Testing Deadlifts

deadlift rebel
Photo credit: rebel-performance.com

As you probably know from my recent blog posts on surviving leg day, how some girl is warming up with your max weight, man this is heavy, and imagine the lift then do the lift, I’ve been strongly considering (and perhaps obsessing over) treating my barbell workouts differently than the rest of my weight training routine. I’ve been thinking about going somewhat heavier, doing fewer reps and more sets. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about doing 5x5s or lifting five reps for five sets per exercise.

Yesterday, I decided to conduct a test.

Normally on Saturday I do some core work, abs and lower back, and then some cardio. In fact, I do my heavy (for me) core work first, then about 30 to 35 minutes cardio, and finally a lighter set of core work just to polish things off.

The ab work is usually some combination of Captain’s chair leg lifts and weighted ab crunch bench. I work my lower back doing extensions on the Roman chair .

Today, I switched out the Roman chair back extensions for barbell straight leg deadlifts with an “enhanced” weight.

I rested between 60 to 90 seconds between sets. Here are the specifics.

Barbell straight leg deadlifts

  1. 6x 130lbs/58.967 kg
  2. 6x 130lbs/58.967 kg
  3. 5x 150lbs/68.0389 kg
  4. 5x 150lbs/68.0389 kg
  5. 5x 150lbs/68.0389 kg

Captain’s chair leg lifts (body weight)

  1. x25
  2. x12
  3. x10

Weighted ab crunch bench

  1. 15x 30lbs/13.6078 kg
  2. 15x 30lbs/13.6078 kg
  3. 12x 30lbs/13.6078 kg

Elliptical machine

35 minutes of cardio.
High HR: 156 bpm due to a one minute sprint.
Mid-range HR: 144 bpm during the majority of the workout.
Low HR 126 bpm at the end of a five-minute cooldown.

Straight leg deadlifts

  1. 6x 130lbs/58.967 kg
  2. 8x 130lbs/58.967 kg
  3. 10x 130lbs/58.967 kg

Decline bench ab crunches

  1. 18x 30lbs/13.6078 kg
  2. 12x 25lbs/11.3398 kg
  3. 10x 25lbs/11.3398 kg

I lightened the weight on the decline bench crunches because for the 30lbs weight, I used a dumbbell which was pretty awkward to hold against my chest. For the last two sets, I switched to a 25lbs plate, which was more comfortable.

deadlift muscles
Photo credit: mytakeonfitness.com

I have to say that I found deadlifting a 130lbs barbell for “only” 6 reps to be pretty manageable, which is why I upped the weight to 150lbs. I definitely felt the difference, so backed off to doing 5 reps for the last 3 sets. And as you can see from the accompanying diagram, I worked out a lot of different muscle groups with a single exercise.

After my cardio session, I briefly debated the wisdom of doing more deadlifts, but I figured, what the heck. I did keep the weight lighter and performed only 3 sets. This let me test progressively increasing the reps per set from 6 to 8 and then to 10 to see how my body tolerated the additional effort.

I did get somewhat out of breath but not nearly as bad as when I was doing lighter barbell weights but 10 to 12 (or more) reps per set, and I still managed to drip sweat on the floor by the end of each deadlift exercise. But I recovered a lot more quickly than when I used my previous system, so I’d call this one a win.

The interesting thing, is that I calculated my 5 rep max for straight leg deadlifts at ~130lbs, so I was surprised when I could go up 20 more pounds to 150, do 5 reps per set, and not feel totally wiped out. I guess my test of the new system was a success.

Of course, we’ll see how this really plays out on Monday (chest day), Tuesday (back day), and especially Wednesday (leg day).

But the real test was what came next after leaving the gym. I got to the gym right when it opened at 8 a.m. and left at about a quarter after nine. I was still able to do various chores for the rest of the day without feeling any sense of fatigue and my lower back was only slightly sore for a while. I could bend over and straighten up again with no difficulty or discomfort.

This actually turned out better than I expected. I tried this test on a Saturday because my time at the gym isn’t limited. That lets me freely adjust my workout, going longer or shorter, heavier or lighter, depending on how I feel. Also, because my schedule isn’t so rigid on the weekends, if I pushed too hard and wiped myself out, I could build more rest into the later morning and afternoon as need be.

But I didn’t need that rest. I felt fine. Can’t wait for Monday.

Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.

Muhammad Ali


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