Deadlift FIRST or LAST? First for me.. USUALLY…

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I’ve tried all sorts of training layouts from full body routines such as 5×5 and Starting Strength all the way through to ‘bro splits’. One query that pops up is WHEN to deadlift during a workout – first or last? Both 5×5 and SS have it LAST, but I almost always do it FIRST. Here’s why…

Deadlift FIRST or LAST? First for me... USUALLY...

At a glance…

  • Overall your workout order will be predicated by your training goals
  • Deadlifting FIRST is typically best – particularly if doing a split workout routine with lots of supplementary lifts
  • In general try to do the MOST TAXING lift FIRST in each workout
  • An exception to this is if you are doing full body workouts with an eye on competitive powerlifting, here deadlifts come LAST (after squat and bench!)
  • This usually means deadlifts come AFTER squats if doing them both on the same day!
  • If you prefer long warm ups deadlifting later in a workout may be beneficial for you

You should deadlift first most of the time…

If in doubt then deadlift first. Don’t over complicate it – simply get the lift out of the way! There are a few reasons why you would want to do so:

  1. Mental fatigue – getting your deadlifts done first and out of the way can be a weight off your mind – if you excuse the pun. Leaving a relatively taxing compound lift until last can be a formidable way to end a workout!
  2. Physical fatigue – I tend to train deadlifts heavy-ish all year round. They are one of the exercises that leaves me totally GASSED after a set. Doing them FIRST gives me the maximum energy to put in to the lift, but admittedly at the detriment to what follows. This is ideal as the deadlift is my priority lift on that day, but may not be great if you focus more on other movements
  3. Measured success – I don’t find the deadlift particularly brilliant for aesthetics, but I LOVE cranking out a PB for the feeling of accomplishment. If you deadlift FIRST you are fresh, if you deadlift LAST then your lift will be impacted by what come before it and how much residual fatigue you are carrying. For this reason I like deadlifting first so my weight lifted is not negatively impacted by the movements before.

Should you do rows or deadlifts first?

Using the above logic I will ALWAYS do deadlifts before any rowing. I simply don’t find rowing overly taxing so would NOT prioritise it over a deadlift.

There are odd occasions where rows may end up ahead of deadlift VARIATIONS in my workouts (I may do a row ahead of a set of RDL’s for example) – but a straight barbell row will almost always go before any row variation in my workouts.

Consider how quickly you warm up

When lifting weights my warmup is typically the process of building up to my first heavy set – simply doing sets of 5 with the empty bar, add a pair of plates then another set of 5, add another set of plates and so on…

If you are similar then it is great as minimal time is lost to work outside of the program!

BUT if you prefer a more elaborate warm up MAYBE deadlifting first is simply too soon and you are too stiff to execute the lift properly. In this instance you could try doing it second, last or anywhere in between to see if suits your warm up routine better.

Where to do deadlifts in a back workout

Where you place your deadlifts in your workout will largely depend on your goals. You should place your PRIORITY lifts nearer the START of your workout as you will simply have more energy available to do them with conviction.

So if you are a powerlifter you will probably have deadlifts FIRST on your back day as that is your primary lift. Conversely if you are a bodybuilder you may prioritise a barbell row which is typically more closely associated with aesthetics and hypertrophy.

The exception: Squat vs deadlift first

The exception that proves the rule: squatting before deadlifts. Our logic for putting deadlifts ahead of most lifts is that it is mentally and physically taxing – well the squat is typically similar if not MORE so.

Further if you are a competitive lifter the squat is the first move followed by a flat barbell bench press and then finished off with a deadlift, so it makes sense to ‘get used’ to deadlifting after a squat if you are going down the competitive lifting route.

So if you squat AND deadlift in the same day I would program the squat first all else being equal. The exceptions would be if you are doing a squat variation or assistance exercise which I would demote to AFTER a primary deadlift movement (e.g. if you are doing high rep front squats as assistance to your primary squat movement of heavy low bar)

Many people will deliberately do their primary squat and primary deadlift on different days when training, doing them together only in the peaking phase pre-competition – this could be something to consider for your own programming.

Conclusion

Most people doing split workout routines will benefit from doing their deadlifts FIRST. The deadlift is one of – if not THE – most taxing movement we do in the gym and therefore it makes sense to do it when we are fresh and ready at the start of a workout. If you are doing full body workouts, training for powerlifting or simply WANT to deadlift later then it makes sense to do other movements first for the reasons covered above.

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