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Alternatives to Deadlifts?

Deadlifts are my absolute favorite exercise to do. Unfortunately I can’t push myself very hard on these due to a previous lower back injury. I am looking to get any advice on any alternatives if possible. Thank you

When I was competing, I had a bad lower back, so sumo deadlifts were a great alternative, but it really depends what you’re trying to get out of the deadlifts. Back development? Being able to pick up as much weight in your hands as possible?

Also, interestingly, for some people who have lower back pain, doing conventional deadlifts from a deficit is actually easier on the lower back mechanically. Something worth trying just to see how it feels.

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I have been doing only 40 lbs on straight leg Romanian deadlifts and I still feel weak. I can push 5 times that weight with squats and hip thrusts. Do you think conventional deadlifts are better? Maybe I will just have to keep this exercise at a lower weight and be content with it. I have not done sumo deadlifts in a while, will try tomorrow.

Trap bar deads?

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It really depends on what your goals are. Conventional deadlifts may not be necessary for many people, and for some the risk simply isn’t worth the reward.

I want to lift more than what I’ve been lifting on deadlifts. Honestly this is the only lift I’m afraid to challenge myself on because I don’t want to injure myself. I also tend to try more reps on this than I probably should. I’m going to hit the gym tomorrow and focus on less reps and heavier weight with sumo deadlifts. If it feels uncomfortable I won’t press it.

You got this!

What kind of back injury was it, if you don’t mind me asking? And I assume you use a belt?

I had some nerve problems in the lumbar area after getting rear ended at a stop light about 10 yrs ago. I’ve had persistent soreness when I’m more active. I didn’t get it checked because I literally walked away from the accident not feeling a thing. The lady hit me so hard her car was wedged under mine and it took two tow trucks to pull the cars apart. I never had any back problems until the accident. No I do not wear a belt, never thought I needed it. Should I?

In September of 2014 I sprained the ligaments of my SI joint. The ride side of my pelvis shifted up and forward. Six weeks later I developed nerve pain that eventually led to dysfunction in my right leg. My medial quad wouldn’t fire and my lower leg was numb. I learned I have a herniated disc at L3/L4.

Time was the remedy. The reason I say all of this is that I hurt myself warming up to max on deadlifts. I rushed and wasn’t warm. My goal for the day was 405 lbs (current max 450 or more).

Now that I’m healed up I train deadlifts regularly. I’m stronger than before and my lower back is much stronger. Prior to the injury my low back hurt with 225 lbs on romanian deads. Now I can do 275 with no problem and it’s all hamstrings instead of low back pain/strain.

Don’t be scared to train your back. Be smart and move slowly.

Also, romanian deads are much harder than regular deadlifts. If you’re doing them right then the angle of your knee doesn’t change which eliminates your quads. A deadlift is described as pressing the floor away from you; it’s tough to press without using your quads.

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I will definitely take your advice. Thank you

it shouldn’t be described this way. There is some quad activity in the initiation of the movement, but it’s 90% hip hinge. People who try to squat the weight up suck at the lift.

psycho: go to a dr or physical therapist, and get your shit fixed. You shouldn’t be dealing with pain from a 10 year old injury that didn’t even force you to go to the hospital. Don’t let that situation keep you from doing something you really want to do.

You shouldn’t need a belt for 40 lbs deadlifts, particularly if you can squat 5 times this.

I’m actually baffled by the totality of what you’re saying. I’m having a hard time processing the notion that 40 lbs romanian deadlifts are giving your back problems, but you’re squatting and deadlifting 200 without issue. I would strongly suggest posting videos of all 3 lifts. It’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to help you accomplish your goals here (getting stronger in the deadlift is your stated goal) without that.

This is a terrible idea. If you’re introducing a new exercise, you don’t go heavier with it right off the bat.

But yeah, for back-friendly deadlift variations, sumo (because you can keep a more upright torso) or trap bar (because of the upright torso and closer center of gravity) are the better bets. This article has a good breakdown of the pros/cons of each.



I really do appreciate the concern. I know it looks like I’m about to go snap some shit up with the limited info I put up. Just to give a little more history about me, I worked for a chiropractor as a deep tissue and sports massage therapist for over 10 yrs. I am very familiar with the anatomy of the body and have seen many athletes, fighters, reg joe’s/bro’s with all kinds of injuries from minor to debilitating. I did have a little nerve damage which affected my sciatic nerve but I was getting regular adjustments up until about 3 yrs ago which may also be a factor. I do know how to warm up before lifting. I’m 38 yrs old and I want to lift for as long as I can, I’m not trying to kill myself lol.

I think my problem has been I’ve always been afraid to push myself on dead lifts so I go with lighter weights and higher reps which may be the reason I experience aching in my lower back after doing them. I’ve been doing 4 sets of 12 - 15 reps. I do know the proper form for dead lifts, just FYI. That is why I said I will focus on lower reps with a little higher weight (with proper warm up of course). :wink:

Also just wanted to see if anyone knew some good alternatives so I could strengthen supporting muscles before attempting to go heavier.

With all due respect, we have a lot of people who tell us their form is just fine, and that turns out not to be the case. I’ve experienced this plenty in real life as well… So it’s not something I can assume to be true just based on your word. But that being said, if you’re using a weight that is so light that you can do 4 sets of 15, perfect technique won’t be essential, so it’s not a big deal.

But then you said your goal was to go heavier on your deadlifts. Which is not accomplished by working in the rep ranges you’re using.

I’m also not sure what your ACTUAL back problem is, it still seems nebulous. Aching in the lower back is not necessarily a problem. And that also doesn’t sound like a nerve issue. I assume you know that given your background.

I’m really just confused all around. But I’m going to go back to the original question and provide a list of what I believe to be the best lifts that support the deadlift.

Rack pulls: they reduce the range of motion, and for many people are much safer. If you don’t know what these are, they’re basically just setting the bar on a rack, generally, with the bar height just below, or at the bottom of, the knee, and deadlifting from that point, and also deadlifting from a dead stop each rep. don’t bounce the weight, set it down each time.

trap bar deadlifts. These change the leverages of the deadlift to more resemble a squat, and are less of a hip hinge. To me, these are less of a true accessory/building movement for the deadlift, and more of a replacement for folks who don’t compete in lifting sports and don’t need to deadlift a regular bar. You likely qualify here.

Kettlebell swings. These will give you a severe lower back pump, which is a good thing for building strength. You don’t need to go extremely heavy on these. I like these to be as dynamic as possible. I’m currently training with a 35 lbs KB, and using as much hip pop as I can to send the bell up. when done properly, these should be almost ALL hips. You could use a 10-20 lbs kb and be just fine. These can be performed in the 15ish rep range and be effective. I don’t like training these particularly heavy, because they are dynamic, and you’re more at an injury risk going heavier… That’s something you need to avoid.

Back extensions. Use that 45 degree back extension bench thing (i haven no idea what it’s actually called), and do back extensions. You could perform these with no added weight and probably be just fine. I don’t like holding a weight when i do these, i think that’s awkward. I do, however, like wrapping a band around the bottom of the apparatus, and behind my neck, and doing them. This increases the tension at the top of the movement, which I really like. When I use bands, I really squeeze the top of the motion for a couple seconds. At the bottom of the range of motion, the band tension should be little to none. preferably none.

I would avoid good mornings.


45 degree back raises with added weight, with the weight on your back and/or in your hands. Both have been incredibly useful for me to find the difference between hip hinging and back raising. Doing these prior to squatting and deadlifting always makes the movements feel much more coordinated and comfortable.

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Reverse hyper extensions are good too. They build up the entire posterior chain and have no load on the spine. They also “decompress” the spine at the bottom and you get a very good stretch in the low back glutes and hamstrings. If you do not have a rev hyper at your gym, you can get a tall box for box jumps that is essentially just the frame, lay on it and raise your legs up letting them swing underneath you at the bottom.

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x2. So many people think that since they have a low back issue it automatically means they should train their low back with crazy intensity to bring it up. Don’t do this.

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cable pull throughs are probably the most low-back friendly hip extension exercise


I love these.

Thank you

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Straight elbow rows