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.
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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 want to do deadlifts with weights, you can get by with certain body-weight exercises as a deadlift alternative.
Read more: What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?
1. Single-Leg Deadlift
The single-leg deadlift, as demonstrated by ExRx.net, 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 nonstanding leg straight out behind you and aim to keep your back completely flat. Think of the movement of a drinking bird.
- Pause briefly at the bottom, then squeeze your glutes and hamstrings to bring you back to a standing position.
2. Glute-Ham Raise
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.
This exercise is most commonly performed using a specific machine. However, if you don't have access to a gym, you can substitute in a partner instead.
Move 1: Glute-Ham Machine
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.
- Hinge forward from your hips while keeping your spine in a neutral position.
- Lift yourself back up, keeping your spine straight, as demonstrated by ExRx.net.
Move 2: Partner Glute-Ham Raise
- 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.
Bridges are an exercise that effectively targets your glute muscles. Make this exercise harder by lifting one leg straight up in the air while bridging with the opposite leg, recommends Princeton University Athletic Medicine.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Rest your arms by your sides.
- Push down through your heels, lifting your hips off the ground.
- Slowly lower back down.
Read more: The Effect of Deadlifts
Avoid Body-Weight Barriers
While these moves all 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 body-weight exercises, so if you're able to, add some deadlifts or kettlebell swings, as demonstrated by the American Council on Exercise, into your routine.
- ExRx.net: "Glute-Ham Raise (Hands Behind Hips)"
- ExRx.net: "Dumbbell Single Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlift"
- American Council on Exercise: "Do It Better: ACE's Technique Series Continues With the Two-Handed Kettlebell Swing"
- Princeton University Athletic Medicine: "Pelvic Stabilization, Lateral Hip and Gluteal Strengthening Program"