What is a Dumbbell Deadlift?
Dumbbell deadlifts are an effective exercise that improves intramuscular coordination, whole-body stability, and strength. Like barbell deadlifts, the dumbbell version features a good range of motion and an impressive overloading potential, making the exercise fantastic for developing your posterior chain (glutes, hamstrings, and back).
The objective with deadlifts is to lift a pair of dumbbells off the floor by using the hip hinge movement pattern and keeping your back neutral. Doing so strengthens the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings), back, quadriceps, midsection, shoulders, arms, and grip (1).
Another benefit of the movement is that it forces both sides of your body to work more independently in supporting the weight. As a result, the risk of developing muscle imbalances becomes smaller. Plus, even if you have an imbalance now, switching to dumbbells can help you resolve it.
The third significant benefit of the movement is that it strengthens crucial posterior muscles that play an essential role in good posture. Performing the dumbbell deadlift strengthens the trapezius–-the large upper back muscle that stabilizes your spine and promotes a healthy neck position (1, 2). The dumbbell deadlift also develops the erector spinae, a muscle group that runs along both sides of your spine, keeping it aligned and stable (1).
Performing dumbbell deadlifts is also beneficial for your daily life. For one, the movement makes you more functional and better able to handle tasks like carrying groceries, climbing stairs, and playing with your kids. Second, the activity makes you more stable and resistant to falls or injuries. Third, the deadlift makes you more athletic.
We recommend including the deadlift early in your training and performing each repetition slowly and with good control.
Level of Exercise: Beginner/Intermediate
How to do a Dumbbell Deadlift (Perfect Deadlift Technique)
- Stand tall and position the pair of dumbbells parallel to your feet and have your feet hip-width apart. When seen from the top, the front weight plate of each dumbbell should be to the side of your mid-foot. Doing so is vital for having the dumbbells over your center of gravity as you start lifting them.
- Bend forward and grab the dumbbells while keeping your arm straight.
- Bring your chest out without lifting the dumbbells off the floor to put your spine into a neutral position.
- Take a breath and initiate the deadlift by pressing through your heels as you engage your upper body and legs.
- Lift the dumbbells in a straight vertical line, having them move to your sides.
- Extend your hips and knees simultaneously, especially as the dumbbells pass the knee level, and continue up until you’re in a standing position. Don’t hyperextend your lower back at the top of the repetition.
- Finish the repetition by squeezing your glutes and thighs.
- Hold the top position for a moment and begin the descend by breaking at the hips and pushing your buttocks back.
- Lower the weights in the same straight line as you bend forward slowly and keep your spine in a neutral position.
- Exhale near the bottom.
- Brace your midsection, bring your chest out again, ensure that the dumbbells are in the correct position, and perform the next repetition with a full range of motion.
What muscles does a dumbbell deadlift activate?
The primary muscles involved in a deadlift are the hamstrings and gluteus maximus (1). Both muscles play a crucial role in hip extension, which occurs as we lift the pair of dumbbells off the bottom position (3, 4). Our quadriceps assist the hip extensors during a deadlift. The muscle group covers the front of our thighs and produces knee extension (straightening our legs), which occurs as we start moving up (5).
Our entire back musculature also works during dumbbell deadlifts. The erector spinae, trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi, infraspinatus, and other muscles flex isometrically. These muscles provide torso stability and keep our shoulder blades retracted to protect our spine from injuries. The lats also work hard to keep the weight over your center of gravity instead of moving forward. Doing so is vital for moving heavier dumbbells safely and maintaining a solid position.
Like the back, our midsection muscles contract and contribute during a deadlift by assisting with torso stability. Aside from these muscles, our arms and shoulders also work during a deadlift, primarily to help us stay balanced. The movement also develops our grip strength and improves our performance on other exercises, like the pull-up and row.
Tips on Proper Form when Preforming a Dumbbell Deadlift
The most important tip to keep in mind for safe and effective deadlifts is staying tight from start to finish. You must assume the correct starting position and flex your entire upper body to maintain a neutral spine. An excellent way to learn how to stay tight is to have someone place a wooden stick along the length of your spine, and you must keep the stick in contact with your spine from start to finish.
Another tip for all deadlift variations is to hinge at the hips instead of just bending forward. Proper hinging means changing the hip angle while keeping your back neutral. Doing so allows you to load your hamstrings and glutes instead of putting unnecessary stress on your spine.
The third important tip for proper form and effective deadlifts is to keep the dumbbells close to yourself and over your center of gravity. As mentioned in the step-by-step instructions above, the dumbbells should be parallel to your feet in the starting position. You should then keep the weights in the same position relative to your body for better balance and more strength.
Variations and Modifications of the Dumbbell Deadlift
1. Romanian Deadlift
Romanian deadlifts are one of the best dumbbell deadlift variations you perform from the top down. Instead of lifting the weight off the floor and finishing each repetition there, you start from a standing position, descend, and finish up on top. Aside from that, you have to keep your knees slightly bent from start to finish. Doing so allows you to load your hamstrings more effectively (6).
2. Stiff-Leg Deadlift
Like Romanian deadlifts, the objective is to keep your knees slightly bent from start to finish. But, instead of starting from the top, you deadlift the weight off the floor. The primary difference from a regular deadlift is that your hips are elevated, and your torso is nearly horizontal.
3. Barbell Deadlift
The barbell deadlift is the more popular movement variation and shares many similarities with dumbbell deadlifts.
Mistakes to Avoid
Leading With Your Hips
A common deadlift mistake is leading each repetition with your hips. You set yourself up correctly, brace, begin the repetition, and your hips shoot up before the dumbbells are off the floor. Doing so isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it turns the deadlift into a stiff-leg variation. Avoid the error by being mindful of the possibility and keeping your hips at the correct height when you initiate the repetition. Your hips should move up, but only after the dumbbells start traveling up and pass your knees.
Rounding Your Lower Back
Rounding your lower back is among the most common deadlift mistakes and one you need to resolve early on. Excessive back rounding can put unnecessary stress on your spine, increasing your risk of an injury. The most important thing you should do to maintain a neutral spine is brace at the start of each repetition and bring your shoulders back as much as possible.
Similar Exercises to the Dumbbell Deadlift
Bent-Over Row (Dumbbell)
The bent-over row is an effective exercise you can do to strengthen your entire back, midsection, biceps, and forearms. Like deadlifts, the movement makes you stronger, and all you need is a pair of dumbbells to take full advantage. The objective is to grab the weights, hinge forward, and have the weights hang down. Once in position, take a breath and pull the dumbbells to your torso, pausing at the top. Lower the dumbbells, exhale and repeat.
Rack pulls are a form of deadlift where you elevate the barbell inside a squat rack or on blocks. Doing so allows you to practice the second part of the deadlift without fatiguing your legs. Instead, your back and glutes do most of the work. Rack pulls also improve your lockout and grip strength, so you should perform them if you struggle near the top of deadlifts.