If you have ever been in a gym, which we are sure you have, you will have seen some people performing a deadlift. The deadlift can be done by gym goers of all skill levels, and are one of the most popular compound exercises that you can do.
A compound exercise simply means that this type of exercise involves the use of multiple and much larger muscle groups so can therefore improve your muscle mass, strength and power.
The deadlift is so widely known because it is a compound exercise that simultaneously trains both the upper and lower body, and can help you gain muscle mass.
What is the Deadlift?
The term deadlift comes from the action of lifting a dead weight off the ground. A deadlift is the training exercise of movement, where you will hinge your hips backward and crouch lower down to pick up a weighted barbell or kettlebell from off the ground. In this movement, you will need to keep your back flat.
Deadlifts are one of the most popular and commonly used core lifts along with bench pressing and squatting. This is because the deadlift will utilize the back muscles, core muscles, leg muscles and glute muscles when performed.
What does the Deadlift work on?
When performed correctly, the deadlift will work to strengthen the muscles in the upper and lower back, your hamstrings and the glutes, whilst also providing more definition in those areas.
The deadlift is a great workout to help you gain strength when lifting weights, as long as you keep your body in the correct and accurate position.
With the deadlift, you can train a multitude of muscles at the same time. For instance, the deadlift will work on the quadriceps and hamstrings in the legs, as these muscles will work to pull you up from the lowest position in the lift.
In addition, you will utilize all three butt, or glute muscles when doing the deadlift. However, the gluteus maximus will work with the hamstrings to help you extend your hips and bring you up and out of the bent over position as you do the lift.
You will also train your core muscles, as the abdominal muscles will contract to provide an increase in pressure to keep your back stable when lifting the weights. Without contracting your core muscles, you may risk injuring your back when performing the deadlift.
Finally, you will of course use back muscles when practicing the deadlift exercise. These muscles will include the longissimus, spinalis, and iliocostalis muscles along the spine, to help you extend your torso and stand upright during the lifting process.
As you are working so many muscles at once with the deadlift, it comes as no surprise that this is an exercise you will want to include in your workout.
However, for whatever your reasoning, such as an injury, you may not be able to perform a deadlift, and are looking for an alternative to work those muscles.
10 Best Deadlift Alternatives
For whatever your reason, you may not particularly like or want to do the deadlift. If you are looking for the perfect Deadlift alternatives, we have ten great ones for you to try out.
These work just as well as the deadlift, and can be substituted for the normal deadlift in your usual workout. The 10 best highly effective deadlift alternatives are:
- Deficit Deadlift
- Pause Deadlift
- Romanian Deadlift
- Block Deadlift
- 45-Degree Back Extension
- Bulgarian Split Squat
- Single-Leg DB Deadlift
- Standing Cable Pull Through
- Pendlay Row
- Farmer Carry
You may have heard of these exercises before, or you may not have. Luckily, we have made a guide of how to successfully perform each one, along with some hints and tips to make your workout the best it can be!
How to do the Deadlift Alternatives
With our guide, we will have you mastering these deadlift alternatives in no time. So, let’s dive in.
Aside from putting more emphasis and gaining greater definition on your quads, we explained the benefits of deficit deadlifts and everything you need to know about this exercise in this article.
This type of deadlift is typically done by standing on an elevated platform to perform the lift, and is therefore a much more advanced deadlift alternative, so if you are a beginner, then maybe skip this type of deadlift.
How to do the Deficit Deadlift
To perform a deficit deadlift, you will need to set up a sort of platform. This can be done by standing on some 45 lb plates to start. Place the barbell weights over the platform, and stand with your feet underneath the barbell, bringing your shins to the touch.
You will then have to stand with your hips slightly lower than in a normal deadlift starting position, and begin the movement. To do the deficit deadlift, you will have to start moving by cueing yourself to push the floor away and activate your quad muscles.
Then, lock your knees and hips together to lift. For this type of deadlift exercise, you will want to use a conventional, or shoulder width stance to start with. However, you can do the deficit deadlift with a sumo style stance, too if you are feeling brave and ready enough.
The Pause deadlift may be the most attractive option to use as an alternative to the deadlift, as it is probably the most similar to a regular deadlift. The main difference between them is that with the pause deadlift...you do just that.
When pulling up from the floor to the lockout position, instead of pulling straight up as you would in a normal deadlift, instead you would pause at the halfway point for 1-2 seconds to really workout those muscles.
This method therefore has a higher training effect and will place much more definition and emphasis on the quads rather than other muscle groups used in the normal deadlift.
However, if you are not well versed in doing deadlifts already, then it is probably best to avoid this alternative until you are completely comfortable in performing a regular deadlift first.
How to do the Pause Deadlift
To perform a pause deadlift properly, you will need to begin in a regular deadlift position as normal. Then, as you drive up the lift from the floor, you will want to pause with the load for 1-2 seconds at the point between the floor and your knees.
The pause time begins once the barbell is completely motionless, and keep the barbell on your shins throughout the pause. You will need to maintain the tension in your quad muscles throughout the whole pause, before driving back to the lockout position as you would in a normal deadlift.
Once this is done, you can return to the start position of the deadlift. If practicing multiple reps of this type of deadlift, try to repeat and be consistent with the position of the pause!
The Romanian deadlift is a great deadlift alternative that will focus much more attention on the lower back and glutes, if that is what you desire.
The Romanian deadlift is different to a normal or regular deadlift exercise as this is done with much less knee extension, or pushing off from the floor like in a normal deadlift. With a Romanian deadlift, you are expected to pull from the hips to do the lift.
The Romanian deadlift is done by starting in a standing position, and hinging your hips forward, pushing them back and leaning your shoulders forward. If you do not know what we mean, don’t worry we have a ‘how to’ guide!
How to do the Romanian Deadlift
To complete a Romanian deadlift, you will need to start the exercise with a barbell weight resting on the pins inside a power rack. Keep the barbells at around the mid-thigh height.
Then, grab the barbell just outside the legs, and lift it from the pins, walking back from the rack about 2-3 steps. Next, place your feet a good shoulder distance apart, and bend your knees only slightly.
You will then want to hinge at your hips, keeping the barbell at the knee, and keep your weight just on your heels. Then, you can drive the hips backwards to feel more of a tension in your glutes and hamstrings.
Once this is done, and the barbell is just below the knee, you will need to squeeze your glutes a little, and move your hips upwards and forwards. Remember not to bend your knees too much!
The best thing about the Romanian deadlift is that you do not need too much weight for this exercise to work wonders! You can actually use around 40-50% of your usual max 1 rep deadlift for reps between 6-10 in this exercise for a high training effect.
The block deadlift is a great alternative to the deadlift. Often called the rack pull, this exercise is perfect for using a range of motion. In the Block Deadlift, the user will deadlift off blocks, or if none are available, you can use the safety pins inside a power rack.
For this lift, you can vary the height of the blocks or pins to alter the range of motion that you are wanting to target. The most common height to set up the block is around the knee height level, so you may want to start there.
In the block deadlift, you will be placing a much larger amount of loading demand on the back muscle groups and the hips, than in the regular deadlift.
In addition, with the block deadlift, you are able to lift more weight because there is a shorter range of motion.
How to do the Block Deadlift
To do the block deadlift, you will need to first set up the boxes so that the barbell is at or around the knee height. Then, you can walk up to the barbell weight and grip it just outside your thighs.
Once this is done, you will have to aim to keep your shoulders directly in line with the barbell, for a little more of a forward torso lean. Then, you will have to take a really deep breath, squeeze your lats in strongly, and brace your core, before lifting the barbell weight from the blocks.
Next, squeeze in your glutes, and drive your hips towards the barbell weight. The barbell should remain close to your thighs throughout the whole lift, and range of motion.
You will also want to lock your hips and knees at the same time, before returning the barbell to the blocks. You can then repeat this lift as many times as necessary for your exercise.
With the block deadlift, you can most likely handle a little more weight than with the normal deadlift. However, although you can probably lift around 10-30% more weight, and your upper and lower back muscles will be able to cope with this, your grip may not do so well.
This is why we recommend wearing straps to prevent losing your grip when doing the block deadlift.
45-Degree Back Extension
If you are looking to build up your muscles in the lower back and in your glutes, then you may prefer the 45-Degree Back Extension over the traditional deadlift exercise.
For this exercise, your gym will need to have a 45-degree back extension machine. This type of deadlift is also best done at the end of your workout for a better muscle exercise.
How to do the 45-Degree Back Extension
To properly do the 45-degree back extension, you will want to set the back extension equipment at the correct height. This should be at your waist level so that you can comfortably and properly bend over the top of the machine without any discomfort or pain.
You will then need a dumbbell weight or plate weight, and you must hold it close to your chest, tightly. Next, you will need to place your feet at the base on the platform, and begin lowering yourself over the 45-degree extension, towards the floor.
You will have to keep your spine neutral for this to work, and your legs straight as possible. Bend until you feel a deep pull in your hamstrings and glutes, before pulling yourself back up towards the starting position, and you are done!
You may have to start with a lighter load until you are more used to this type of lift, as you will want to feel more emphasis on the glutes and lower back rather than anywhere else.
Bulgarian Split Squat
When done properly, the Bulgraian split squat is a great training exercise and a fantastic deadlift alternative exercise to work out your muscles.
For this squat, you will want to keep your chin vertical on the front leg, and avoid pushing your front leg knee forward so that you can better activate your glutes in the deadlift movement.
In addition, as this is a single leg movement, you can use this technique to work on a particular leg, and build strength and muscle in the case that you have an imbalance.
How to do a Bulgarian Split Squat
For the Bulgraian Split Squat, you will need to place a box, or some sort of riser at the height of the middle of the shin or bottom of the knee.
Then, you will need to place one food at the front part of the box, and the other foot on the top part of the box, but on your toes.
For this, you will need your legs to be placed a shoulder width apart, and you will need dumbbells in both hands, with a straight back.
You will have to squat, by bending into both of your knees, and think about sitting in the back leg, whilst keeping the front shin vertical.
Once your front leg and thigh is at a 90 degree angle, then you will push through your heel to stand back up and complete the squat movement.
This deadlift will work more on the legs than any other muscle groups, which makes it great if that is what you want, however you can incorporate upper body pulling movements if you wish to work those areas simultaneously.
Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
The Single Leg Dumbbell deadlift is similar to a deadlift, however it is done with, you guessed it- dumbbells!
For this deadlift, you are faced with the challenge of stabilizing yourself on one leg completely independently whilst lifting the dumbbells.
Therefore, this type of lift is perfect for practicing and training the imbalances between your right and left sides, but will also help you train your core muscles and your glutes.
As you probably guessed, with this type of deadlift, you cannot expect to use heavy weights that you would use with a normal deadlift, but this does not matter.
The whole point of this type of deadlift is to increase your stability, muscle mass, and motor control, as you will need to properly balance on one leg to do this deadlift properly.
If you struggle to balance, then it is best for you to fix your gaze straight ahead of you on the floor when performing the single-leg dumbbell lift, as this will help you to stabilize. You can also use your toes to grip the floor for extra help in balancing during this exercise.
How to do the Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
To perform a single-leg dumbbell deadlift, you will first need to take hold of a dumbbell in each hand. Then, you will want to place all of your weight on one foot, by lifting your other or opposite leg off the ground, and simply balance on one.
Next, you will need to hinge forward at your hips, but keep your back straight, and kick the one (not standing leg) out behind you. Try to keep your hips neutral to the floor, and avoid twisting one of your hips.
Lean until your back is parallel to the floor, and try to keep the dumbbells hanging freely in front of you, and perform the lift, returning to a standing position, but keeping the balance on just one foot.
Standing Cable Pull Through
If you are looking for one of the greatest deadlift alternatives, then the standing cable pull through is a really good option. Unlike other alternatives that use barbell weights, you will need to use a cable machine for this one.
However, a cable machine can be a hard gym machine to get used to, but is actually great for targeting different muscle groups.
With this exercise, you can change the positioning of your feet, or where your weight is placed in order to feel a burn in different muscle areas.
For instance, if you want to target your inner thighs, then you will want to take a wider stance, and vice versa if you want to target your hamstrings.
How to do a standing cable pull through
For this to work, you will need to add the rope attachment to the bottom part of the cable machine. Then, you will want to pick up and hold the rope with both of your hands, and stand with it between your legs, facing away from the machine.
Then, you will need to take a few steps away from the machine, and keep a stance that is just about shoulder width apart. With a slight bed in your knees, hinge forward at the hips.
Then, the rope should travel between your legs whilst you keep your back in a neutral straight position. Then, move so that your back is then parallel to the floor, and squeeze in your glutes to return to your starting position.
You will also want to maintain your balance by keeping your bodyweight on the front bit of your feet. However, you can adjust this to change which muscles are working. The whole point of this pull through exercise is to maintain tension in your muscles through the whole exercise for this to work.
If you want to perform a deadlift alternative exercise for the back, then the Pendlay Row will be a good choice for you. This type of deadlift requires strength in the core, the torso and the lats throughout the whole motion.
For this exercise, you will need to have your back parallel to the floor, as you row the barbell from the ground towards your chest.
Therefore, this technique is more of an upper body training exercise, and will not require much leg strength, so if it is a leg workout you are looking for, this one is not for you.
How to do the Pendlay Row
For the Pendlay Row, you will need to get your barbell weights, with some plates on the floor. Then, you will have to take a wide grip much like your grip when bench pressing, and the barbell should be a few inches from your shins at your starting position.
Next, find your position, with an engaged core, a bend in the knees, and your back parallel to the floor completely.
You will then have to row the bar up towards the sternum, avoiding any movement in your torso as you row. Then, return the barbell to the floor, and come to a stop before repeating the movement any more.
Our final alternative to the deadlift is the Farmer Carry. Whilst this is not a typical deadlift, it can be incorporated into a routine with a few of the other alternatives for a great deadlift workout.
This exercise will help strengthen the grip, which will actually massively improve your deadlift performance. By practicing your Farmer Carry, you will be able to grasp onto those dumbbells much easier and for a much longer amount of time!
How to do the Farmer Carry
To perform a farmer carry, all you need to do is grab a heavy set of dumbbells in each of your hands. With your chest out, and your shoulders retracted, you will then want to start walking forward.
You can then either walk for a certain amount of time, or distance depending on your preferences. We recommend walking for around 30 seconds, and extending this period after due practice.
Also, if you are curious about banded deadlifts you can check out our article on those. This is also a nice alternative to the traditional way of deadlifting.
If you are looking for some great alternatives to doing the deadlift, then hopefully we have got you covered.
You can use one or even a few of our deadlift alternatives to help you work out other muscle groups, or develop and strengthen your core muscles.
In addition, by using a variety of different deadlift techniques, you can work out imbalances, improve your stability and work lots of muscles at the same time.