10 Highly Effective Deadlift Alternatives

Young woman doing a glute bridge exercise with a resistance band in her living room

If you go to the gym, you have probably seen people deadlifting. Bodybuilders consider the deadlift the “king” of the full-body workouts. However, people with back problems or weak muscles should have 10 highly effective deadlift alternatives to protect their back and its supporting muscles and tissues.

Even if you have never been to a gym, you are probably familiar with the term or have seen it on television, in workout videos, or elsewhere. The following 10 highly effective deadlift alternatives will help you prevent further back problems.

There are also other reasons for trying a deadlift alternative, which you will address.

What Is a Deadlift?

The idea behind deadlifting comes from the movement of picking up a dead weight off the floor from a standing position. The exercise is a compound movement that simultaneously engages several upper and lower body muscles and tissues.

The first part of the deadlift involves hinging your hips back and squatting down to pick up a barbell or a kettlebell off the floor. During this action, your back should be kept flat.

The deadlift is one of the most common core lifting movements used with squats and bench presses. The deadlift uses your back, core, leg, and glute muscles.

Fit people preparing to deadlift and holding barbells

What Muscles Does the Deadlift Work?

When using proper form, the deadlift works the muscles in the upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings. Deadlifting aids in the definition of these areas.

Deadlifts are known to help enhance strength to aid in weight lifting because they keep your body in the proper position.

During the deadlift, you can simultaneously train multiple muscles. For example, deadlifting works and defines the hamstrings and quadriceps of your legs, training these muscles to be stronger for pulling your body back from the lowest position in the deadlift.

While you work the quads and hamstrings, your glutes are activated. It aids in extending your hips up and out of the bent back position as you’re lifting. You use all three gluteal muscles, including the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.

Your core muscles also join the muscles that are in deadlifts. As your abs contract, you’re aiding in stabilizing your back muscles needed for lifting barbells or kettlebells. If you don’t contract your core muscles, you are at a very high risk of injuring your back when performing deadlifts.

Your back muscles, including your iliocostalis, spinalis, and longissimus muscles that extend all along your spine, extend your torso to stand up for the lifting process.

Why Would You Need Deadlift Alternatives?

The conventional deadlift workout routine is not for everyone. While deadlifts engage the back’s stabilizing muscles and build solid core strength, they also come with a high risk of getting injured.

It takes one wrong move to cause pain and injury to your back or knees, even when using light barbells or kettlebells.

There are a few factors that may prevent you from doing a proper deadlift exercise:

  • Lack of mobility: Poor hip mobility causes problems with keeping your back flat, which is the proper posture for deadlifts. It’s imperative to use the correct form for performing the deadlift.
  • Age: Age matters since hip mobility can be a problem caused by aging. If you have issues with hip mobility, it will also prevent you from using the proper deadlift form.
  • Existing back injuries: Deadlifts can trigger pain if you have ever had a back injury. People with previous back injuries are not good candidates for performing deadlifts.
  • Tall people: Tall People may face issues when trying the traditional deadlift because of the longer range of motion they have.

No matter why you cannot or do not want to perform standard deadlifts, there are several deadlift alternatives to consider below. Most injuries from deadlifts are due to improper form.

Back pain, close up young man has muscle injury during outdoor exercise

10 Highly Effective Deadlift Alternatives

The following 10 best deadlift alternatives can substitute for the standard deadlift in your workout routine.

These exercises will provide the strength and definition of deadlifts without the risk of injury to your back and knees.

1. Romanian Deadlift
2. Single-leg Romanian Deadlifts
3. Farmer Carry
4. Single Leg DB Deadlift
5. Supine Back Extensions
6. Bulgarian Split Squat
7. Pendlay Row
8. Floor Bridge
9. Rack Pull
10. The Sumo Deadlift

You may be familiar with these exercises, but you may not have associated them with replacing deadlifts in your workout routine.

How to Perform Deadlift Alternatives

This guide to deadlift alternatives will help you quickly master the exercises and reap their benefits.

1. Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian Deadlift is suitable for anyone with knee problems associated with regular deadlift exercises. This exercise reduces the pressure on your knees and trapezoids by emphasizing your glutes and hamstrings.

  • Grip your barbell (or kettlebell).
  • Lift the barbell and take 2 to 3 steps back from the rack.
  • Place your feet shoulder distance apart and bend your knees a little.
  • Hinge at your hips as you bring the barbell to your knees, and keep your weight on your heels.
  • After you have the barbell just below your knee, clench your glutes to help drive your hips upward and forward.
  • Avoid bending your knees more than you did from the start.
  • Start with 6 to 10 repetitions.

You won’t require heavy barbell weights to perform this exercise.

An anonymous couple does dumbbell Romanian deadlifts on the artificial grass mat of a home gym

2. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

The Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (Single-Leg RDL) is an effective lower body workout that builds definition and strength in other key areas.

Like conventional deadlifts, the Single-Leg RDL works your posterior chain, which involves your hamstrings and glutes, only with less strain on your knees.

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart, and knees bend your knees slightly.
  • Keep your back straight with its natural arch and maintain the bend in your knees while hinging at the hips.
  • Lower your torso until it’s nearly parallel to the floor.
  • Pause in this position for a moment, clench your glutes, and thrust your hips forward while also raising your torso back to the beginning.
  • Start with 3 sets per leg, 10 to 15 repetitions, when using little to no weight.

Remember to keep your knees only slightly bent without locking them during the exercise.

3. Farmer’s Carry

The Farmer’s Carry isn’t your typical deadlift, but it can be a part of your deadlift alternatives. The Farmer’s Carry is also called the Farmer’s Walk.

  • Stand straight, bend down at the hips, and pick up a barbell or dumbbell in each hand.
  • Lift the weight by hinging at your hips, keeping your spine straight throughout the whole movement.
  • Hold the barbell or dumbbells firmly, standing tall and keeping your back, shoulders, and core engaged.
  • Start walking forward with proper posture and an even pace. Make sure you are facing forward.
  • Complete the number of steps you prefer, stop, and then put the dumbbells or barbell down, keeping your core engaged and your spine neutral.
  • Take a rest for a couple of minutes, and repeat the exercise.
  • Perform 6 to 10 sets, according to your preference.

Don’t rush while performing this exercise. It prevents injury while also helping you gain strength.

Male 's hand is holding metal dumbbells

4. Single-Leg DB Deadlift

You can perform the Single-Leg DB Deadlift with a dumbbell, known as the “DB.” The main muscle engagement happens in the hamstrings, taking some pressure off your knees.

  • Take a dumbbell in each hand, positioning them on your upper thighs and your arms straight.
  • With your feet together, slightly lift one leg with your foot just off the floor.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the floor as you raise your lifted leg behind you.
  • Keep your back straight and your supporting knee slightly bent.
  • It will help if you extend your knees and hips throughout the movement.
  • After you feel the stretch, or when the dumbbells reach the floor, stand back up to the starting position by raising your torso and lowering your lifted leg.
  • Straighten your supporting knee to stand upright.
  • Perform 1 to 3 sets and 6 to 8 repetitions.

The exercise isolates each side, activating each side of your glutes and hamstrings.

5. Supine Back Extensions

Supine back extensions are a bodyweight deadlift alternative that requires no weights or equipment.

  • Lie on your front.
  • Clasp your hands behind your lower back.
  • With your feet on the floor, lift your head, chest, and shoulders just a few inches above the floor.
  • Return to the lying position and repeat.
  • Perform 6 to 8 repetitions.

This supine deadlift alternative can be challenging by putting your hands on your head in the temple area.

6. Bulgarian Split Squat

The Bulgarian split squat isn’t a compound exercise but a single movement that is an excellent deadlift alternative when correctly performed.

You will need a box or a riser that can hold your weight, which comes up between your mid-shin and the lower part of your knees.

  • Put one foot in front of the box and the other atop the box, on your toes. You should align your legs with your shoulders.
  • Take a dumbbell in each hand, make sure your back is straight, and bend both knees slightly.
  • Keep your front shin vertical, sitting back on the other leg.
  • When your front thigh reaches a 90-degree angle, drive through your heel and stand upright.

You should know that the Bulgarian split squat doesn’t offer much for lower back muscle, trapezoid, or erector engagement. You can add an upper-body pulling action to this exercise, like the Pendlay Row, next on this list.

Young shirtless man doing split squats with weights

7. Pendlay Row

The Pendlay Row is ideal as a deadlift alternative for the back. The core, torso, and lats engage throughout this exercise.

In conjunction with Bulgarian Split Squats, you can use this exercise for a full-body, deadlift alternative combination.

You will need a barbell or dumbbells for this exercise.

  • Stand straight with a barbell on the floor in front of you.
  • Your feet need to align with your hips.
  • Slightly bend your knees as you bend down and hinge forward at the hips until your torso reaches parallel to the floor.
  • Keeping your back straight, grab the barbell using the overhand grip, with your hands aligned with your shoulders.
  • Hold the barbell in front of the thighs.
  • Engage your core as you lift the barbell to your chest.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lift the bar.
  • Hold the barbell at the top of the movement for a second.
  • Lower the barbell back to the floor, keeping your hold on it.
  • Perform 8 to 10 repetitions.

The main muscles worked in the Pendlay Row are the latissimus dorsi (lats). Your lower back erectors, anterior abdominals (rectus abdominis), forearms, and hip flexors also benefit from this workout.

8. Floor Bridge

Since deadlifts are great for sculpting and toning your butt (glutes), the Floor Bridge is another deadlift alternative option to consider.

The Floor Bridge is easier on your lower back, plus there is no need for any equipment.

  • Get on your back on the floor, bend your legs, and put your feet flat on the floor facing forward.
  • Perform a pelvic tilt by pushing up the small of your back against the floor.
  • Push your feet into the floor, pushing your hips up until your body is straight between your shoulders and knees.
  • Clinch your glute muscles at the top of the movement.
  • Lower your butt down to the floor position and repeat the movement.
  • Perform 1 to 2 sets of 12 to 20 repetitions.
  • Take your time and do this at a slow pace.

The controlled, slow movements help increase the benefits of your lower body exercise routine. Hip thrust movements are also suitable for replacing deadlifts.

9. Rack Pull

The main difference between rack pulls, and conventional deadlifts are the range of motion. Since you take a higher starting pose, your lower back gets less stress.

Traditional deadlifts begin with the barbell on the floor, but the rack pull, or block deadlift, starts with the bar at knee height.

  • Put the barbell at knee height on a rack set.
  • Stand by the bar close enough for it to touch your legs.
  • Bend your knees, lean forward, then grip the bar using the overhand or mixed grip method.
  • Your feet need to align with your hips and shoulders.
  • Keeping your lower back straight, use your butt muscles (glutes), back muscles, and hamstrings to stand.
  • Lower the barbell back down to the rack.
  • Repeat the movement.

Though the rack pull reduces the demand on your back and hip muscles, it still engages and strengthens the hand, forearm, trapezoids, quadriceps, erector spinae, hamstring, and glute muscles.

10. The Sumo Deadlift

The Sumo Deadlift may sound menacing, but it takes the stress off your lower back. The exercise is still much like regular deadlifts but has a wider stance.

Sumo deadlifts engage your abductor muscles on the outer side of your hips.

  • Stand with your toes under the barbell and about one-and-a-half inches shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend down, and grab the barbell with the overhand method.
  • Lower your hips as you lift your chest, engage your abs, and straighten your arms.
  • Push your feet into the floor.
  • Without rounding your back or bending your arms, stand up straight.
  • Don’t lean back.
  • Push your hips back, bend the knees, and lower the barbell back down to the floor.
  • Return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Perform 2 or 3 sets at 1 to 5 repetitions.

The Sumo deadlift also reduces the range of motion due to the stance, which is why it takes the pressure off your lower back.

A large and muscular asian man does sumo barbell deadlifts at a hardcore gym


Since deadlifts engage so many muscle groups simultaneously, it’s crucial to have deadlift alternative solutions when your back, hips, or knees are compromised by age, range of motion, or injury.

The above deadlift alternatives will still engage the same muscles in your back, hips, butt, legs, and arms like the deadlift without causing injury or risk to your back and knees.

The key to making sure these exercises work the proper muscles and protect your knees and back is to perform them using proper form. If you are unsure how to do that, consult with an experienced trainer.

Though deadlifts are “king” among bodybuilders, you don’t need to do them. There’s nothing wrong with using deadlift alternatives to help build strength and add definition to your thighs, butt, legs, and back muscles.

These deadlift alternatives can help more people benefit from this type of workout. Regardless of any limitations, using deadlift alternative exercises still need to be correctly done.

Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, especially if you have weak bones, previous injuries, reduced range of motion, or are at an age where it’s vital to be careful about the exercises you choose.

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