5 Great Alternatives to Deadlifts

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It is almost unthinkable for serious bodybuilders to look for alternatives to deadlifts. After all, said compound exercise activates all muscle groups at once. If squats is the ultimate lower body blaster and dips is the nonpareil upper body exercise, deadlifts is the supreme physique builder as it provides excellent resistance training to both the upper and lower body muscle groups from your shoulders to your chest, back, core, hips, buttocks, and legs. Studies also show that it helps tremendously in fat burning and cardiovascular strengthening. 

However, if you have some mobility issues that impede you from performing a full-range deadlift movement such as a recent back injury, advanced age, or any other physical limitations, there are still some great options available for you. Another possible reason that could be stopping you from doing the exercise is not having access to a good set of barbells. 

Since we don’t know for sure where you are in those cited situations, we decided to present here various alternatives to deadlifts. Some of which are just modified versions of the exercise, while others are done without the use of a barbell. But just the same, each of these alternative exercises will also give you a good full body workout but with lesser risks of aggravating a recent back injury or causing joint discomforts. 

#1. Rack Pulls

This is a lower back-friendly version of the deadlift as it significantly shortens the barbell lifting height. By using a rack or stacks of weight plates, the starting point of the barbell can be conveniently set at about the same height as your knees or even a bit higher instead of coming off straight from the floor. 

However, let me remind you that even though this method is a lot easier on your lower back and your knee joints, it also reduces the intensity of resistance training for your legs. But just the same, it engages all the same muscle groups activated in standard deadlifts such as your glutes, quads, hamstrings, abs, obliques, traps, pecs, forearm muscles and more. 

alternatives to deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Just like the standard deadlift, you will need a plate-loaded barbell. You will also need a rack or two stacks of weight plates where you can elevate the barbell off the floor. 
  • Stand behind the barbell with your feet at shoulder-width apart. Slightly bend your knees to lower your arms, and then grasp the barbell bar with your palms facing backward (pronated position) and with your forearms a bit wider apart than your shoulders.  
  • Lift the barbell without bending your arms much until you are standing fully erect and the barbell bar is almost touching your upper thighs. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly lower the barbell back to its starting position. Place the barbell on the rack, let it go and return to your original standing position. This makes one count. Repeat the sequence 10-12 times to make a complete set. Do at least 2-3 sets per workout.

#2. Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)

This version reduces the amount of tension involved in the lifting sequence as you don’t need to pick up the barbell off the floor repeatedly. It also allows you to control the depth of your down movement, thus reducing the risk of over-stressing your lower back. 

Women would really love this workout as it gives emphasis to the muscles on the buttocks (gluteus maximus), stomach (both abdominals and obliques), and back and inner thighs (hamstrings and adductor magnus). However, it still activates all other muscle groups usually affected by a standard deadlift such as those in your back, shoulders, arms, and chests.

alternatives to deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Stand straight with feet slightly over shoulder-width apart, and with the barbell in front of you. 
  • Pick the barbell off the floor as in a standard deadlift, with bent knees, two-handed grip in a pronated position and straight arms slightly over shoulder-width apart. Return to standing position with the barbell lifted thigh-high.
  • Lower the barbell with straightened back and unbent legs as low as you can, but not letting it touch the floor. Return to standing position. Do 10-12 reps without dropping the barbell to the floor to complete one set. Do at least 2-3 sets per workout. 

#3. Sumo Deadlift

This is done with a really wide stance much like one of the pre-fight poses performed by sumo wrestlers, thus the name. This lowered stance notably shortens the pull-up range of the standard deadlifts. In contrast with RDL, this method intensifies the leg workout component of this compound exercise, most particularly in the inner thighs, quads, and calf muscles.

At the same time, it also provides an excellent resistance training to the gluteus maximus, erector spinae (lower back), upper trapezius (neck), deltoids (shoulders), chest, core, and forearms. 

alternatives to deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Stand with your legs spread widely apart with the barbell on the floor and in front of you.
  • Lower your body to pick up the barbell by bending your knees. In this particular position, your toes and knees are almost pointed to the sides. 
  • Grasp the barbell bar with one hand in supinated position (palm facing forward) and the other in pronated position (palm facing backward). Switch hand position in the middle of each set. 
  • Make the lifting sequence by straightening your legs while maintaining a wide stance. Do 10-12 repetitions to complete one set. Perform at least 2 to 3 sets per workout.

#4. Back & Forth Tire Flipping

This workout is part of a strongman sports routine and is now commonly incorporated into various circuit training and other athletic drills. It is great for building and strengthening muscles in your arms, legs, core, shoulders, chest, and back. So it pretty much give you a full body workout like what standard deadlifts does.  

The trick here is finding a giant used tire, preferably weighing almost twice as you and almost as tall as you are when it is upright. While you can buy one in some junkyard to put in your own backyard, there are actually some unconventional gyms that usually have one as part of their set of training equipment. 

alternatives to deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Stand on one side of the tire that is lying on its side on the ground. Make sure that there is nobody else near the tire, most particularly in the dropping points. 
  • Bend your knees and put your fingers underneath one edge of the tire. Lift it and flip it so the other side is now on top.
  • Jump inside the tire hole with both feet landing on the ground at the same time. Next, jump out to the other side where you will prepare to flip the tire again back to its starting position.
  • Repeat the back and forth flipping at least 8 times to make a complete set. Do at least 2 to 3 sets per workout.
  • Note: If you are not strong enough yet to flip the tire completely, at least try to lift it as high as you can on one side and carefully lower it back to its original position. Do the same number of repetitions and sets suggested above.

#5. Bodyweight Deadlifts

This exercise does not involve the use of any sports equipment or other implements but is likewise a great alternative to deadlifts. Not only does it help improve your balance and posture but it also helps strengthen and build your hamstrings, glutes, quads, core, and back. You can do it almost anywhere too. 

You can also make it more challenging by holding a dumbbell in each hand and/or hanging a heavy chain on your shoulders while doing the movement. Although the basic exercise may seem easy, it is challenging in terms of maintaining your balance and stability even without the extra weight.

alternatives to deadlifts

How to do it:

  • Stand straight with your feet close to each other. Raise both arms forward and slightly lift your left foot off the floor so it hovers about an inch from the ground. 
  • Bend your upper body forward at the waist while simultaneously lifting the raised leg backward without bending it at the knee. Meanwhile, your right leg will be supporting your entire body as your torso and left lower limb forms an almost perfect horizontal line and your fingers from both hands are almost touching the floor.
  • Return to a standing position but keep your left foot slightly raised and not touching the floor. Do this repeatedly for 8-10 times, and then switch legs and do the same whole sequence with the other leg. This completes 1 set. Do at least 2 – 3 sets per workout. 


If you are truly serious in your bodybuilding effort then you should definitely not skip on doing deadlifts or its close substitutes. Unless you are afflicted with restricted mobility or nursing an injury, you have to make an effort to include at least one or two of the exercises we presented here in your training program. You won’t be sorry with the result. 

Thanks for reading!

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