10 Highly Effective Deadlift Alternatives (With Pictures)

10 Highly Effective Deadlift Alternatives

The deadlift targets the glutes, hamstrings, and low/mid-back.

However, there are several reasons why you might be searching for an alternative to the deadlift, including you have an injury that prevents you from deadlifting, you have some sort of technical limitations that doesn’t allow you to get into the proper deadlift position, or you’re simply looking for extra training variety.

You may also want to isolate a single muscle group more, recognizing that the deadlift is a compounded movement and utilizes multiple muscles.

The 10 best deadlift alternatives are:

1. Block Deadlift
2. Romanian Deadlift
3. Deficit Deadlift
4. Pause Deadlift
5. Single-Leg DB Deadlift
6. 45-Degree Back Extension
7. Standing Cable Pull Through
8. Bulgarian Split Squat
9. Pendlay Row
10. Farmer Carry

Depending on the equipment you have available or your reason for wanting to find a deadlift substitute, you can pick and choose the most appropriate exercise below. Make sure to read my quick tips under each exercise. In some cases, I suggest pairing these exercises with another in order to get more benefit.

You can find more deadlift exercises and variations in my article on 12 Deadlift Accessories To Increase Strength & Technique. Open this article in a new tab and read it next!

1. Block Deadlift

The block deadlift (sometimes referred to as the “rack pull“) is a partial range of motion focusing exclusively on the top end of the movement.

The lifter will deadlift off blocks, or in the absence of blocks, the safety pins inside a power rack. The height of the blocks or pins will vary depending on how much range of motion you want to target. However, most people will set up the height to be around knee-level.

In this top range of motion, you are placing a greater loading demand on the hip and back extensor muscle groups, primarily the glutes, spinal erectors, and traps. You can also lift more weight in this alternative to the deadlift because it’s a shorter range of motion.

You can read more about the benefits of the block deadlift and how to program it in my Complete Guide To The Block Deadlift.

How To Do It?

  • Set up boxes so that the barbell starts at about knee height
  • Walk up to the barbell and grip it just outside your thighs
  • Aim to have your shoulders directly in light with the barbell, which will result in a slight forward torso lean
  • Take a big breath, brace your core, squeeze your lats strong, and lift the barbell from the blocks  
  • Think about driving your hips toward the barbell by squeezing your glutes
  • The barbell should remain on your thighs throughout the entire range of motion
  • Your hips and knees should lock simultaneously 
  • Return the barbell to the blocks and repeat

Quick Tip

You can typically handle 10-30% more weight in the block deadlift compared with the deadlift. While your major muscle groups (glutes, low back, mid back) can tolerate this kind of overloading, your grip usually can’t. This is why I recommend wearing straps to prevent any grip loss while performing this exercise.

2. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is another deadlift alternative that focuses more on the glutes and low-back.

The lifter will start from a standing position and hinge forward from the hips while trying to, at the same time, push their hips back and lean their shoulders forward.

The starting position of a deadlift is taught as a “push off the floor” in order to extend from the knees first. However, in the Romanian deadlift, there is very little knee extension, and it’s taught more like a “pull from the hips”.

I wrote a comparison between the deadlift and Romanian deadlift. You can read about these two movements in my article on Deadlift vs. Romanian Deadlift: Form Benefits, & Differences. I include helpful illustrations of both these exercises.

How To Do It?

  • Start with the barbell resting on the pins inside a power rack at about mid-thigh height
  • Grip the barbell just outside of your legs
  • Lift the barbell from the pins and walk back from the rack in 2-3 steps
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart and slightly bend your knees
  • Hinge at the hips to bring the barbell to the knee, think about keeping the weight on your heels
  • Think about driving your hips back to feel the tension in your glutes and hamstring
  • Once the barbell is just below the knee, squeeze your glutes to drive your hips up and forward
  • Don’t bend your knees any more than the initial crack you had at the start

Quick Tip

You don’t need too much weight for this exercise to have a high training effect. Use between 40-50% of your 1 rep max deadlift for reps between 6-10. I also like to implement a slower eccentric tempo of around 3-seconds. This will ensure you maintain solid tension on your glutes throughout the movement.

If you’re looking for alternatives to the Romanian deadlift, I wrote an entire article on the Best Romanian Deadlift Alternatives.

3. Deficit Deadlift

The deficit deadlift is an alternative to the barbell deadlift placing greater emphasis on the quads.

The lifter will stand on an elevated platform, usually by placing their feet on 45lb plates. This creates additional range of motion at the bottom-end of the lift.

The deficit deadlift is a more advanced deadlift variation. So, if you already struggle with the start position of the deadlift, then I wouldn’t select this as a deadlift alternative. But, for a more advanced lifter, it will be an appropriate challenge.

You can read more about the deficit deadlift in my article on The 5 Benefits of The Deficit Deadlift.

How To Do It?

  • Set up the deficit deadlift platform by standing on 45lb plates
  • Position your feet underneath of the barbell and bring your shins to touch
  • Set your hips be bringing them slightly lower than a normal deadlift start position
  • Start the movement by cueing yourself to ‘push the floor away’ to activate the quads
  • Lock your hips and knees together at the same time

Quick Tip

In addition to using a conventional stance (shoulder-width), you can perform the deficit deadlift in the sumo style as well. If doing the deficit deadlift in the sumo style, you only need a 1-inch deficit, compared with a 2-4 inch deficit in the conventional stance.

4. Pause Deadlift

The pause deadlift is another deadlift alternative that is similiar to the traditional deadlift. However, rather than pulling in one fluid motion from floor-to-lockout, you are pausing halfway through the range of motion for 1-2 seconds.

The main benefits of the paused deadlift include not requiring as much training load as a regular deadlift in order to have a high training effect, in addition to placing greater emphasis on the quads over other muscle groups.

The paused deadlift is an advanced deadlift alternative and if you are going to implement it into your training program you should already have a high competency with your traditional deadlifting technique.

If you want to learn how to pause deadlift more effectively, read my Complete Guide To Pause Deadlifts.

How To Do It?

  • Start in your regular deadlift position
  • As you drive off the floor pause the load for 1-2 seconds somewhere between the floor and knee
  • The pause should be measured when the barbell is motionless
  • Keep the barbell on your shins throughout the pause
  • Cue yourself to maintain tension in your quads throughout the pause
  • After the pause, drive to the lockout, then return to the start position

Quick Tip

In order to get the most out of the paused deadlift, make sure you are consistent with where you pause. In other words, pause at the same place each time. After the pause, be explosive to lock the weight out.

5. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

The single-leg dumbbell deadlift is an exercise with dumbbells simliar to deadlifts.

The lifter will be challenged to stabilize on each leg independently throughout the movement. As such, this is a great deadlift alternative for working out imbalances between the right and left side, in addition to using the smaller stabilizing muscles in the glutes and core.

You aren’t able to go as heavy with the single-leg dumbbell deadlift compared with the traditional deadlift, but the purpose is less about strength-building, and more about increasing motor control, stability, and muscle mass in the glutes.

How To Do It?

  • Grab a dumbbell in each hand
  • Place your weight on one foot by lifting the opposite leg off the floor
  • Hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back straight, and kicking one leg behind you
  • Keep your hips neutral (square) to the floor and avoid twisting one hip up
  • Go until your back is parallel to the floor and keep the dumbbells hanging in front of you
  • Return to standing by maintaining your balance on your single foot

Quick Tip

If you find yourself getting off-balanced try: (1) fixing your gaze on a spot in front of you on the floor, and (2) curl your toes into the ground, which should feel like you’re gripping the floor with your feet.

Related Article: 5 Best Deadlift Jacks & Wedges (2020)

6. 45-Degree Back Extension

The 45-degree back extension is a great alternative to barbell deadlifts to build muscle and strength for the low back and glutes.

Some gyms may not have a 45-degree back extension. If that’s the case for you, then you could substitute this exercise for either a hyper-extension, glute-ham raise, or reverse hyper. Each of these movements would be a solid deadlift substitute, providing more or less emphasis on the low back or glutes.

You’ll want to do this exercise at the end of your workout using higher reps and focusing on a strong mind-muscle connection. Prior to this movement, you’ll want to engage in either a heavy barbell or dumbbell exercise for the legs and back, as the 45-degree back extension is more of an ‘isolation’ exercise.

How To Do It?

  • Set the back extension so that your waist can comfortable bend over the top of the machine
  • Grab a dumbbell or plate and hold it close to your chest
  • Position your feet on the platform and begin lowering yourself toward the floor
  • Keep your legs straight and your spine neutral
  • Go until you feel a stretch in your glutes/hamstrings and then pull your body back to the start position

Quick Tip

Many bodybuilders like to slightly round their mid back during this exercise in order to place more emphasis on their glutes versus low back. If you do this, ensure that you’re using a lighter load and think about squeezing your glutes hard throughout the entire range of motion.

7. Standing Cable Pull Through

The standing cable pull-through is a solid substitute for deadlifts; however, rather than using a barbell, you’re performing the exercise on the cable machine.

The cable pull-through has a small learning curve as many people say they have a hard time gaining their balance. This is easily overcome by thinking about placing the weight on the front part of your foot throughout the movement versus your heel.

The cable pull-through can easily be modified to target different muscle groups. To target more of your adductor magnus (inner thigh) and glute medius (upper side glute), take a wider stance. To target more of your hamstrings and glute max (the part of your glutes where you sit down), take a narrow stance.

How To Do It?

  • Place a rope attachment at the bottom of the cable machine
  • Pick up the rope in both hands in between your legs and face away from the machine
  • Take a few steps away from the machine and assume a stance slightly wider than shoulder-width
  • Have a slight bend in the knee and hinge forward at the hips
  • The rope shold travel between your legs while keeping your back neutral
  • Once the back is parallel to the floor, squeeze your glutes to return to your start position
  • Maintain your balance by keeping your bodyweight on the front part of your foot

Quick Tip

If you don’t have a cable machine available, you can substitute the pull through with a kettlebell swing. The only difference is that the kettlebell swing is a more ‘explosive movement’ whereas the goal of the pull-through is to maintain constant tension on your muscles throughout the entire movement.

8. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat is a single leg movement that can be an effective deadlift alternative if performed with the proper technique.

When you take the stance for the Bulgarian split squat, you want to use a fairly long stride. Then, when you’re squatting, you want to maintain a vertical shin on the front leg and avoid pushing the front knee forward. This will provide better activation for your glutes, which is more similar to a deadlift.

One of the main benefits of the Bulgarian split squat is that you can work the right and left side independently, which helps manage any muscular imbalances.

How To Do It?

  • Set up a box (or riser) so that the height of the box is between mid-shin and the bottom of the knee
  • Place one foot in front of the box and the other foot on top of the box (on your toes)
  • Your legs should be spaced shoulder-width apart
  • With dumbbells in each hand and a straight back, bend into both of your knees
  • Think about sitting into the back leg, and keep your front shin vertical
  • When the front thigh is at 90-degrees, drive through your heel to stand up

Quick Tip

The Bulgarian split squat doesn’t provide much activation for the low back, erectors, or traps. Therefore, I would incorporate some sort of upper body pulling movement, like a wide grip pull-up or Pendlay row (discussed next) either before or after this exercise. Furthermore, some people may not require load for the Bulgarian split squat, making it a good bodyweight deadlift alternative.

9. Pendlay Row

The Pendlay row is considered a deadlift alternative for back because of the strength required in the erectors, core, and lats to stabilize the torso throughout the rowing motion.

In the Pendlay row, your back should be parallel to the floor the entire time as you row the barbell from the ground to your chest.

The Pendlay row is an upper-body pulling exercise, and as such, doesn’t use much leg strength. Therefore, I recommend pairing this exercise with something like a Bulgarian split squat (discussed previously) in order to get the full benefit that a deadlift would provide.

How To Do It?

  • Set up a barbell with plates on the floor
  • Take a wide grip, typically the same grip you use to bench press
  • The barbell should be a few inches away from your shins in the start position
  • Assume a position with your core engage, a slight bend in your knees, and your back parallel to the floor
  • Row the bar to your sternum — If you can’t get the bar to the sternum then the load is too heavy
  • Avoid any movement with your torso as you row the barbell
  • Return the barbell to the floor and come to a dead stop before repeating

Quick Tip

The Pendlay row is an excellent bench press accessory movement as well. It will work your rear delts and lats, which help stabilize the bench press, including decelerating the bar (on the way down) and restrict inefficient movement patterns

Looking for alternatives to the Pendlay row? Check out my article on the 11 Best Pendlay Row Alternatives.

10. Farmer Carry

The farmer carry is not a replacement for deadlifts, but if combined with a couple of the other exercises on this list, it can be part of an effective alternative deadlift routine.

The farmer carry is the only exercise on this list that specifically targets the grip, which is a huge component of the deadlift. Often times, a person’s legs and back are strong enough to deadlift, but they fail just before locking out because the bar slips from their hands.

By doing a heavy farmer carry, you will be required to hold onto dumbbells for an extended amount of time. This will work the smaller muscles in your hands and forearms responsible for gripping strength.

Read my complete guide on How To Maximize Your Grip Strength For Deadlifts.

How To Do It?

  • Grab a heavy set up dumbbells in each hand
  • With your chest up, shoulders retracted, start walking forward
  • Walk for either a prescribed amount of time or a specific distance (I prefer 30-seconds)

Quick Tip

If you want a slight variation to the farmer carry, you could use a trap bar instead of dumbbells. You would use the trap bar if you’re already using the heaviest dumbbells in your gym and you need more load.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Get Big Without Deadlifts?

Yes, you can get big without deadlifts. However, the deadlift is considered one of the best compounded movements to build strength and mass for the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, low back, traps, and erectors). If you aren’t going to deadlift, you will need to incorporate other compounded exercises as substitutes, such as squats, rows, lunges, and shrugs.

How Can You Strengthen Your Low Back Without Deadlifts?

You can strengthen the low back without deadlifts by doing exercises such as weighted back extensions, standing cable pull-throughs, good mornings, Pendlay rows, and squats. One of the best exercises for the low back is the Romanian deadlift.

What Can I Use Instead of a Trap Bar Deadlift?

Some of the best alternatives to the trap bar deadlift are squat variations, such as front squats, goblet squats, and safety bar squats. This is because the trap bar deadlift places greater emphasis on the quads versus the posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, low back).

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering what to do instead of deadlifts then this list should provide you with enough options.

If you don’t choose a barbell variation, such as block deadlifts, Romanian deadlifts, deficit deadlifts, or pause deadlifts, then you’ll want to make sure you pick 2-3 exercises from this list and perform them on the same workout in order to get the same benefit as deadlifts.

For example, the combination of Bulgarian split squats, Pendlay Rows, and farmer walks would be an excellent replacement to the deadlift.

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