With the possible exception of the bench press, no other lift seems to have garnered as much a fan base as the deadlift. One obsession among many, there is a belief in some circles that you can’t take training seriously unless you’re deadlifting.
Frankly, we call it BS.
The truth is, unless your sole the goal is to become very, very good at it balance wheel deadlifting, there is no reason to just do it prioritize the barbell deadlift.
When you break it down, it’s simply a loaded “zipper” motion that works your hamstrings, glutes, back, and grip. The biggest benefits of zipping with a barbell? It’s easy to add weight, and barbells cost a dime.
When done correctly, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about the barbell deadlift, but for most people, there are a litany of reasons to get your hinge, bending, and lifting fix, elsewhere. From limb length to injury history, your individual needs should dictate which deadlift variations dominate your programming, no peer pressure from Instagram powerlifters.
With that in mind, we have 6 alternatives to the barbell deadlift that you can incorporate into your workouts. Don’t follow the crowd, you do. And dare we say it, some of these deadlift alternatives might even be better…
6 best alternatives to the barbell deadlift
Specifically designed for the purpose of keeping weight lifters with lower back injuries from pulling heavily off the floor, a hex bar or trap design allows trainees to step inside of the center of mass. Compared to a barbell deadlift, where your shins keep you positioned just behind the weight, this allows you to drop your hips and use a tremendous amount of quad drive, heavily mitigating lower back involvement.
Neutral grip handles also allow for a much stronger grip on the bar while being much more forgiving on the arms and shoulders.
Perfect for carries, dips, and most deadlift variations you can think of (including keeping your hips high and putting the emphasis back on your glutes and hamstrings).
Deadlift with dumbbells
Essentially, copy and paste all of the benefits mentioned for the trap bar deadlift and add a huge increase in range of motion flexibility.
With two weights that you can freely manipulate in space, the dumbbell deadlift allows you to discover and harness the most effective and painless range of motion for your physiology. Get behind the resistance, center or even lower the dumbbells behind your body for an extreme quad burn. Dumbbells might just be the most versatile and accessible entry on this list.
However, it’s not all rosy. One of the biggest drawbacks to the dumbbell deadlift is the ‘range of motion‘. Starting on the floor, the handles on a set of dumbbells will result in a far less grip than a barbell, this can be problematic for some athletes who struggle to build tension (or even reach) this position. This can be quickly mitigated by lowering the kettlebells to a low block or bench, or by swapping the dumbbells for kettlebells and reaping all the same benefits, with a slightly more forgiving pickup height.
Landmine training is an incredible tool for everyone from beginners, those working around injuries and limitations, to athletes looking to unlock the sport-specific potential of barbell.
The mine deadlift “locks” you into a fairly linear range of motion, much like an endurance machine, while also giving you enough freedom to find a position that’s comfortable for your anatomy. You can lift from multiple angles directly in front of the bar, behind, to the side, to create a different stimulus and target a variety of muscles.
Grasping the thick, rolling end of a barbell can be difficult, especially for those of short stature or relatively untrained grip strength, but that’s nothing a lifting strap won’t cure, right?
Deadlift with sandbag
A true functional showdown with a huge carryover in everyday tasks. The inherent impossibility of lifting a sandbag comes from the fact that despite the best technique and all the lifting cues in the world, no two repetitions are ever the same.
The undulating and dynamic nature of the sand moving inside a lightly filled bag means that each rep fights, while the rolling, ungraspable, rock-hard nature of a bag filled to the brim presents its own set of challenges .
As with the other entries on this list, the freedom to attack the lift from a multitude of angles is the real magic here. But, what’s unique about the sandbag (besides the fact that each set feels like you’re about to face a lot of angry alligators), is that once you have the sandbag on your lap, you’re able to maneuver it so close to the your body which becomes an incredibly tactile cue to create a powerful and protective braced position of the spine.
To reap the full benefits of the sandbag deadlift, don’t just lift it off the floor sumo-style for touch-and-go reps. No, take the time to wrap the bag before standing up.
Ironically, a lift that you’re probably most used to seeing behemoth-like strongmen perform is probably one of the most accessible, low-skill, and attainable ways to safely train nearly every muscle in your body.
Much like the deadlift of landmines, a large enough tire locks you into a “lever-like” range of motion that effortlessly steers you in the right direction so that you can make real effort to push the floor off with all your strength.
Pushing your body firmly against the sidewall of the tire, keeping your arms straight against the tire, dropping your chin on the top of the tire, all of these things are, completely by accident, some of the best safety features you could hope to incorporate into a piece concept of fitness equipment.
If you’re looking to do a full tire flip, you’ll be eliminating the eccentric or sag portion of the lift. Excellent for safely developing power and athletic ability. Stop midway, before the clean, and simply lower your back to the ground under control to rebuild the eccentric, building big hamstrings and dump-truck glutes in the process.
Heavy Swing with Kettlebell
Newton’s second law of motion is F = ma, or force, equal to mass times acceleration.
Cold. What does this mean for us tin-throwing Luddites? Well, that means you can make something heavier by lifting it Faster.
Okay, I have to admit it’s not that simple. Simply “going faster” is surely subject to the law of diminishing returns, otherwise boxers would have Death Star-sized deltoids and high jumpers would have legs like tree trunks. But it is true that we can work muscles significantly Harder making them move Faster.
This is where the kettlebell swing comes into play.
The epitome of the hinge model, a kettlebell swing lights up your rear chain faster than a British barbecue at the first sign of the sun. You may not be able to swing anywhere near your deadlift PB, but what you can swing, you can swing hard and you can swing fast.
Heavy kettlebell swings use the same muscle constellation as the garden deadlift, but allow you to do it with a much lighter weight. That said, the key here is to go heavy. It’s all too easy to become lethargic with a lighter kettlebell and go through the movements, allowing the bell to take the lion’s share of the work. Choose a kettlebell that forces you to accelerate hard from the hips to get up, and you’ll be rewarded with perky glutes, athletic hamstrings, and the grip strength of a silverback gorilla.
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