The deadlift is often called the king of exercises, and for good reason. It works nearly every major muscle group in your body -- the lower, mid and upper-back, your glutes, hamstrings, core and forearms. Including the deadlift in your program when training for strength, fitness, muscle mass or performance is certainly beneficial. If you're suffering from or recovering from an injury, however, or don't have the equipment needed to deadlift, you can get by with certain bodyweight exercises.
One Leg At A Time
The single-legged deadlift is a move that looks fairly straightforward, but it can provide quite a challenge. It still works your glutes, hamstrings and lower back, but places more emphasis on your core, as well as improving your balance and coordination. Stand on one leg, then lean forward and try to touch a point on the ground in front of you. Reach your non-standing leg out behind you and aim to keep your back completely flat. Think of the movement of a drinking bird, advises personal trainer Al Kavadlo -- this should help you nail the technique. Pause briefly at the bottom, then squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to bring you back to a standing position.
Hammer the Hamstrings
The glute ham raise is a common exercise among powerlifters. As the name suggests, it works your hamstrings and glutes and focuses on hip extension -- the movement you perform at the top of a deadlift. When using a glute ham raise machine, set your thighs on the large pad with your knees bent and secure your feet under the leg supports. Bend forward from your hips while keeping your spine in a neutral position, then lift yourself back up forcefully. If you don't have a machine, kneel on the floor, have a partner hold your ankles down, lower your torso slowly toward the floor, then lift yourself back up again using your hamstrings. Use glute ham raises as an assistance for the deadlift and aim for around 50 reps in a session, advises world record powerlifter Caitlyn Trout.
One bodyweight exercise may actually be better at activating your glutes than the deadlift. According to strength coach Bret Contreras, hip thrusts are a more effective glute move than traditional deadlifts. To perform a hip thrust, sit on the floor with your upper-back resting against a bench. Bend your knees to around 90 degrees, dig your heels into the floor, then push your hips up in the air. Make hip thrusts harder by raising your feet on another bench or a box or performing them one leg at a time.
While these moves all do mimic the deadlift, none will quite build maximum strength like the deadlift. That being said, if you've suffered from lower-back injuries and are wary of deadlifting, these three moves combined can make for an effective replacement deadlift workout. Picking a weight off the ground is a natural movement, however, and it's difficult to replicate this exactly with bodyweight exercises, so if you're able to, add some deadlifts or kettlebell swings into your routine, advises strength coach Logan Christopher.