So you want to get started with deadlift training?
The barbell deadlift is a fundamental strength training exercise that targets many of your major muscle groups, including your lower back, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and core.
It builds strength in a movement pattern that we use a lot in our everyday life, making it a very functional exercise in general.
In short: deadlifts are one of the best things you can do in the gym.
In this post, I’ll outline a simple yet effective beginner deadlift program that will give you the biggest gains and the best start to your deadlift training career.
The Beginner Deadlift Program
Getting a good start in your deadlift training is all about learning and practicing the technique while getting your muscles, joints, and connective tissues accustomed to the load.
You accomplish this by:
- Practicing the deadlift regularly. Two workouts per week is a good mark for quick improvements in strength and technique while keeping your risk of overuse injury low.
- Starting light. I know you’re eager, but things will get heavy fast. Temper yourself for the first few weeks of light training, and you will have a much easier time getting the technique right.
- Progressing. Here’s the fun part. Every workout, you will take a step forward in weights or reps.
Let’s go over what the workouts look like.
The Beginner Deadlift Workout
Your very first workout is all about trying the exercise out and establishing a starting point.
The goal is to find a weight with which you can easily do three sets of ten repetitions. You shouldn’t be anywhere near failure in these sets, and you should have total control over the bar.
This is necessary for optimal technique learning and will put you on the path to making good gains later on.
A standard barbell weighs 20 kg (or 45 lb). But, to get the barbell up from the floor to proper lifting height, we need to add some weight plates to the sides. One full-size 10 kg weight plate on each side will accomplish that and put the combined weight at 40 kg (20 + 10 +10).
Around 40 kg is often a good starting weight for both men and women. Add a few kilos if it seems far too easy.
The important thing is that it is light enough for you to practice the technique carefully.
How to deadlift with proper form:
- Step up close to the bar so that it is about over the middle of your foot.
- Inhale, lean forward, and grip the bar.
- Hold your breath, brace your core slightly, and lift the bar.
- Pull the bar close to your body, with a straight back, until you are standing straight.
- Lower the bar back to the ground with control.
- Take another breath, and repeat for reps.
For more details and tips, read our guide on how to deadlift.
Do three sets of ten reps. Doing ten reps per set gives you lots of practice with the technique, which is the most important thing now.
For the next workout, which I suggest you do three or four days later (though up to a week is fine), add 2.5 kg (or 5 lb) to the bar, and do three sets of ten reps again.
If the first workout was super easy, you might make bigger jumps between the first few workouts. Perhaps 5–10 kg (10–20 lb). But pretty soon, you should stick to doing 2.5 kg (5 lb) jumps every workout.
Do three sets of ten reps every workout, and when you successfully get all reps in, add 2.5 kg to the bar.
Can’t get all three sets of ten reps in on your first try on a new weight?
Stick with it for another workout or two until you get all three sets of ten.
Going From Ten to Eight to Five Reps per Set
After a few weeks, doing three sets of ten at progressively heavier weights starts to get challenging. At this point, you can (but you don’t have to) drop the number of reps slightly and keep progressing in weight.
First, you could switch to doing three sets of eight reps and keep adding weight every workout.
After a week or two, drop down one step further and start doing three sets of five reps.
Don’t worry if the next workout is “too easy” every time you drop down in reps like this – you can use the extra rest, and things will get heavy soon enough.
Here’s an example of how the first few weeks of deadlift training might look:
|Workout #||Weight||Sets x Reps|
|1||40 kg (Bar + 2×10 kg plates)||3 x 10|
(“This felt easy, just like it should!”)
|2||45 kg||3 x 10|
|3||50 kg||3 x 10|
|4||52.5 kg||3 x 10|
(“This was pretty challenging. Switching to 8’s next workout!”)
|5||55 kg||3 x 8|
|6||57.5 kg||3 x 8|
(“That’s pretty challenging again. Switching to 5’s next workout!”)
|7||60 kg||3 x 5|
|8||62.5 kg||3 x 5|
Sooner or later, you will be unable to increase the weight by 2.5 kg every workout and do the same number of reps.
Some might reach 100 kg x 3 sets x 5 reps (or even more) before this happens. For others, it might happen at 60 kg x 3 sets x 5 reps.
No matter the weight, what you need to start doing at this point is to stay at a given weight until you get all reps in.
Here’s how that might look when we pick it up at workout #8 above.
|8||62.5 kg||5, 5, 5|
|9||65 kg||5, 4, 4|
(“Uh-oh. Didn’t get all reps in. I’ll try to improve next workout!”)
|10||65 kg||5, 5, 4|
|11||65 kg||5, 5, 5|
(“Yes! Next workout, I’ll move up to 67.5 kg.”)
Do you see how this gets heavy fast? Even if you only add 2.5 kg (5 lb) per week, you will add 130 kg (or 260 lb) in a year. So please: start light.
It will get heavy soon enough.
How to Keep Progressing
At this point, you rinse and repeat: Add weight, strive to reach three sets of five reps again, and when you do: increase the weight by 2.5 kg.
Don’t worry if it takes a few workouts, meaning you might have to go through the following:
- 4, 4, 4 reps
- 5, 4, 4 reps
- 5, 5, 4 reps
- 5, 5, 5 reps
That is still fast progress, and you should stick with this programming for as long as you keep moving forward. You’ll never gain strength this fast again, so milk it for as long as you can.
The key is to write down the weight and reps you used during the last workout to know what you must lift to beat it the next time you’re in the gym.
Tracking your workouts like this is one of the most important things you can do for your strength. Failure to track your workouts drastically increases your risk of not making any strength and muscle gains.
Because this is so important, we’ve developed a workout tracker app for you to track your workouts.
It is 100% free to download, log your workouts, and follow this beginner deadlift workout program in.
You can download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below.
When you’ve downloaded the app and created an account, go to the “Program & Workouts” tab. Under the free programs, you will find the Beginner Deadlift Program.
As you can see, there are two beginner deadlift programs to choose from:
- Deadlift Only
- Deadlift & Accessory Exercises
Let me explain the difference.
1. The Deadlift Only Program
This program is super bare-bones. Just two workouts per week with three sets of deadlifts per workout.
You’ll start off doing three sets of ten reps for the first two workouts, then three sets of eight for the next two workouts, and then finally settle in for three sets of five for all the following weeks.
The weight will automatically increase by 2.5 kg every workout.
- Want to make bigger jumps in weight? Just edit the weight to your desired load. We’ll add 2.5 kg next workout.
- Need to stay at a given weight longer until you get all reps in? Just adjust the weight, and we’ll add 2.5 kg next time.
- Want to do another number of reps than we suggest? Change it. Although the next workout, we’ll suggest the original number of reps again.
If you think this program seems dead simple, you’re right. It’s simple and extremely effective for making quick strength gains as a beginner lifter.
Simply practicing the barbell deadlift for three sets twice per week will be all you need to get stronger in this phase of your strength training. However, if you also want to train the rest of your back muscles every time you’re in the gym to deadlift, the other program suggests how to do that.
2. The Deadlift+ Accessory Exercises Program
- Deadlift: 3 sets x 5–10 reps (just like the first program)
- Barbell Row: 3 sets x 8 reps
- Lat Pulldown: 3 sets x 10 reps
This is an excellent workout routine if you want to train a more comprehensive back workout every time you’re in the gym.
The assistance work in this program is designed to build muscle mass and strength in all of the major muscle groups of your back.
Like with the deadlift, you should increase your weights in these accessory exercises as soon as you hit the target number of sets and reps.
Both programs are free in our workout tracker app, so download it now.
Check out our beginner powerlifting program.
Deadlift Form Tips
If you are going to do a lot of deadlifting, you might as well do it right. Here are some tips on how to deadlift with good form and in a safe manner.
- Bar height. When you start deadlift training, it is important to get the barbell up to proper height, even if you are using very light weights. If full-size weight plates (45 cm diameter) are too heavy for you, try setting the bar up on two blocks or in a low rack. As soon as possible, switch to using the full-sized weight plates.
- Foot position. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing slightly outward. The barbell should be directly over your mid-foot. At least try this position, but feel free to experiment with stance width and toe angle. We are all built differently and should find a style that suits our body.
- Hand positioning. Grasp the barbell with an overhand grip (palms facing you), placing your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider. You can also use a mixed grip (one palm facing you, the other facing away) for better grip strength.
- Use chalk. While you won’t need it immediately, after a few weeks or months, your grip will start slipping if you don’t use lifting chalk (or magnesium, to be precise). Buy some, in either liquid or block form, and put it on your palms before lifting.
- Pull the bar close. You must pull the bar very close to your body. If you lift the bar even an inch out from your body, the lift will get much heavier, and the strain on your lower back will be much greater. Pull the bar tight against your legs, and use leggings or tights to protect your skin if you have to.
- Track your workouts. Seriously, it’s that important. Write down how many sets and reps you did and at what weight so you know what to beat next time. Our workout tracker is a great, free option for that.
For more tips, check out our guide on how to deadlift with proper form.
What to Do When The Beginner Deadlift Program Stops Working
Beginner training programs are characterized by three things:
- Low training volume
- High rate of progress
- Low level of complexity
As an intermediate lifter (or even an advanced lifter), you tend to need more training volume, and you cannot progress as quickly. You might also want to periodize your training, which increases complexity.
Our intermediate deadlift program is an excellent follow-up on this beginner deadlift program. The progress rate is slightly lower, and you’ll do one medium-heavy workout in between every heavy workout.
At the advanced level, we have two popular programs:
- Deadlift Disco. 2x/week. Our deadlift program for powerlifting. Increase your deadlift 1RM and build bigger back muscles. Six weeks long, but possible to cycle through several times.
- Deadlift Builder. 2x/week. To pull big weights, you need big muscles. This program aims to increase your strength potential by increasing the mass of your deadlift muscles. Six weeks long.
We also have intermediate and advanced level deadlift training programs baked into our intermediate and advanced powerlifting programs:
- Intermediate Powerlifting Program. 3x/week. This is a great next step after you’ve followed the beginner program for a few months. Instead of increasing the weights every workout like in the beginner program, the weights increase weekly, with light and medium workouts in between the heavy workouts.
- Advanced Powerlifting Program. 3x/week. A training program for the advanced powerlifter who no longer gets stronger from week to week, and needs a high training volume to progress. Nine weeks long, and ends in a short peaking phase and max attempts.
- Powerlifting Polka. 3, 4, or 6x/week. One of our most popular and effective powerlifting programs. It is six weeks long and comes in three versions: 3, 4, and 6 days per week. Powerlifting Polka is a mash-up of our most popular programs for the three big lifts: Squat Samba, Bench Press Boogie, and Deadlift Disco.
Alternatively, you can browse all of our training programs on the links below:
Frequently Asked Question
Let’s answer some of the most common questions beginners have about deadlifts.
- Is it okay to deadlift as a beginner?
- How many deadlifts should a beginner do?
- What weight should I start deadlifting with as a beginner?
- Is 3 sets of 5 deadlifts enough?
- Will deadlifts build a big back?
- What is an impressive deadlift for a beginner?
Is It Okay to Deadlift as a Beginner?
I get it. The deadlift can seem scary. We’re told that our backs are somehow this delicate thing that can’t handle anything more than lifting 2 lb weights and laying on the couch.
The reality is that the deadlift is a fundamental human movement, and our bodies are both resilient and adaptive. Training the deadlift will make your back stronger and less prone to injury and pain. The deadlift can even be used as a therapeutic exercise to successfully treat low back pain.1
It is definitely okay for beginners to deadlift, they just need to start training the same way they would with any exercise: start with light weights and low volume.
How Many Deadlifts Should a Beginner Do?
In our article on How Many Sets per Muscle Group per Week?, we cover two meta-analyses that found that beginners and intermediate lifters gain more strength and build more muscle mass, respectively, up to a training volume of ten sets per week.2 3
In this beginner deadlift program, we’re staying well below that, with six work sets of deadlifts (not counting warm-up sets) if you work out twice per week.
A lot of beginners could probably handle up to ten work sets of deadlifts per week, but just to err on the safe side, we’ll start off at six sets per week.
In terms of how many reps you should do, the deadlift typically lends itself best to low-to-medium rep ranges, around 1–6 reps per set. However, we start this beginner deadlift program off at ten reps for the first few workouts for two reasons:
- Beginners use light weights. And with light weights, doing ten reps in the deadlift is more feasible. As you get stronger and use heavier weights, you will probably want to move down in rep numbers.
- More repetitions equals more practice. As a beginner, learning the technique is all about getting the reps in. By doing a little more reps in the beginning, you will get some additional practice on the lift, and you will get a feel for it a little quicker.
After a few weeks, though, you will move down to doing sets of five reps, which most people prefer in the deadlift.
What Weight Should I Start Deadlifting with as a Beginner?
A very light weight, that you have complete control over. Your first few sessions are not about getting tired and sore from deadlifts: they are about getting a feel for the exercise and start gathering reps.
When a beginner is learning the bench press and squat, starting with an empty barbell is often a good idea. In the deadlift, this isn’t as easy to do, since you need something to elevate the barbell from the ground.
If you’re strong enough to slap on a 10, 15, or 20 kg full-size weight plate on each side from the start and still able to lift it with total control, then do so. If not, then I suggest you prop the barbell up on something to get roughly the correct height. Two stacks of weight plates, some wooden blocks, or a low rack might do.
When you’ve got the height sorted out, the next order of business is to do your first workout with a light weight. Do 3 sets of 10 reps or 3 sets of 5 reps, whichever you prefer. The important thing is that you start light and get some practice in.
The next workout, you increase the weight by some small amount. Big and strong people might make bigger jumps in the beginning (perhaps 10 kg or 20 lb), while others only increase the weight by 2.5–5 kg (5–10 lb) between workouts.
Sooner or later, this will start to get heavy, at which point everyone should revert to doing 2.5 kg (5 lb) increases between workouts.
Can’t get all three sets of five reps in? Stick with the same weight until you do.
Is 3 Sets of 5 Deadlifts Enough?
Doing three sets of five reps is a classic training method, used in countless effective training program.
As for the deadlift, some popular training programs (like Starting Strength) will only have you doing one set of five reps in the deadlift every week. Others programs (like StrongLifts 5×5) will have you doing five sets of five reps in the deadlift once per week.
In this program, you’ll do three sets of five, two times per week, which I think is a nice training frequency for the beginner deadlifter. It will be enough to increase your deadlift strength and build muscle for a long time.
Note that if you choose to follow our beginner powerlifting program, you will only do one deadlift workout of three sets per week. Instead you will be adding two squat workouts, and, there is a fairly big overlap of muscles worked in the deadlift vs squat.
Will Deadlifts Build a Big Back?
Yes, regular deadlift training will build a big back.
Below are the primary and secondary muscles worked in deadlifts.
For complete back development, you could combine deadlifts with a rowing exercise (like barbell rows) and a vertical pulling exercise (like lat pulldowns), to hit your latissimus dorsi, rear delts, and lower trapezius.
If you’re looking for a deadlift program that emphasizes both strength and muscle growth, you should check out our program Deadlift Builder.
What Is an Impressive Deadlift for a Beginner?
On the one hand, I think that you should focus on yourself, and don’t mind what others are doing. Comparison is the thief of joy, as it goes.
On the other hand, I totally get the desire to compete and compare your strength, and I understand that it can be a powerful source of motivation.
Based on training data from the users of our workout app, we have derived strength standards for the deadlift.
|Beginner||76 kg / 168 lb||40 kg / 88 lb|
|Novice||120 kg / 265 lb||70 kg / 154 lb|
|Intermediate||150 kg / 331 lb||89 kg / 196 lb|
|Advanced||184 kg / 406 lb||110 kg / 243 lb|
|Elite||240 kg / 529 lb||150 kg / 331 lb|
The numbers above are for a one-rep max, or 1RM, which is the heaviest weight you can lift for a single repetition. You can estimate your one-rep max with our 1RM calculator.
For full deadlift strength standards for different bodyweights, see:
- Deadlift Strength Standards for Men and Women (kg)
- Deadlift Strength Standards for Men and Women (lb)
That’s it! Time to load up that barbell and start deadlifting.
Make sure to use the StrengthLog app to track your workouts and to follow this beginner deadlift program, and many other programs.
Download StrengthLog for free with the buttons below:
- J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Feb;45(2):77-85, B1-4. Individualized low-load motor control exercises and education versus a high-load lifting exercise and education to improve activity, pain intensity, and physical performance in patients with low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.
- J Sports Sci. 2017 Jun;35(11):1073-1082. Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
- Sports Med. 2017 Dec;47(12):2585-2601. The Effect of Weekly Set Volume on Strength Gain: A Meta-Analysis.