- Dumbbell Deadlift – Complete Video Tutorial & Exercise Guide
- Dumbbell Deadlift – Step-by-step technique
- Fix the 10 Most Common Deadlift Technique Mistakes
- How to Deadlift With Flawless Technique
- Why You Should Deadlift
- Proper Deadlift Form
- Conventional, Sumo or Hybrid Deadlift Stance?
- Common Deadlift Mistakes
- Exercises That Will Improve Your Deadlift
- What is a Dumbbell Deadlift?
- How Effective is the Dumbbell Deadlift?
- Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift
- Dumbbell Deadlift vs Dumbbell Squats
- Dumbbell Deadlift Benefits
- How Do I Do A Dumbbell Deadlift?
- What Muscles are Worked Doing a Dumbbell Deadlift?
- Dumbbell Deadlift Variations
- How to Deadlift With the Proper Form
- Save Your Back With Dumbbell Deadlifts
Dumbbell Deadlift – Complete Video Tutorial & Exercise Guide
Deadlift is a staple part of many exercise routines. You have probably tried them yourself. No doubt this will leave you wondering why you should do the dumbbell deadlift instead of with a barbell.
The answer is simple. The Dumbbell deadlift will improve your grip strength and increase the engagement of your lats, scapular and your unilateral control much more effectively than a barbell deadlift will do.
There are actually two types of dumbbell deadlift; the stiff leg and the classic. This tutorial will talk you through the right method of doing both these variants.
The dumbbell deadlift is designed to strengthen your legs and your back. Specifically, you will feel your glutes working, along with your quads and hamstrings.
The stiff-legged Dumbbell deadlift will place more emphasis on your hamstrings.
To really ensure you’re working your muscles as hard as possible, choose a heavy weight that you are comfortable with. You will not be able to lift as much with dumbbells as you can with a barbell. You should bear this in mind when choosing your weights.
You need plenty of room when undertaking the dumbbell deadlift; this means 3 or 4 feet of space all around you. Of course, because you are doing this exercise with dumbbells it is possible to undertake this exercise virtually anywhere.
In this tutorial and related video, I’ll show you the proper technique of the exercise, so you can complete it with confidence and safety.
Completing the exercise properly will mean the best results for you, while avoiding the potential of injury.
We have a full video tutorial below to show you the fine form points of the dumbbell deadlift.
Also, if you need something to print off and take to the gym, you can find our step-by-step exercise walkthrough further down this page.
Dumbbell Deadlift – Step-by-step technique
- Step 1: Spinal alignment is very important in this exercise. You need to start with your feet shoulder width apart. You need to be relaxed and stood straight; not leaning forward or back while your weight is evenly balanced.
- Step 2: Bend down and position the dumbbells on each side of you. The grip should be in line with the middle of your foot. This will ensure the weight is distributed evenly through the center of your foot.
- Step 3: You now need to assume the starting position. For this, grasp the dumbbells in each hand and lower your bottom to the floor while raising your chest. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor and your back angled upward.
- Step 4: The weights will almost be coming off the floor at this point. Now you simply need to push down through your feet and move into a standing position. Your arms remain straight and will now be at your sides; just below your waist. Squeeze your glutes as you straighten and grip the weights tightly.
- Step 5: Slowly lower your body back down to the starting position by bending your knees; the dumbbells should just touch the ground. Take a deep breath and push back up again.
- Step 6: The stiff leg deadlift has a different starting position. The dumbbells need to be in front of your feet; one dumbbell over each foot. Your legs are only slightly bent for this starting position; your back should be flat and you should feel the tension in your hamstrings.
- Step 7: Take a deep breath and slowly move into a standing position. Again, move slowly down but ensure your knees are bent just a little; your legs should be nearly straight; 15 or 20 degrees is perfect.
- Step 8: Repeat steps 3-7 for the prescribed number of reps.
** Pro Tip #1: This is a primary compound movement. You should use dumbbells in the 80-100 pound range; if you are able to lift these without injuring yourself. Ideally, complete 6 – 8 reps with 2 – 3 sets; you can include them in any exercise routine.
** Pro Tip #2: Adjustable dumbbells are best; you will be able to add weight as your strength improves. This will ensure you continue to challenge your body and build muscle.
** Pro Tip #3: Use your arms just like cables. They must remain straight and tight throughout the entire exercise.
Check out the bent-over dumbbell row or visit our complete exercise library on the Fit Father Project YouTube channel.
The Men’s Health Experts @ The Fit Father Project
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* We hoped you enjoyed this article. Remember to always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program and that this is not medical advice – just well-researched info. Please see our disclaimer at the bottom of this website. Exercise intelligently and safely at your own risk.
The deadlift is a strength training staple — but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?
For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because of the heavy weights you’ll eventually be working to pull. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the exercise’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.
Before grabbing your barbell (or dumbbells or hexbar), take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the movement here. This multi-joint exercise needs to be done right, especially given the loads you’ll eventually put on your lower back as you progress in weight. You might think you need a lifting belt or straps to even step up to the bar, but as you’ll soon learn, that’s not the case. Forget the gear—just get ready to learn how to lift a ton of weight.
Don’t Mix the Grip!
Eb says: Use an overhand grip whenever you can on the deadlift, instead of going to the often-used mixed grip. The mixed grip has you grabbing the bar with one hand overhand and one hand underhand, and it’s commonly used if you’re going incredibly heavy on the deadlift because it keeps the bar from slipping.
In the short run, this doesn’t seem like an issue. But over time, the mixed grip engages and utilizes your lats and mid-back in slightly different patterns on both sides of your body. It also adds an anti-rotation quality to the deadlift, which isn’t something you want here. Think about this: We actively choose a mixed grip on the pullup to make it a more challenging anti-rotation move that taxes our core. But we don’t want our core doing that kind of extra work on a deadlift; it has another job to do.
Tighten Your Lats
Eb says: This is very much a lower body exercise, but your shoulders are heavily involved too, with the load hanging from your arms. That means you want your back to be live on this movement; if it’s not, your upper back is going to round forward, which can lead to shoulder and upper back issues. To avoid that, tighten both your lats and rhomboids. Once you’ve gripped the bar, squeeze your shoulder blades, as if trying to pop a walnut in your mid-back. Then try to flex your lats; think about twisting your arms so your elbows face directly behind you. Finally, pull the slack out of the bar. There’s a micrometer between the bar and the plates, right? You want the bar bumping directly up against the tops of the plates.
Brace Your Core
Eb says: You’ll see plenty of guys wearing belts when they deadlift, but the best belt you have is the one nature gave you: Your lower back, obliques, abs and deeper abdominal muscles working together to stabilize your spine in a straight, natural line. As you lift heavier and heavier weight on the deadlift, this becomes more critical. You’re working to hinge from your hips on the deadlift (more on that up next), but if your torso doesn’t stay rigid, you’ll tend to move from your spine during the lift. (Not good for your spine.)
Take a deep, breath a split second before each deadlift, really filling your belly with air, and tighten your entire core. Think of being as rigid as you can be in your lower back.
Hips Lower Than Shoulders!
Eb says: You want your glutes and hamstrings to be the prime movers in this lift—not your lower back. To do that, you need to make sure your lower back isn’t in a position where it’s the main leverage point. So think “hips lower than shoulders” on every single rep. That should lead you to sit down and back a little bit, possibly bending your knees a little more and tensing your hamstrings.
Think of Every Rep as Its Own Rep
Eb says: The deadlift, especially as you start to move serious weight, is not an exercise to be rushed. Even if you’re doing a set of 6 to 8 reps, take your time. Don’t be afraid to go through every single step on your checklist after each rep. Your goal should be to be fluid and clean on each individual rep.
Brett Williams Brett Williams, an associate fitness editor at Men’s Health, is a former pro football player and tech reporter who splits his workout time between strength and conditioning training, martial arts, and running.
Fix the 10 Most Common Deadlift Technique Mistakes
Read More >>
If you don’t pay attention to your Deadlift technique, you can quickly derail all your hard work. Here are 10 tips on how to correct Deadlift mistakes.
RELATED: Become a Better Athlete With the Deadlift
1. Pre-Stretching. Static stretching major muscle groups prior to lifting can be detrimental to your lift and can cause injury. Stick to a dynamic warm-up with bodyweight exercises like Squats, Good Mornings and Bird Dogs before deadlifting.
2. Foot Placement. Your feet should be hip-width to shoulder-width apart. A wider stance is not only less functional, it can also compromise the spine by rounding the shoulders. The only exception to this is during a Sumo Deadlift, in which the hand grip is inside the legs.
3. Rounded or Arched Back. Obviously, a flat back or neutral spine is ideal. A kyphotic (rounded forward) or hyperextended (arched back) position can place undue stress and excess pressure on the back, and even cause injury. This also applies to the head position. Keep your spine neutral all the way through the head (do not look up).
RELATED: 9 Ways Athletes Screw Up Common Exercises
4. Shoulders Protracted. Retracting or pulling the shoulder blades back and together helps you maintain a neutral spine. When your shoulders protract (release forward), your spine is compromised and will round much easier.
5. Squatting. The goal of a conventional Deadlift is to perform a hip hinge movement, not a squat variation. Therefore, a chest up, butt down position is not ideal because it does not engage the posterior chain (hamstrings and glutes) for lifting. The knees should be slightly bent, but the movement is still mostly a hip hinge. Aim to form a vertical line perpendicular to the floor from heel to knee (shin) while maintaining a flat back. Keep your weight on your heels. If you do the exercise properly, your chest should be roughly be over your toes, again with a neutral spine.
6. Extending Legs First. As the weight increases, this becomes more common. Lifters drive and extend their legs with the bar moving only slightly or not at all. This leaves the back to perform the rest of the lift. More than likely, it will cause your back to round before you finish the lift. Keep your core tight and make sure the bar rises as your legs and hips extend.
WATCH: Roy Hibbert Deadlifts 540 Pounds
7. Pulling Back First. This is more common with lighter weights. Concentrate on extending your hips up and into the bar instead of “pulling” the weight straight up.
8. Distance From Bar. Your shins may come into contact with the bar, but they should be no farther than one or two inches away at the most. Any farther and you will be reaching forward and be more likely to round your back, lift from your lower back or shift to your toes.
9. Jerking the Bar. I’m sure we’ve all done this. As the weight gets heavy, you feel like you need an extra oomph. So you dip your chest to the bar, bend your arms and round your back. To prevent this, keep your core tight, focus on driving through your heels and put your hips into the bar.
10. Poor Eccentric (Return) Phase. Lifters have a tendency to bend their knees too soon and squat on the way down. This not only returns you to the wrong position, it forces the bar away from you, putting pressure on your lower back. To avoid having to “reach” the barbell around your knees, hinge your hips backward (maintaining a very slight bend at the knee) until you pass the knees, then continue straight down. Now the barbell’s downward path should be almost completely vertical, and you should end up in the same position you started in.
BONUS TIP: Breathing. Always breathe in at the top of the lift and exhale as you perform the lift. Breathing in at the bottom of the lift is OK but not ideal. Usually, even with good form, lifters have a broader chest and open rib cage at the top of the lift, allowing for a deeper breath and tighter core. Remember to exhale on the way up to relieve pressure on your core while still keeping it tight enough to maintain a flat back.
3 Ways You’re Messing Up Romanian Deadlifts
Front Squats vs. Back Squats: Which is Better for Athletes?
Why You Should Be Doing Good Mornings to Strengthen Your Glutes, Hamstrings and Lower Back
How to Deadlift With Flawless Technique
Read More >>
The Deadlift is a fairly simple exercise. You pick a heavy bar off the ground then put it down again. Yet, it’s one of—if not the—most effective exercises for improving total-body strength and athletic performance.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the benefits of the Deadlift exercise, explain how to safely perform it, provide fixes for common mistakes, and give you a few complementary exercises that will help build strength in the lift.
Why You Should Deadlift
The Deadlift is considered a pulling exercise because you’re literally pulling a barbell off the ground. It’s based on the hip hinge movement pattern, which refers to the ability to properly bend at your hips. Arguably, the hip hinge is the most important motion in exercise and general movement.
There isn’t a more obvious display of brute strength than picking up a barbell loaded with double or even triple your body weight. Although considered a lower-body exercise, it’s truly a total-body lift. Everything from your feet to your hands must work together to successfully complete a heavy rep. As a result, the Deadlift has many benefits.
- Glute and hamstring strength. The glutes and hamstrings are the primary muscles worked by the Deadlift. They help to straighten your hips and actually pick the weight up.
- Lower-back and hamstring strength. Ever been told this exercise is bad for your lower back? That’s true if you do it wrong. However, a properly performed lift strengthens the muscles of your lower back and core and can actually help prevent and correct lower back pain/injury.
- Upper-back strength and size. Holding hundreds of pounds while maintaining a flat back requires a great deal of back strength. If you want a strong and thick back, there’s no substitute for heavy deadlifts.
- Grip strength. Holding a heavy bar both requires and builds grip strength. The knurling on the bar will also toughen up your hands a bit.
- General Badassery. It’s you vs. the bar. There are few things more satisfying than lifting a bending bar loaded with hundreds of pounds off the floor.
The Deadlift makes athletes better force producers, as stronger glutes and hamstrings allow you to put more force into the ground. Almost all fundamental sports skills, like running, jumping, throwing and tackling start when you put power into the ground. The power travels up through your core and into your upper body. The more force you can put into the ground, the more explosively you’ll be able to play your sport.
It also teaches your large hip muscle groups to fire in a coordinated fashion. This also helps you put more force into the ground. No matter what sport you play, your game will improve if you regularly perform this exercise.
Proper Deadlift Form
The Deadlift is a simple concept, but it’s one of the most butchered exercises we see in the weight room.
The most common Deadlift technique failure is a rounding of the back. It’s like everyone channels the Hunchback of Notre Dame when performing the exercise. This can cause serious problems over time.
The lumbar spine, or lower back, is designed for stability, not mobility—which is why we emphasize core stability exercises like Ab Rollouts, which resist movement of the spine. When the lower spine rounds, it’s in a compromised position. Coupled with the heavy weight loads typically used in the Deadlift, you have a recipe for a disc injury, which can cause long-term pain and lingering spinal problems.
The upper back often rounds as well. Since the upper back can handle some movement, this doesn’t present as big a problem as lower-back rounding. However, it often causes a cascade effect that results in rounding of the lower back.
You may see some rounding in powerlifters who hoist massive Deadlifts, but they’re trying to do everything possible to maximize the amount of weight on the bar so they can win a competition. Athletes and members of the general fitness population, however, should always keep their back flat. You can still lift heavy, but in a proper movement pattern that protects your spine. The last thing you want is to have a disc give out.
And you can still crush heavy Deadlifts with a flat back. Just look at strength coach Tony Gentilcore crushing a 600-pound Deadlift in this video. His form is impeccable.
All of that said, maintaining a flat back in the Deadlift is not as easy as it sounds. One technique flaw can throw off the entire exercise, causing undesired rounding even if you are focused on keeping your back flat.
Here’s how to execute flawless Deadlift technique with expert demonstration from Ben Boudro and John Papp of Xceleration Fitness.
Step 1: The Approach
Approach the bar and stand with your feet about hip-width apart (we’ll discuss more stance options later). The bar should be over your midfoot or even touching your shins. Take a huge breath to fill your stomach with air. Tighten your core all the way around your body. If you’re using a weight belt, check out this helpful video from training expert Cory Gregory.
Step 2: Grab the Bar
Bend at your waist and slightly bend your knees to reach straight down. Grab the bar with both hands, using either a double-overhand or alternating grip. Read our Deadlift grip guide for more details about each grip. Make sure that your arms are completely straight.
Step 3: Find the “Lifter’s Wedge”
Now it’s time to assume what’s called the lifter’s wedge. Flatten your back and pull your shoulders toward your back pockets. Pull up on the bar to take the slack out, pull your chest up and sit your hips down so your back is at a slight downward angle—the exact amount of which depends on your individual anatomy. Focus your eyes about 10 feet in front of you and give yourself a double chin to pack your neck.
You should feel a ton of tension in this position. Your lats are squeezing. Your core is tight. There’s a slight stretch through your hamstrings. You’re squeezing the heck out of the bar.
This means you are ready to pull.
Step 4: The Pull
Pull the bar straight up keeping it as close to your shins as you can, using your glutes and hamstrings to straighten your hips. As the bar travels upward past your knees, begin to pull the bar into your hips. The goal throughout is to keep the bar as close to your body as possible to maximize your strength. Continue straightening your hips and knees until you’re standing fully upright. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the rep.
Step 5: Lower the Bar to the Ground
Slowly bend your waist and keep the bar close to your thighs to begin lowering the bar. Continue hinging at your hips until the bar is below your knees, then you can bend your knees to finish lowering it to the ground. Do this slowly when first learning the Deadlift but you can pick up the speed as you get more comfortable with the exercise.
Step 6: Prepare for the Next Rep
If you’re doing more than one rep, you have two options. One, you can take a deep breath in and go right into your next rep. Or two, you can reset your lifter’s wedge. Option two is usually preferred when going for heavy reps where you’re pushing yourself close to your max.
Conventional, Sumo or Hybrid Deadlift Stance?
There are three stances you can utilize with the barbell Deadlift, and each have their own benefits.
Conventional Deadlift Stance: This is the standard exercise as described above where you stand with your feet hip-width apart. It involves a bit more of your lower back than the other variations, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad option. Generally, this is the preferred variation for taller athletes.
Sumo Deadlift Stance: The Sumo Deadlift requires a wide stance that’s about the same width as you’d hold a barbell for a Snatch. This usually places your feet—which should be angled out slightly—around the rings of the barbell, but that ultimately depends on your height. To find your optimal stance, test a few foot positions and stick with the one that allows you to reach down to the bar and maintain vertical shins. The sumo stance shifts the work a bit more to your hips and hamstrings and away from your lower back, and some of you may find that you can lift more weight because of the reduced range of motion. Generally, this is the preferred variation for shorter athletes.
Hybrid Deadlift Stance: The hybrid stance is a happy medium between the conventional and sumo stance. In this stance, your feet should be angled out slightly and positioned just outside of shoulder width. Gentilcore uses the hybrid stance in his 600-pound DL shown in the video earlier in the article.
The stance you choose ultimately will depend on what position allows you to lift with the best quality of movement. Personally, I prefer the hybrid stance. I have some trouble keeping a flat back and creating tension in the conventional stance, and I lack the necessary hip mobility for the sumo stance. I’ve experimented with all three, and without a doubt have the best technique and strength in the hybrid position. Test each variation multiple times to find your optimal stance, and it’s perfectly fine to utilize different stances throughout your programming.
OK, now you got the form down. Let’s go over some common mistakes that you need to avoid.
Common Deadlift Mistakes
Mistake 1: The Bar Isn’t Directly Under Your Shoulders
The No. 1 correctable Deadlift mistake has to do with the starting position of the bar. You may never have thought about this, but it determines the success of the entire exercise.
The bar should be over your shoelaces or even touching your shins, and your shoulders should be straight over the bar. This creates the optimal power position to keep your back flat and to get your glutes and hamstrings involved in the movement.
Rick Scarpulla, owner of Ultimate Advantage Training, explains that if your shoulders align in front of the bar, you have to round your back to initiate the movement. The bar will swing forward under your shoulders the moment you pick it up. On the flip side, if the bar is too far away from your shins, you will have to reach for it, which will also cause you to round.
The only way to maintain a flat back is to keep the bar as close to your body as possible (more on this later).
Mistake 2: Your Lats Aren’t Engaged
Now we need to focus on the upper back. If your upper back is not engaged, your shoulders will pull forward the second you lift the bar off the ground, causing rounding. This is when we get into Quasimodo territory.
“When you pull the bar off the ground, it’s a lot of upper-back and lat involvement,” says Scarpulla. ” You need to focus on pulling your shoulders back and tightening your back and lats.”
In this case, your lats (the large muscles in your high upper back) function like your abs by providing the strength and stability to keep your spine from moving. To engage your lats, pull your shoulders down and back. Imagine you have a tennis ball under each armpit and try to squeeze the balls as hard as you can.
Mistake 3: Your Core Isn’t Truly Tightened
To keep your lower spine from bending, you need to tighten your core. If you fail to tighten your core, your spine will be forced to handle the weight load instead of supporting muscles around it—which is far from ideal.
This isn’t simple. You may hear the cue to pull your belly button to your spine. In Pilates, this might be fine. For lifting hundreds of pounds, not so much. Instead, take a deep breath in a tighten your abs, obliques and lower back muscles around this air to create an artificial weight belt with your core muscles.
Mistake 4: You’re Not Creating Pre-Lift Tension
To lift with perfect form, you need tension in your body to engage your muscles. Without tension, there’s a greater chance your muscles won’t do their intended job. And this often manifests itself in back rounding.
Creating tension means taking the slack out of the bar, which involves setting up for the exercise and lifting up against the bar without actually picking the weight off the ground. If you have a deadlift barbell with heavy enough weight, you will actually see a bend in the bar. If you’re using a standard barbell, you will lift just enough to feel your body engaged.
Mistake 5: Your Hips Rise Before Your Head
As you start the lift, your butt might come up first, usually because you’re driving with your knees and not extending your hips. Again, this is almost guaranteed to cause your back to round.
“The thing that causes back rounding a lot of times is the ability to lift the head first,” says Scarpulla. “Most guys who round their back, they lift their butt before their head.”
Scarpulla advises you to imagine you are lifting in a tube. When you rise up, the first thing out of the tube should be your head, and your head should be the last thing in the tube as you return the weight to the ground.
Mistake 6: You Overemphasize the Lockout
Some lifters hyperextend their backs in search of the ultimate lockout. Yes, you need to fully extend your hips but there’s no reason to arch backward. All this does is put unnecessary stress on your lower back. Put simply, the movement finishes when you stand straight up.
Exercises That Will Improve Your Deadlift
Despite your best intentions with the above technique tips, sometimes it’s impossible to keep your body in the proper position due to strength deficits. Here are a few exercises that will improve different aspects of your lift and help you safely lift more weight.
From a rack or blocks, the bar is elevated off the ground, which allows you to lift more weight because of the shorter range of motion. This focuses on the top half of the Deadlift, teaching you to strain when lifting heavy weight while maintaining your form.
Bent-Over Rows strengthen your back muscles in almost the same position as the bottom of the lift, which is the most challenging portion for your back.
Low-Box High Bar Back Squat
The bottom position is the most challenging. This Squat variation works the muscles needed to create enough strength and power to pick up a heavy bar from the floor. The box should be about 8- to 10-inches tall.
Barbell Banded Deadlifts
The amount you can lift is typically limited by the weight you can pull off the floor. Adding a band challenges your body through the entire rep, helping to strengthen your muscles throughout the full range of motion.
Lift about 50 percent of your max for three reps as fast and as explosively as you can to train your muscles to create more speed off the floor, which will ultimately help you lift more weight.
In addition to these exercises, regularly strengthen your core and grip to maximize your Deadlift strength. Looking for info on Trap Bar Deadlifts, an alternative that’s generally a bit more accessible and that taller lifters often find more intuitive than traditional Deadlifts? Read STACK’s definitive guide to Trap Bar Deadlifts.
Photo Credit: iStock
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The dumbbell deadlift is a spin on the traditional deadlift, where an athlete simultaneously picks up two heavy dumbbells resting on either side.
Though both exercises are essentially lifting heavy weights off the floor, there are a few key differences to keep in mind.
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the dumbbell deadlift. Learn how to do it, where to add it into your CrossFit training and when you might use it over a barbell deadlift at the gym.
What is a Dumbbell Deadlift?
A dumbbell deadlift is a spin on the deadlift, one of nine foundational movements in CrossFit.
Instead of loading up a barbell with heavy weights, the dumbbell deadlift is performed with two dumbbells on either side of the body.
The implements are different but the form is the same. If you know how to deadlift already, you can likely start doing dumbbell deadlifts right away.
How Effective is the Dumbbell Deadlift?
Depending on your goals, the dumbbell deadlift might actually be more effective for training than a barbell or kettlebell deadlift. For instance, and depending on weaknesses, dumbbells can help improve grip strength.
Dumbbell Deadlift For CrossFit
You will occasionally see the dumbbell deadlift programmed into CrossFit workouts. The 2018 CrossFit Open began the love affair that CrossFit has with all things dumbbell-related.
Because many strong athletes won’t have access to dumbbells heavy enough to test their one rep max, dumbbell deadlifts are most likely to be found in metcons, EMOM workouts, or longer workouts like Hero WODs.
Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift
The barbell deadlift is considered by many to be the ‘desert island’ strength training exercise–the exercise you’d pick if you were trapped on a desert island and could only do one exercise for the rest of your life.
Along with the back squat, it is considered one of the kings of strength training exercises.
If it’s so effective, why dumbbell deadlift? Here are a few times the dumbbell deadlift might be the better choice:
Conditioning and Higher Rep Schemes
Obviously, you can also use deadlifts for conditioning. But anyone that’s done fifty plus deadlifts in a WOD knows what that feels like the next day. If you want to program deadlifts into a workout without destroying your back, dumbbell deadlifts are a great sub.
Recovering From Injury
If you tweak your back and can’t deadlift heavy for a while, dumbbell deadlifts are a good substitute exercise for WODs. You also might use them to keep your back strong as you work towards heavier weights.
A correct dumbbell deadlift travels up the side of your body, not the front. This is a good way to change up how you train your grip strength. For a real grip challenge, wrap the dumbbells with towels to make them larger.
Dumbbell Deadlift vs Dumbbell Squats
Both dumbbell squats and dumbbell deadlifts are compound exercises that strengthen a lot of different muscle groups.
Deadlifts are going to train your back and hamstrings while squats will train your quads. Both exercises train your glutes and core–and quite frankly, a lot of other things, too.
Read the benefits of dumbbell deadlift above. The same tips apply for subbing dumbbell squats for a back or front squat.
Dumbbell Deadlift Benefits
Here are some of the training benefits of adding dumbbell deadlifts to your training:
- Coordination- Anytime you force your body to pick up two objects simultaneously, you are training coordination.
- Strength training– Full body compound movements make us stronger. Though you likely won’t set a one rep max with dumbbells, you can keep the reps low (3-5 per set) and easily develop strength with this exercise.
- Muscle hypertrophy– Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, is possible in the forearms, legs, and back from doing dumbbell deadlifts. Perform medium to higher reps if this is your goal.
- Hotel Room WOD-Approved– If you travel a lot or need to pull a workout out of your pocket with minimal equipment, the dumbbell deadlift is an easy exercise to plug in. Combine medium to high rep dumbbell deadlifts with something that will get you breathing like burpees or rowing.
How Do I Do A Dumbbell Deadlift?
The key to a good dumbbell deadlift is in the setup. It’s also important to maintain form throughout.
Begin by placing the dumbbells in line with one another, slightly wider than shoulder width apart. This allows you to slip your feet into the proper position so you can set up.
Don’t let the dumbbells start out in front of your shins.
Next, place your hands on the dumbbells. Here are two things to focus on during the setup.
- Find the floor through your heels so you aren’t sitting forward on your toes.
- Maintain a straight back and tension in your upper body (cue: “proud chest”)
As you drive through the floor with your weight in the heels, hold that tight back position. Take the dumbbells all the way to a standing lockout, just like you would with a regular deadlift.
Squeeze your glutes at the top of the lift to ensure you don’t stop short of full range of motion.
How Do You Do Sumo Deadlifts with Dumbbells?
There are two main differences between a sumo deadlift and dumbbell deadlift–your foot position and the way you hold the dumbbell.
Instead of placing your feet inside of the dumbbells, they will be outside. The dumbbell will sit vertically. One dumbbell is picked up with two hands.
Line the bell up so it is halfway between your feet. Step your feet 1-2 feet outside of the bell on either side (taller people need a wider stance).
Your feet should be in line with the dumbbell and you should be standing over them when you set up. Follow the same cues for maintaining good form as above.
Remember that when it comes to picking weights up off the floor, the closer the weight is to your body, the better.
What Muscles are Worked Doing a Dumbbell Deadlift?
The dumbbell deadlift is a compound exercise, meaning that your whole body must work together to accomplish the lift. There are a few muscle groups it works in particular.
Here they are:
- Hamstrings- Even with lighter weights, there should always be tension in your hamstrings as you rep out dumbbell deadlifts. This is the key to good form–as well as feedback that you are driving through your heels while doing the exercise.
- Lower/upper back– Your back should never round during dumbbell deadlifts. Holding this straight back position will develop all the big muscle groups in your lower and upper back.
- Grip- If you’ve ever done heavy farmer’s carries before, you know that dumbbells improve your forearm strength in ways that a barbell cannot. High rep dumbbell deadlifts are a great way to develop your grip.
- Glutes- Any strength coach will tell you that hitting big lifts requires strong glutes. If you’re quad dominant (you probably are), dumbbell deadlifts are a good time to work on glute strength. Squeeze your glutes at the top to finish the rep.
- Quads- Any kind of deadlift or squat is going to strengthen your quads, which is good for any type of functional exercise.
Dumbbell Deadlift Variations
Here are a few variations or alternatives to the dumbbell deadlift that you might find in CrossFit.
Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift High Pull
Occasionally you will see the dumbbell SDHP come up in a WOD. Use the same setup cues listed in this guide. If you’ve never done this exercise before, the key to it is in the hip drive (think explosive hips on each rep).
This way, the dumbbells will travel the required distance without you having to ‘muscle’ them to a lock out.
Dumbbell Hang Clean
Cleans and deadlifts obviously are different exercises, but you will often see dumbbell deadlifts and things like hang cleans programmed into the same workout because they are easy to transition between.
Workouts like DT attest to this. You might also see complexes or things like dumbbell man makers come up using one or both of these exercises.
While you probably won’t set a lifetime PR with the dumbbell deadlift, it is a great exercise for developing strength and coordination.
It’s also a versatile exercise that can be plugged into workouts when you find yourself low on equipment.
Form is key with anything deadlift-related. Review the technique section and really dial that down before you start cranking these out during workouts.
How to Deadlift With the Proper Form
The deadlift is a key exercise for not only building muscle, but also strengthening your posterior chain, and today I’ll show you how to do it properly.
There are a few different ways to perform a proper deadlift, but the first and most important thing you need to do is make sure your form is perfect.
At 0:49 in the video above, you can see me first demonstrate the deadlift with dumbbells, which you can use if you don’t have a barbell. First, start in the standing position and hold each dumbbell at your sides with your shoulders pressed back. Imagine you have plates stacked around your feet that rise from the floor up to your mid-calf area or a little higher. From there, sit back with your hips and squat down until the dumbbells reach a little below the top of your calves. After pausing for one second, stand back up. Remember to keep your head relaxed.
Starting out with dumbbells can help you create good posture for your deadlifts. If you start with a barbell and hold it in front of you, you run the risk of letting your whole upper back get pulled down during the lift. As you increase weight, that motion can have an adverse effect on your spine.
At 2:15 in the video, I move onto deadlifting with a barbell. The barbell should be close to your shins as you start the lift. You can also add plates or two small boxes underneath the barbell if you want to start the lift from a higher position. To start, grab the barbell with each hand lined up just outside of your calves. As with using dumbbells, keep your shoulders pressed back and your head relaxed. From there, drive up with your legs. Once the barbell reaches your knees, drive up with your back. After a standing pause, squat back down.
There are variations of the deadlift that target different body parts, but generally speaking, it will strengthen your whole posterior chain. In terms of getting the best bang for your buck, it’s one of the best exercises you can do.
If you have any questions about the deadlift or you’d like to know more about Icon Gym and how we can help you get fit and stay fit, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to speak with you.
If the deadlift isn’t part of your regular routine, it should be. While the move’s name may conjure images of meaty bodybuilders, the exercise is an amazingly effective move for your lower body, especially your glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Not only that, it’s great for your core muscles, too. “The act of keeping the core tight while the load is trying to pull you forward is extremely beneficial,” says Tim Rich, a personal training manager at Crunch. Basically, the deadlift is a great exercise for just about anything.
Another reason to love deadlifts? It’s the ultimate functional fitness move. “The deadlift is a must-have skill to keep your independence,” Tim says. “Proper loading of the spinal column will keep you active and mobile in the later years. You will always have to pick things up for the rest of your life.” Regularly doing deadlifts also does wonders for your posture, so if you spend a lot of time at a desk, you should be doing this move.
Ready to add deadlifts to your workout circuit? Read on for tips on how to do a deadlift correctly.
Before you even start thinking of how heavy you should go, Tim recommends that you first make sure you’re doing the move correctly (just use a barbell without weights added or practice at home with a broom). “For some people, getting into the right position and holding for 10 seconds with a broomstick will be a workout,” Tim says. “Once proper position can be accomplished, it’s time to add weight.”
Here’s how to do a perfect deadlift:
- Holding the barbell (or two dumbbells at your side), keep your arms straight and knees slightly bent.
- Slowly bend at your hip joint, not your waist, and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back, which should remain straight. Make sure you keep your spine neutral with a natural low-back arch, with shoulders down. Looking forward, not at the ground, will help you avoid rounding your back.
- Keep the barbell close to your legs, almost touching them.
- Squeeze your glutes to pull yourself up at a quicker pace than it took to bend down (Tim recommends that beginners take four seconds to bend down and two seconds to pull up). Don’t use your back and do not round your spine.
- You should be using a weight where you can do three sets of 12 to 15 reps before fatiguing your muscles — but remember that you should be able to still do the move correctly on your last rep.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Studios
Save Your Back With Dumbbell Deadlifts
I remember it like it was yesterday: With scissors in hand, my role was to cut the duct tape after it was strategically placed over a protruding hiatal hernia on the lifter’s abdomen. Once the tape was applied, the lifter would squeeze into a pair of groove briefs and proceed with his heavy deadlifting. The lifter in question, Ric Purchase, had one of the strongest lower backs I’d ever seen. If he had a weakness, it was that because he trained the big lifts almost exclusively, other parts of his body—including his abdomen—became less structurally sound, leading to problems like the hernia.
Mix It Up with Conjugate Training
While Purchase was a minimalistic trainee who did the power lifts and little else, I practiced conjugate training. Rather than focusing on a small number of lifts, conjugate training joins together a number of different training exercises and training styles to create a more well-rounded physique. By varying my workouts, I’ve stayed healthy for more than 30 years, despite frequent state- and national-level competitions.
We’re Not Talking Plastic-Covered Bells Here
One of my favorite conjugate exercises for overall body power is the dumbbell deadlift. I first read about dumbbell deadlifts in the late 1980s in an issue of The Steel Tip, a newsletter from Ken Leistner, DC, a strength-training writer, personal trainer, strength consultant, and chiropractor. More recently, I’ve watched super-strong Nick Best on Instagram as he performs dumbbell deadlifts (and more) with 150-pounders. Is it any wonder he won his class at the U.S. Powerlifting Championships, and continues to compete in World’s Strongest Man contests into his late 40s?
And, if you didn’t check out that Nick Best IG post, don’t think that dumbbell deadlifts are for lightweights only. I’ve been fortunate to be a member of such hardcore gyms as Uptown Whittier, Strouds, and the Original Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas. Strouds had 200-pound dumbbells, Uptown had pairs to 225 pounds, and Metroflex had them to up to 250 pounds.
I’ve finished many a maximum-effort lower-body session with reps or even singles using the biggest ‘bells in the house. This makes for a fun and challenging workout that’s perfect for impromptu contests with your training buddies. Back in the day, Josh Bryant and I used dumbbell deadlifts as part of our conjugate training in preparation for the U.S. Strongest Man Contest. He ended up pulling 885 pounds in the trap bar deadlift, while I got 700 pounds.
Build Flexibility by Extending Your Range of Motion
There are two ways to do the dumbbell deadlift: from the hang or from a dead start. If you’re doing them from the hang position, it’s best to use the Romanian deadlift style, keeping your back statically tight and loading your hamstrings. This dead-start method loads the oblique muscles, as well as the glutes and hip musculature, by working the muscles through the extended range of motion necessary to pull the dumbbells off the floor.
In my opinion, conjugate exercises tax your body over a longer range of motion than traditional exercises. You typically use lower weight when doing conjugate exercises, which enables you to build not only strength but greater flexibility in the hamstrings, glutes, and hips. These are the same areas that can get tighter when you focus on traditional powerlifting exercises only.
Work Dumbbell Deadlifts Into Your Current Routine
1. Maximum-Effort Deadlift 2 heavy sets of 20 reps
After you’re finished pulling heavy barbell deadlifts off the floor, do dumbbell deadlifts RDL style to traction your lower back and stretch your hamstrings.
2. Maximum-Effort Squat 2 heavy sets of 10 reps (or less)
After your barbell squats, do dumbbell deadlifts from the floor for 10 reps with up to 150 pounds. If you have heavier dumbbells than that, lower your reps.
In the true spirit of the conjugate system, you could vary the range of motion of your dumbbell deadlifts by doing them from a deficit, from the plates on boxes, with rep tempo variations, and even with mini bands under your feet and over the bell.
I’ve trained trap bar deadlifts and farmer’s walks for competition, and neither exercise has the same exact training effect as dumbbell deadlifts. Give them an honest try and watch your overall body strength improve dramatically.