The deadlift is often called the king of the compound exercises. And for a reason. It’s a whole-body exercise that works your posterior chain muscles – your hamstrings, glutes, upper and lower back. Also, your quads, core, forearms, and shoulders get activated too.
Still, a lot of people have negative connotations to the deadlift. Deadlift often gets blamed for back injuries and often gets labeled as a dangerous exercise. This is not true. Deadlift is NOT dangerous. Deadlift with poor form is dangerous. And a lot of people don’t have a good deadlift form and this is what gets them injured.
The most common variation of the deadlift is the barbell deadlift. However, we are all biomechanically different and the barbell deadlift doesn’t suit us all. For example, tall lifters have a harder time deadlifting with proper form than shorter lifters. This requires some modification in their deadlift
.Some people just don’t like deadlifts, and some just want to mix things up and add some variability in their training.
Whatever the reason why you’re looking for the deadlift alternatives, we bring you the 11 best deadlift alternatives you can easily add to your workouts and build strong posterior chain muscles.
Muscles Used in Deadlifts
The deadlift is a compound exercise that targets posterior chain muscles. It works your glutes, hamstrings, low and upper back.
What Makes a Good Deadlift Alternatives
A good deadlift alternative works the same muscles as the deadlift and mimics the same movement pattern.
11 Deadlift Alternatives
1. Romanian Deadlift
The main difference between the traditional deadlift and the Romanian deadlift is that the Romanian deadlift is done with stiff legs and the bar travel is shorter. This puts more emphasis on the hamstrings and the glutes.
The starting barbell position of the Romanian deadlift isn’t on the floor. Actually, the starting position is what would be the top position of the traditional deadlift. Therefore, you can place the bar on the power rack and start from there. You don’t have to start from the floor as you would in the traditional deadlift.
As already mentioned, the Romanian deadlift is done with stiff legs. This means there is almost no knee bending during the movement. This straight-leg position puts a lot of emphasis on your hamstrings.
With Romanian deadlift, you don’t have to go as low as you would in the traditional deadlift. The bottom position of the Romanian deadlift is slightly below the knees.
You don’t need a lot of weight to make a Romanian deadlift effective. The emphasis should be on the slow eccentric movement, rather than the weight.
How to Romanian Deadlift:
- Get the barbell off the rack, take a few steps backward and stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Slightly bend your knees. Hinge at the hips until you bring the barbell slightly below your knees. Keep your spine neutral and your legs stiff the whole time.
- Once the barbell gets below your knees, drive the hips forward by squeezing the glutes and get into an upright position. Then repeat.
2. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar deadlift is one of the best deadlift alternatives. What makes the trap bar deadlift so great is the design of the trap bar.
The deadlift with a barbell puts the load in front of your body which puts more pressure on your lower back. This is not the case with the trap bar deadlift. It puts the body in a more biomechanically friendly position and loads the body closer to your center of mass. This position makes it more suitable for beginners and people with back issues.
Also, the trap bar deadlift is easier to learn and requires less technique than the barbell deadlift. This makes it a more beginner-friendly exercise and it is a great place to start if you learning how to deadlift properly.
How to Trap Bar Deadlift:
- Stand inside the trap bar with your feet shoulder-width apart. Grab the handles and slightly bend your knees. Hinge from your hips and keep your back straight.
- Brace your core and push with your legs and drive the hips forward to get back into the upright position. Slowly lower the bar without rounding your back. Then repeat.
3. Elevated Deadlift
The elevated deadlift is also known as the block deadlift. It is performed by placing the blocks under the barbell, which puts it in an elevated position and around your knee height. This elevated position puts more emphasis on the top-end range of the deadlift and targets your glutes and upper back to a greater extent.
The elevated deadlift has a shorter rand of motion than the traditional deadlift. This allows you to lift more weight. Typically, you can lift 10-30% more weight than you could in the regular deadlift. Therefore, the elevated deadlift is great for building strength and power.
How to Elevated Deadlift
- Set the boxes under the barbell to elevate it to approximately knee height.
- Grip the barbell with your shoulders directly over the bar, slightly bend your knees and push the hips back.
- Brace your core and lift the bar off the blocks, extend your knees, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward. Return the barbell to the blocks and then repeat.
4. Rack Pull
The rack pull is often used for improving pulling strength. Therefore, it is a great way to get better at deadlifts and lift heavier. Also, it is a great alternative for beginners to get the pulling mechanics needed for the deadlift. Rack pulls are easier and less demanding than the regular deadlift so it is a great start for everyone new to lifting.
How to Rack Pull:
- Place the barbell on the rack and load it with weight. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the barbell.
- Slightly bend your knees and hinge at the hips while keeping your back straight.
- Brace your core, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward until you get upright with the barbell. Make sure you don’t round your back.
- Hold at the top and slowly lower the weight. Then repeat.
5. Sumo Deadlift
The sumo deadlift is a deadlift performed with a wider stance, with feet pointing out and with arms resting between the thighs. Compared to the traditional deadlift, this setup puts less stress on the lower back and puts greater emphasis on the glutes and quad activation. Also, lifters are usually able to lift more weight in the sumo deadlift than in the traditional deadlift stance.
How to Sumo Deadlift:
- Get into a wide stance with your feet pointing out. The width of the stance depends on the person. The stance must be wide enough to allow your arms to extend inside your thighs and grip the barbell in that position.
- Grip the barbel, slightly bend your knees, keep your back straight and engage your core.
- While keeping your back straight, push with your legs, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward. Hold at the top position, then lowly lower the bar. Repeat.
6. Barbell Hip Thrusts
The deadlift is a posterior chain exercise, and glutes have a major role in the deadlift. Therefore, the hip thrust can be a great deadlift alternative. It is an effective exercise to isolate and work the glutes. It is one of the most popular glute isolation exercises and for a reason.
The horizontal body position of the hip thrust provides the tension during the whole movement. Unlike in other standing posterior chain exercises such as the deadlift, during the hip thrust, there is a constant tension in the glutes. This makes the hip thrust one of the best exercises for your glutes.
For the hip thrust, you will need a bench, a barbell, and some kind of pad to put under the barbell. At heavier loads, it is uncomfortable to hold the bar directly on your hips, so the barbell pad is going to help you with that.
How to Hip Thrust:
- Sit on the floor and lean with your upper back on the edge of a bench. Put your feet slightly wider than your hip-width. You can place a resistance band around your knees for better gluteal activation.
- Place a barbell across your hips. Your feet should be firmly on the ground. Squeeze with your glutes to extend the hips and lift the barbell until it is in line with your knees.
- Hold that position for few seconds, then slowly lower the barbell. don’t lose tension in your glutes on your way down. Repeat.
7. Kettlebell Swing
Kettlebell swings are a great way to work your posterior chain muscles while also improving your cardio. Just make sure you have a proper swinging technique. Kettlebell swings are more of a technical exercise than pure strength and power. So don’t heavy with the swings until you master the proper swinging mechanics. You don’t want to injure yourself, so take your time.
The most important tip for the kettlebell swing is to swing from the hips, and not from pulling the kettlebell with your arms. Also, you should keep your back straight during the swing, especially at the downward momentum of the kettlebell. Rounding your back on the way down of the kettlebell could lead to injury.
How to Kettlebell Swing:
- Grab the kettlebell with both hands and rest it inside your thighs. Keep your back straight and stand upright. Your feet should be slightly wider than your hips.
- Soften your knees and slightly bend you hips without rounding your back.
- Push your hips back and get into a hinge position. Then from the bottom position explode from your hips and swing the kettlebell upward. Swing the kettlebell approximately to your chest level.
- Let the kettlebell pull you back into a hinge position. Do not let your back round at any time. As it pulls you back into the hinge position, explode from your hips once again to swing the kettlebell up. Then repeat.
8. Cable Pull Through
The cable pull throughs are a great way to work your glutes and hamstrings. What makes this exercise specific is the constant tension in the hamstrings and the glutes during the movement. Due to the cable pulling you in the opposite direction, there is extended time under tension in the glutes and the hamstrings which makes cable pull throughs so effective.
Although cable pull throughs are mostly performed on the cable machine, they can be done with a resistance bend as well.
How to Cable Pull Through:
- Put the cable at the lowest setting and attach the rope to it. Grab the rope, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, slightly bend your knees, and hinge at the hips. Make sure your back is straight.
- From the hinge position, squeeze your glutes and drive your hips forward. Do not use your upper body, you should extend the cable just by using your hips.
- As you get upright with your hips fully extended, slowly let the cable pull you back to the starting position. Just make sure you are not losing tension in the glutes and the hamstrings on the way back. then repeat.
9. Good Mornings
Good mornings are a hinge exercise. However, to an untrained eye, it can look like the movement comes only from your lower back. This not only isn’t true but it can be harmful and lead to injury.
Yes, your lower back muscles (erector spinae) do get activated during the good mornings but they are not the primary movers nor does the movement should come from your lower back. The main movement should come from your hips and the main muscles working should be the glutes and the hamstrings.
How to Good Morning:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put a barbell on your shoulders and stand upright.
- Keep your back straight, push your hips back into a hinge position until your torso is almost parallel to the ground.
- From this position, squeeze the glutes and push the hips forward to get into an upright position. Don’t arch from your lower back. Then repeat.
10. Single-leg Romanian Deadlift
This is a great exercise to balance the strength discrepancy in your legs and really work your glutes and hamstrings. The single-leg Romanian deadlift follows the same general rules as the regular Romanian deadlift. The difference is it is done standing on one leg.
The one-legged version of the Romanian deadlift requires a lot more hip and core stabilization. This makes it a more demanding exercise. However, you can help yourself by resting the non-working leg on the bench behind you until you develop proper strength and balance to do a non-supported single-leg Romanian deadlift.
How to Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Slightly bend your knees.
- Raise one leg off the floor by leaning forward from your opposite hip. Make sure your hips are leveled and you are not leaned to one side. Also, make sure you are not rounding your back.
- As your torso gets almost parallel to the ground, push the hips forward until you get into an upright position. You should feel the glute and the hamstring of the standing leg working. As you get upright again, then repeat.
11. Pause Deadlift
The pause deadlift is very similar to the traditional deadlift. However, it is a more advanced and more demanding version so you should already have a competent deadlifting strength and technique.
The difference between the pause deadlift and the traditional deadlift is that in the pause deadlift you are not going through the full range of motion, but you are going only halfway and pausing for a few seconds.
How to Pause Deadlift:
- Start as you would with a regular deadlift. Grip the bar and lift the barbell off the floor.
- Keep your back straight and somewhere around knee height pause for a few seconds. As you hold this position for a few seconds, slowly lower the bar to the floor. Then repeat.
Frequently Asked Questions
Trap bar deadlift is great. Especially if you’re a beginner lifter or a recreational lifter in general. The trap bar deadlift puts your body in a more natural position and it is technically less demanding to perform. This makes it safer too. The more natural body position puts less stress on your lower back and loads your body closer to its center. If you are not a powerlifter or professional athlete, in our opinion the trap bar deadlift is safer and offers more advantages to most people.
With exercises on this list, you can easily improve strength and work your posterior chain muscles. Some exercises are very similar to the traditional deadlift and closely mimic the movement pattern, others are not so.
From time to time, it’s fun and useful to add some variety to your training and mix things up. This list provides you with a lot of ideas that can add your current training regime.
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