The heavy deadlift is one of the biggest compound exercises because it trains nearly all muscles in your body.
As a result, heavy deadlifts are one of the staple exercises in nearly all strength and bodybuilding programs.
With that said, when I write client programs I never include heavy deadlifts in their training.
The reason behind this is that from a bodybuilding perspective, the deadlift is a high stress, low reward movement.
High stress: When you perform a heavy set of deadlifts you put immense stress on your central nervous system.
This means that a heavy set of deadlifts increases the need for longer recovery time between training sessions and it drains your energy early in the training so you have less energy to train other exercises.
Low reward: While the deadlift trains nearly all muscles in your body, the only muscles that get developed to a decent degree are the posterior chain muscles: hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, traps and possibly lats. (I emphasize decent degree because there are plenty of other exercises that each develop these muscles to an even higher degree).
Your arms, shoulders, upper chest will get minimal development (if any) from the deadlift.
In other words, the muscle groups which are the most important to develop for skinny-fat guys barely get developed.
Because of this, I never include heavy deadlifts into my programs.
I do however include light dumbbell stiff legged deadlifts into many of my programs.
By doing light dumbbell stiff legged deadlifts, you get most of the benefits of the heavy deadlift without putting a high amount of stress on the Central Nervous System.
You develop your hamstrings, glutes and spinal erectors enough so you don’t get injured while avoiding the excessive stress on the Central Nervous System.
And if you’re using the heavy deadlift as a back-builder, then it can work for some people.
There are some people who get both back width and thickness from doing heavy deadlifts, however these people would most likely get even more back growth from doing different variations of chin ups, pull ups and rows.
In general, for building a thick and wide back, chin ups, pull ups and rows are superior because they target the upper back, lats and biceps rather than your whole body.
Be proud but stay hungry!
Oskar Faarkrog, ISSA Certified Trainer
Interesting perspective. What are your thoughts on the creation of HGH and testosterone caused by doing deadlifts? Seems there would be benefit in that regard.
Heavy compound lifts only cause a small short term spike in testosterone. This spike has no effect on body-composition. Your testosterone levels spike up and down throughout the day anyways with the highest levels being around 5-8 AM in the morning.
Something heavy compound lifts can do though is to cause a lot of stress on the central nervous system which leads to chronically high cortisol levels. This will lower your daily testosterone levels and reduce your ability to make gains.
When it comes to regulating your hormones when training for body-composition you want to inflict the most muscle damage possible while sparing the joints and central nervous system. As a result, you should be very strategical about the compound movements you include and use the minimal effective dose… Then rely a lot on bodyweight exercises, cables, machines and dumbbells for your training.