The Benefits Of Dumbbell Deadlifts: Dare To Ditch That Barbell?

Someone-taking-a-pair-of-dumbbells-off-a-rack-at-a-gymDumbbell deadlifts are an excellent substitute for a barbell deadlift, especially when you are limited with the equipment available. The fitness industry has made you believe that you must include barbell deadlifts in your lower body workout routines when the truth is it’s not as much about what equipment you use as it is the need to focus on the primary movement of the deadlift, which is ‘hinge’.

Hinge is considered to be a primary movement by many fitness enthusiasts as it allows you to bend from your hips and maintain a neutral spine. Whether you are getting into fitness or you are a fitness fanatic, there needs to be a hinge movement in your workout plan. That being said, let’s discuss the benefits of the dumbbell deadlift and how it can be just as effective as any other form of the deadlift.

What Muscles Are Worked When Performing A Deadlift?

If done correctly, deadlifts should work your whole posterior chain (the back part of your body) alongside your grip strength and core. However, the main muscles that you will work when performing deadlifts are:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Latissimus dorsi
  • Trapezius
  • Erector spinae
  • Core
  • Forearms
  • Hips
  • Quadriceps.

The Benefits Of Dumbbell Deadlifts

There are many benefits associated with a dumbbell deadlift, the main one being functionality. Since you will have two independent weights on each hand, you will be able to perform a deadlift with a deeper stretch which will increase the range of motion. The weight independence will allow you to perform deadlifts which you wouldn’t be able to do with other forms of the deadlift, such as the single-leg deadlift and deeper stretch stiff-legged deadlift.

With dumbbells, you can mimic any form of deadlift you like, without the need for multiple types of equipment.

The Advantage Of A Dumbbell Deadlift Over A Barbell Deadlift

The dumbbell deadlift allows you to work the muscles on each side of your body independently, unlike the barbell. Since you will have two detached weights on each hand, the loading is more even and causes you to have fewer imbalances. When you use a barbell, you might be able to load up more weight, but your stronger side will do most of the lifting.

Dumbbell deadlifts are considered superior to barbell deadlifts according to some fitness experts, simply because they can lower the risk of imbalances. You also don’t need a lot of weight to feel exhausted as dumbbell deadlifts are more challenging than the barbell variant. Overall you get the same benefits from a dumbbell deadlift as a barbell deadlift, with more even muscle development and lighter weights.

How To Perform A Conventional Dumbbell Deadlift

Performing a dumbbell deadlift is a little different than a barbell deadlift, and it has to do with the starting point. When you perform a barbell deadlift on the floor, the bar is about 7-8 inches off the floor, whereas the dumbbell will be much closer to the ground.

When you are performing a dumbbell deadlift you don’t have to touch the floor, in fact, you should stop a couple of inches shy of touching the floor. If you have short legs and long arms, then you can go lower but always remember to keep your lower back flat or in a neutral position throughout the movement.

Important advice for proper form:

  1. Start the lift by bending over and grabbing the dumbbell off the floor, keep your spine neutral with your head slightly up.
  2. Once you are at a good starting point, engage your lats by pinching your shoulder blades and raising your chest. Make sure to lower your hips while distributing the weight through the feet.
  3. As you lift, engage your core by bracing. Breathe out on the way up.
  4. At the top of the lift, pause for one second and make sure to squeeze your glutes while pushing your hips forward.
  5. Lower the weight down while keeping your spine neutral and with a soft bend in your knees, and breathe in until you reach the starting position.

Want To Try Mixing It Up A Little?

As well as the conventional deadlift there are other forms of the deadlift you can perform to mix your workouts up a little, prevent plateaus in your progress and keep things interesting at the gym. Here are a few variations you can try, which work just as well with dumbbells as they do barbells.

Romanian deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is excellent for building strong hamstrings, as it isolates them. The movement is very similar to a conventional deadlift however you will not bend your knees as much. The starting position will be identical to the traditional version but always remember to keep your core engaged and have a neutral spine.

Once you get to the top of the movement, slightly bend your knees and then go down without bending your knees any further. Keep going low until you notice your lower back losing its stiffness, once that occurs go back to the top position. Repeat this process for the desired reps, and you should see a significant focus on your hamstrings.

Stiff-leg deadlift

The stiff-leg deadlift is very similar to a Romanian deadlift but it further enhances the focus on your hamstrings. Start by lifting the dumbbells off the floor as you would with a regular deadlift, once you get to the top lower the weights without bending your knees and keep a neutral spine. Since the stiff-leg deadlift will require more hamstring recruitment, make sure to start with a lighter weight and work your way up. If you have the mobility to go lower then, by all means, do so, but remember to keep your spine neutral throughout.

Sumo deadlift

Sumo deadlifts are much different than stiff-leg and Romanian versions. For the starting position, you will need to have your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, while pointing your toes outwards. Once you have your feet position in check, bend down and grab the dumbbells. While you are bending to grab the dumbbells, make sure to sink your hips down like you are about to sit on a sofa.

Once you are in a good starting position, lift the dumbbells while bracing your core and inhaling. Push your hips forward while squeezing your glutes, and hold the top position for a second. On the way down make sure to exhale and go back into the starting position. Besides the feet position, the cues are going to be similar to a regular deadlift.

Try Using Dumbbells Next Time You’re In The Gym

Deadlifts are an essential part of a well-balanced fitness routine so make sure to incorporate them into your plan. If you only have access to dumbbells or you are bored with barbell deadlifts then make sure to spice things up and use the dumbbell deadlift as a new variation, especially if your progress is slowing and you want to ignite those gains.

If you’re looking for some dumbbells to help you work out from home and are unsure which type may be best, check out my article on some of the best dumbbells to buy.

Do you use dumbbells when performing deadlifts or are you a fan of the barbell when it comes to lower body training? What results have you seen compared to training with barbells? Comment below and let’s start a conversation!


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