stimulus in order to maintain it for a long period of time.  Again, I refer back to EC above and only pulling 600+ lbs a couple of times per year.

Anyways, to summarize, I’d just take a month off from the heavy stuff, refrain from loading the spine too much, and maybe just focus on lighter “rep” days to maintain technique in the interim.

Hope that helps!


** obviously, this is a relative term.  What’s heavy to one person, may be speed weight to another.  But, for the sake of argument, lets just say “heavy” in this instance refers to a weight that will come close to making you shit your spine, but not really.   You get the idea.

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Plus, get a copy of Tony’s Pick Things Up, a quick-tip guide to everything deadlift-related. See his butt? Yeah. It’s good. You should probably listen to him if you have any hope of getting a butt that good.

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