Beyond a doubt, the deadlift is an amazing compound movement with many benefits a weightlifter can reap from it. But, this may not always be possible for everyone due to injury or the desire to have variety in workout. If you’re trying to get the same benefits of the deadlift motion without actually doing the exercise, there are some great substitutions that can give you similar results. When you’re done nursing your injury, or whatever reason is preventing you from deadlifting, you can get back do it. Until then, here are some alternatives…
Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
This exercise does a fabulous job of equalizing asymmetrical results from doing the traditional deadlift with a dominant side or leg. Using just one leg at a time with the same amount of weight forces the legs to be worked equally instead of utilizing the dominant side as the main working muscles to move the weights through the motion.
Just like the deadlift, this exercise activates the lower back, hamstrings and core for stabilization as well as power when you reach forward with weight. When starting in the standing position, hold a weight in the same hand of the leg that you will be lifting – if you’re lifting the left leg, hold the dumbbell or kettlebell in the left hand. Balance is not my forte, if you’re anything like me, then you can use the hand not holding the weight and touch your finger tips on a balance surface or against the wall. This isn’t to use as leverage to lift the weight through the motions, but to use as a safety as to not fall over.
From the standing position, tip the torso forward while pushing the lifting leg backwards and have a slight bend in the knee on the standing leg. Make sure to keep the foot firmly planted on the floor as well and sink your weight through the feel of that foot. When picking your torso back up into the standing position, flex the gluteus muscles to do so and simultaneously bring the raised foot back down to the floor. This is not an exercise meant for speed! Slow motions through this exercise helps to maintain form, avoid injuries or aggravate any existing injuries.
Hyperextensions have the ability to work the entire posterior of the body. Specifically, this exercise is excellent at targeting the glutes, hamstrings, core and lower back – exact same muscles targeted as the deadlift. So long as you do not have back injuries preventing you, adding weight to hold in your arms while going through the motion will even work the upper back as well. Let’s not forget that the calves get worked with this exercise too! The main muscles used while going through the motion are the glutes and hamstrings. Not only is this a great alternative to the deadlift, but can be a booty builder for the ladies when focusing on those muscles during the exercise.
My favorite bench to use for a hyperextension is a padded incline, but there are benches that hold your body parallel to the floor that will function just as well. The pad of the bench should be resting slightly below where your torso meets the top of your quadriceps. This will allow you to have full range of motion to bend over the edge of the bench. Doing body weight is best to start when learning the proper form of this exercise and your arms can be crisscrossed in front of your chest or bent at the elbow with your hands folded behind your head.
Start the motions of this exercise be tipping the torso forward in a controlled motion with your core engaged. Keep lowering your torso slowly forward until you feel the pull in your hamstrings. Keep your knees and legs straight at the bottom of the exercise to stretch and work the hamstrings. Contract the glutes to use those muscles for strength and power to lift the torso slowly up towards the start position. Make sure to engage the core throughout both the lowering and raising of your torso through the exercise.
Kettlebell swings are one of the most underrated exercises for glutes, hamstrings and core. They are super useful to build muscle and substitute for deadlifts. This exercise can even add a cardiovascular aspect to your lifting regime when done with a quick enough tempo – three or four sets of twenty swings for time with a substantial amount of weight will leave you sweating and a touch out of breath. Frequently, this exercise is mistaken for a shoulder exercise. However, it is the pelvic thrust of the hips powered by the glutes and hamstrings, which is stabilized by the core and lower back, that generates the power for the swing of the kettlebell. The shoulders and arms act more like hinges and secondary muscles worked through the motions.
Start the swing by standing with your feet shoulder width apart and both hands holding the kettlebell in front of your body. With a slight bend in the knee as well as a slight bend forward of the torso, the kettlebell will now be between your legs. Make sure to engage the core throughout this entire exercise and keep your shoulders square with the back flat. Contracting the glutes, thrust the hips forward against your arms and swing the kettlebell forward keeping the arms strait with the elbows slightly bent. Raise the kettlebell up to about eye level. On the swing back down towards the legs, be sure bend the torso forward and have the bend in your hips again to end up in the position you started in.
These deadlift substitutes don’t have to be just alternatives when you can’t deadlift due to an injury or any other reason. They can be used along with the deadlift to work on strength and muscle growth. Strong core, glutes and hamstrings creates a nice compliment to any physique and can even help in athletic performance.
Written by: Samantha Meinrod