Deadlift has always been an important part of my exercise routine.
However, over time I realized that for various reasons I needed to find some deadlift alternatives.
In this article, I will show you 15 deadlift alternatives that can help you either improve your classic deadlift or become your main exercise.
I tried all of them in my home gym. Some worked fantastic, some a bit worse. But each one is worth having a closer look at.
Read through and choose the one that suits you best.
Deadlift is one of the best compound lifts available and is considered the strongest move your body can make.
It’s an intense move that works on the posterior chain, especially glutes and hamstrings but also hips, core and traps. Deadlift might be helpful in reducing lower back pain and improving hip-hinge movement.
You will move the biggest loads in the deadlift which will build your explosiveness and power. Deadlift will help you become a better athlete and will improve life quality by improving your daily body functions.
Why Looking for Alternatives?
There are several points to consider. First of all, lifting a load in front of you is not the most natural lift for the human body.
Also, since deadlift works several muscle groups at once, you may want to isolate some of them to stimulate more growth.
Perhaps your goal is to actually deepen the move and make it more intense.
If you are suffering or recovering from an injury, you are probably considering a workaround in your program. Or maybe you are simply fighting with a persisting lower back issue.
If you have long legs deadlifts might be a problem since you have a longer way to go against gravity.
Most of us have one side of our body stronger. Because of that we usually compensate for the weaker side by overtraining the strong side. In this case using two separate weights instead of one barbell might be a good alternative to close the gap between both sides.
Finally, since deadlifts are so intense, repeating them over years might lead to injuries.
If one of the above points is the reason why you are here, you are in the right place. Let’s dive in!
I chose deadlift variations that activate similar muscles or movement patterns. Since the primary mover of the deadlift is hip extension and posterior chain muscles, all of the below exercises will work on flexing and extending your hips in a powerful motion. They will also engage the posterior chain.
When it comes to deadlift alternatives, there are some general guides which apply to all variations.
- Always keep your spine straight and shoulder blades locked.
- Be focused on tilting the back of your pelvis down. This will help you stack your ribs and pelvis on top of each other.
- Avoid rounding your shoulders by keeping them retracted.
- Brace your core. This works as a great stabilizer for most of the compound moves.
- Always keep your heels on the floor. When lifting, push through your heels. You will engage your glutes and hamstrings more effectively.
- Keep the weight close to your body. This will transition the work on your hips.
- Always look straight, avoid moving your head around. This will help you keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Don’t just pull the weight, instead think about pushing your feet to the ground and move up against it.
- Since a deadlift is a compound movement, try to perform it first in your routine and then move to isolation exercises.
In this variation you will increase the range of motion by lowering the weight below the normal level.
It will challenge your quads more as you have to overcome the initial deficit. Deficit deadlift is more advanced than the regular deadlift and requires good technique.
To start, you need to set up a platform. For instance, you can stand on two 40-45lb plates. Then, place your feet under the bar with your shins touching it.
Next, lower your hips and grab the bar with a firm grip. Finally, push up and straighten your hips and knees simultaneously, lifting the weight off the floor.
In this variation you will spread your legs wide and place your hands on the bar at about shoulder width.
It will help you engage your quads more as they are the primary movers in this exercise.
Since you will keep your torso more upright with reduced range of motion, sumo deadlift will also reduce the stress on your lower back.
Usually this variation allows us to lift heavier weights which improves lower body strength and power.
Suitcase deadlift will improve your lateral core stability. This is the ability to resist side-to-side forces and maintain a balanced posture. Many exercise routines neglect this aspect of core strength.
To perform a suitcase deadlift, you need to stand next to a barbell, dumbbell or kettlebell. First, push your hips back as far as you can without bending your knees. This will activate your hip hinge.
Then, bend your knees and grab the weight with one hand, keeping your spine straight and your hips lower than your shoulders.
If you work with a barbell, make sure to grab the weight in the middle to prevent it from tilting.
The key to this lift is to keep your shoulders at the same level and your hips facing forward throughout the movement. This will challenge your lateral core muscles and prevent you from leaning or twisting.
To perform a kettlebell swing, you need to stand two feet away from your kettlebell with your feet hip-width apart.
Then, bend your knees and hips and grab the bell with both hands. Tuck the bell forward and swing it between your legs.
Next, swing it back to the center and thrust it forward and up with your hips.
Imagine you are jumping but keep your feet on the ground. The power should come from your hips, not your arms. Your arms should only stabilize the bell.
When your hips are fully extended, straighten your knees and squeeze your glutes. The kettlebell should reach no higher than your chest level.
Then, let the gravity pull the kettlebell back to your hips and repeat the motion without putting the bell down. Do as many reps as you can comfortably.
A barber row targets mainly the upper body. It is a good exercise for strengthening your back, but it can also be risky for your spine if you do it incorrectly. The proper form is very important here.
You can use dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell. We will focus on the barbell version here.
To perform a barber row, you need to stand with your feet under the bar, hip-width apart.
Then, bend over at about 45 degrees or parallel to the floor if you can keep your spine straight. Grip the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than your shoulders and lift it off the floor.
The angle of your torso will affect which muscles you work more. A higher angle will hit your upper traps more, while a lower angle will hit your lats more.
The same goes for the width and type of your grip. A wider overhand grip will work your upper back more, while a narrower underhand grip will work your lats and biceps more.
If you choose a wider grip, while pulling the bar up, you will generally bring it closer to your sternum. In a narrower grip you will bring it closer to your belly button.
Then, slightly bend your knees and keep your elbows and spine straight. The bar should be at your thighs level.
Now, pull the bar up to the area between your belly button and your sternum by bringing your elbows back and up. Avoid flaring your elbows out and keep them close to your body.
Pull the bar explosively and lower it slowly. Squeeze your lats when you pull and pinch your shoulder blades. This will help you prevent rounding your upper back.
If you feel too much strain on your back, you can do this exercise from a rack instead of the floor. In this case, position the bar near your knees.
A back extension is a simple and safe exercise.
It effectively works your posterior chain muscles.
To perform a back extension, you need to lie facedown on the floor or a mat. You can also use a bench if you have one.
Place your palms on the back of your head next to your ears.
Then, squeeze your glutes and your lower back and lift your upper body off the floor.
Keep your pelvis and legs extended and touching the floor. Hold the top position for a few seconds and then lower yourself down.
Trap Bar Deadlift
In this variation you will use a trap bar. It has a hexagonal shape and allows you to stand inside it and grip it from the sides. This makes it easier and more natural for your body to lift than a regular barbell.
A trap bar deadlift is very similar to a classic barbell deadlift, but it has some serious advantages. You can start higher and bend less at the beginning. This promotes a more upright starting posture, which reduces the stress on your spine.
Since the load will be around you and not in front of you, you will be able to lift heavier weights compared to a classic deadlift.
- The setup: Your shins should be in line with the center of the bar.
Make sure the grip is next to you or slightly behind you, but not in front of you.
Push your butt as far back as you can and then bend your knees and grab the bar with an aggressive grip.
Keep your neck neutral and don’t look up.
Squeeze your shoulders and rotate your inner elbows forward to create more stability.
Make sure your hips are lower than your shoulders to take the load off your lower spine.
- The lift: Keep your hips lower than your shoulders throughout the whole motion.
When the bar travels from the ground up to your knees, it will be a leg dominant move. When the bar crosses that point it becomes a hip hinge.
Finally, stand up and squeeze your glutes. Don’t push your hips forward, instead keep them in line with your spine.
- Putting the weight down: Reverse the lift motion.
Move your butt as far back as you can until you reach a point where you can’t go any further. This is the hip hinge part.
Then bend your knees and lower the weight down. This is a leg movement.
You can either touch down and do another rep right away, which is more advanced, or leave the bar on the floor, reset your alignment and repeat the move.
Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
It is a safer and more hamstrings dominant movement. Since it uses a hip-hinge motion, you will move your hips back and forth without bending your knees much.
You can also use kettlebells or a barbell for this exercise.
To perform a dumbbell Romanian deadlift, you need to stand up with a weight in each hand. Keep a neutral grip.
Move your shoulders down and tense your lats to stabilize them. Squeeze your glutes and brace your core.
Then, push your hips back as far as you can while keeping your spine neutral and your knees slightly bent.
Slide the dumbbells down your thighs and towards your knees.
If you are using a barbell, keep it over your midfoot as you lower it.
Keep the body weight on your heels and don’t drop your hips down.
Go down until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings or until you can’t keep your spine straight. This will usually be around your knee or high-shin level.
Pause for a second at the bottom and then quickly reverse the movement and stand up.
Barbell Rack Pull
A barber rack pull uses a shorter range of motion. It is a great way to expose your body to heavier loads and improve your barbell deadlift. It is also good for people who have limited hip mobility or who want to practice a more realistic pulling scenario.
However, you need to be careful with your shoulder stability and upper back posture when using heavier loads.
Set up the bar on a rack at around your knee level. This gives you an advantage from the bottom but still requires you to use a hip-hinge motion and activate your glutes and hamstrings.
The setup phase is the same as in a trap bar deadlift.
You need to stand with your feet under the bar, hip-width apart. Use an overhand grip slightly wider than your shoulders and lift it off the rack.
Then, drive the bar close to your thighs and straighten your knees and hips at the same time.
Lower the bar back to the rack and repeat.
A farmer’s carry is a simple and super effective exercise. You can do it with dumbbells or kettlebells.
You can use it as a main exercise, a warmup or a finisher.
Try to go heavy here. It will help you build some serious core strength, back muscles and forearms.
It is great cardio as well.
To perform a farmer’s carry, you need to bend your knees, push your butt back and pick up the weight.
Keep your hips lower than your shoulders and your spine straight.
Then, stand up and tighten your grip. Squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your shoulders down. Keep your neck neutral and look straight ahead.
Squeezing your abs will help you carry the load.
Now, keep the position you started with and walk under load. Maintain the tension in your shoulder blades, core and forearms. You can walk and move around or you can walk in one place.
Barbell Hip Thrust
A barbell hip thrust is a great exercise for targeting your glutes. You can do it with or without weight.
It takes the stress off your lower back and maximizes your hip extension. This means you isolate your glutes more than in any other exercise here.
You need to make sure your glutes drive the movement, not your lower back.
Avoid using an Olympic bar because it is harder to handle. Use a smaller bar instead.
To perform a barbell hip thrust, follow these steps:
- Lean with your shoulder blades against a bench. Lift your hips up without the weight and check your feet position. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your shins should be perpendicular to the floor. Your knees should be directly above your feet.
- Now, roll the bar up on your hips just above your pelvis. You can use a towel under the bar to make it more comfortable. Grab the bar with an overhand grip.
- Now, drive your hips up towards the ceiling and squeeze your glutes. Finish when your body is parallel to the floor. Do not arch up.
- Let your knees go sideways as you do the motion. This will reduce knee tension.
Single-Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift
A single-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is usually underrated but very effective.
It works your posterior chain muscles, such as your hamstrings and glutes, while also engaging your core tremendously.
It is a balance-booster and a back-friendly alternative. It also helps you work on your imbalances on each side of your body.
It’s a good idea to do this exercise after your heavy compound lifts, such as squats or classic deadlifts.
The main focus here is on building control and stability, not on loading.
This variation isolates one hamstring and glute at a time. This increases the tension and work.
To perform a single-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift, follow these steps:
- The lift: Pick up the dumbbells from the floor with a straight spine. Stand tall and strong with your shoulder blades down. Brace your core.
- Then, slightly lift your left leg up and balance on your right leg. Keep your right knee relaxed.
- The motion: Keep your left leg up all the time. Don’t let your upper back lose tension and collapse. Lower the weight in each hand until your torso is parallel to the floor or until you start losing your straight line in your spine. Keep the weight in front of you and close to your leg, just above the floor. Keep your elbows straight and use a natural grip.
- Reverse move: Go all the way up, leading from your hamstrings and glutes.
Bulgarian Split Squat
You can do this exercise with or without weight. It is a glute-dominant movement that requires you to keep a fairly long distance between your legs.
It also helps you work both sides of your body independently and correct any muscle imbalances.
To perform a Bulgarian split squat, follow these steps:
- Set up a box or a bench of about knee or mid-shin height.
Place one foot in front of the bench and one foot on the bench.
You can use your toes or the front of your foot to rest on the bench. Make sure your legs are shoulder-width apart to avoid losing balance.
Hold kettlebells or dumbbells in both hands at your sides.
- Then, bend both knees and lower down until your front leg makes a 90-degree angle.
Your back knee should touch the floor.
Try to keep your front shin vertical and sit on your back leg. Don’t let your front knee go past your toe level.
Barbell squats will work all your lower body muscles similar to the deadlift, as well as the core and some upper traps and front delts.
However, squats might be more stressful for your knees compared to deadlifts, especially if you already experience some issues, so make sure to check your squat form to proceed safely.
In general, with squats you will achieve similar strength improvements in your lower body compared to deadlifts. It’s a functional motion in your daily life. You use this movement pattern when you sit down in a chair or lean down to pick some heavy objects from the ground.
When you squat, aim for full range of motion and go as down with your butt as possible without rounding your lower back.
If you have some mobility issues in your ankles, try putting plates under your heels.
Always push through your heels and push your knees out, especially when lifting heavy weights.
Keep your core braced at all times.
To perform the exercise, start with placing the bar on the rack at your preferred height.
Lift the bar and place it on your upper back. Hands and shoulders stabilize the bar.
Brace your core and move down as far as it feels comfortable. Always keep your spine and neck neutral.
At the bottom squeeze your glutes and drive back up.
Good mornings primarily work the hip abductors, lower back and hamstrings.
It’s a similar motion pattern to Romanian deadlift if done with the bar.
Make sure you keep your spine neutral at all times as this exercise carries an increased risk of injury.
To perform the exercise, place the bar over your shoulders, behind your neck. Your arms stabilize the bar.
Brace your core and hinge at the hips while keeping tension in your upper back. Lean forward slowly.
If you are flexible enough, go down until your torso is parallel to the floor.
So what comes after that?
Want to use some other variations to work on your legs? Check out our latest article on the pendulum squat.
If you want to further improve your deadlift, it’s a good idea to work on your shoulders. Here, you will find our latest article on the most effective shoulder workouts. Enjoy!
Should I Consider Deadlift Alternatives?
If you like the classic version and you have no injuries, then the answer is no.
However, if you want to stimulate your muscles in a different way, challenge yourself or isolate the muscles further consider introducing deadlift alternatives.
Which Alternative is the Safest and Easiest?
Back extensions. They require no loading and you can do them pretty much everywhere.
Which Alternative is the Least Safe?
Good mornings. If your hamstrings are flexible enough, you might be able to end the move with the torso parallel to the floor.
Be super aware of the position of your spine in this variation and consider using lower weights.