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How To Do A Deadlift + 6 Deadlift Variations To Strengthen Your Whole Body

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The deadlift is a hip-dominant, compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including the hamstrings, glutes, core, back, and even traps (trapezius or upper back). 

As can be inferred from the name of this exercise, it consists of “lifting dead weight,” using almost your entire body to do so. This excellent functional exercise is not only for athletes to improve their performance but also for the mobility and strength gains to help us in day-to-day tasks and movements.

This guide will look at the fundamentals of a deadlift, how to do it properly, its benefits, and six different variations you can try out in your upcoming strength training sessions.

Deadlift exercise in a gym.

How To Do A Basic Deadlift 

For a basic deadlift exercise, you will need a barbell. The first time you perform this exercise, you can practice with just the weight of the bar or add very lightweight plates to start.

Having pristine technique when doing a deadlift is extremely important to avoid injury. 

  1. Position the barbell in front of you.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, toes pointing forward, and positioned just under the bar, shins just about touching the bar.
  3. Engage your core and hinge at the hips, lowering down with a straight back and chest proud.
  4. Grip the barbell with both hands, one hand facing palm up and the other hand facing palm down in an over-under grip. 
  5. Keeping your back flat, push through your feet and lift the bar, grazing your shins until your hips are completely extended. Exhale while lifting.
  6. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend your hips. 
  7. Slowly lower the barbell down again until you reach your shins. 
  8. Raise yourself up again to the extended position. 
  9. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Note: It is crucial that you do not bring the weight so far down that you are arching your back. Your back must stay flat at all times during this exercise. 

Tips To Perform A Deadlift Correctly 

A resistance band deadlift.

Even though a deadlift is a must in strength training programs, it is a technically complex exercise to perform.

It’s a good idea to take your time when learning how to perform a deadlift correctly to avoid an injury, such as a pulled back. Here, we will give you a few tips to perform the deadlift with the correct technique.

  • Practice performing the deadlift technique with just the barbell bar or with very light weights at first to ensure you have a perfect posture. As your fitness increases, you can add more weight gradually, as long as your posture remains intact.
  • Keep the bar close to your shins when you lift and lower it.
  • Engage your core and keep your shoulders back and your back flat at all times. 
  • Keep your arms straight throughout the exercise. Remember, you are lifting mainly with your legs, not your arms.
  • Keep your knees bent slightly, but remember, this is not a squat; keeping the correct deadlift posture will ensure you use your hamstrings instead of your quads. 
  • Push knees outward to activate the glutes and enhance stability

Now that we know how to do a deadlift let’s see exactly why we should do them:

Benefits of Deadlifts 

The upright position of a kettlebell deadlift.

Deadlifts are a total-body exercise that builds muscle mass, strength, and core stability. They will help improve athletic performance and are also great functional exercises for everyday activities such as bending over to pick up a package or grip strength to open that stubborn jar.

Now we have mastered our basic barbell deadlift, let’s check out some alternatives you can incorporate into your strength training workouts.

6 Deadlift Variations

#1: Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 

Performing a deadlift with dumbbells is excellent if you cannot access a barbell and weight plates. However, it does limit the amount of weight you will be able to lift.

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, toes pointing forward, with a dumbbell in each hand at your thighs.
  2. Keeping your back flat, hinge at your hips and slowly bring the dumbbells down to your shins. Your back will now be just about parallel to the floor.
  3. Engage your core, push through your feet, and bring the dumbbells back up until your hips are completely extended. Exhale while lifting.
  4. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend. 
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

#2: Resistance Band Deadlift 

The resistance band deadlift is a great variation if you are a beginner new to the movement or do not have access to a gym or a lot of gym equipment such as dumbbells and kettlebells. You will need a long-looped resistance band or a band with handles to perform this variation. 

  1. Place the resistance band on the floor in front of you.
  2. Step on the resistance band with both feet. You will need to test out exactly how much slack you will need to leave so that it provides sufficient resistance during the exercise. It should be taut when you extend.
  3. Hinge at the hips and lower down with a flat back, taking one end of the resistance band in each hand at shin height. 
  4. Engage your core, push through your feet, and pull the end of the resistance bands until your hips are completely extended. Exhale while lifting.
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

#4: Deficit Deadlift 

This variation of a deadlift helps you improve your performance and increases range of motion. You will need a weight plate or a low bench to stand on about 2-4 inches high and your barbell and plates.

  1. Stand on a weight plate and position the barbell in front of you.
  2. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and toes pointing forward.
  3. Engage your core and hinge at the hips, lowering down with a straight back and chest proud.
  4. Grip the barbell with both hands, one hand facing palm up and the other hand facing palm down in an over-under grip. 
  5. Keeping your back flat, push through your feet and lift the bar, grazing your shins until your hips are completely extended. Exhale while lifting.
  6. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend. 
  7. Slowly lower the barbell down again to the floor, extending your range of motion.
  8. Raise yourself up again to the extended position. 
  9. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 

Now we will kick it up a notch with some unilateral deadlifts!

#5: Kickstand Deadlift 

The kickstand deadlift is an excellent progression to the single-leg deadlift, as its staggered stance gives you more stability while working just one leg at a time. As a unilateral exercise, the kickstand deadlift can help correct muscle imbalances.

  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart with a kettlebell in each hand. 
  2. Step forward with one leg and leave the back leg supported by your toes only. 
  3. Keeping your back flat, hinge at your hips and slowly bring the kettlebells down to your shin on either side of the front leg. Your back will now be just about parallel to the floor.
  4. Engage your core, push through your front foot, and bring the kettlebells back up until your hips are completely extended. Exhale while lifting.
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 
  7. Repeat on the other side. 

Note: Remember to keep your weight on the front leg, the leg you are working. The toes of your back leg are just there for stability, but not to take any of the weight off your front leg. 

#6: Single-Leg Deadlift 

  1. Stand tall with your feet at hip-width apart with a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand at your sides (or in one hand).
  2. With all your weight on your right leg, hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells down toward the floor, keeping your back perfectly flat and raising your left leg back behind you (and your right arm extended in front of you in the case of one kettlebell).
  3. Your torso and back leg (and arm) should be parallel to the floor, and kettlebells should hover over the floor.
  4. Engage your core, push through your right foot, and return to the starting position, keeping your weight solely on your right leg. 
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the top as you extend. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps. 
  7. Repeat on the other side. 

Note: With a single-leg deadlift, you can hold dumbbells in each hand (a bit less challenging) or dumbbells in just one hand. Of course, holding a dumbbell in only one hand will create significant instability. Perhaps master the two-dumbbell variation first and then try it by holding only one dumbbell.

Resistance band deadlift extension.

There you have it! The basic deadlift plus 6 variations for you to add to your next strength training sessions.

For more of our exercise guides, check out: 

The Glute Bridge, Explained in Detail + 6 Variations To Try

The Plank, Explained in Detail + 6 Variations To Try

The Wall-Sit, Explained in Detail + 6 Variations To Try

A deadlift.
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Katelyn is an experienced ultra-marathoner and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for the trails. In the running community, she is known for her ear-to-ear smile, even under the toughest racing conditions. She is a UESCA-certified running coach and loves sharing her knowledge and experience to help people reach their goals and become the best runners they can be. Her biggest passion is to motivate others to hit the trails or road alongside her, have a blast, and run for fun!

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