The 5 Most Effective Deadlift Alternatives

Powerful Posterior Chain Exercises

Whether you're working around an injury, need a break from deadlifting, or just hate the deadlift for some reason, try these proven alternatives.

Yes, the deadlift is a great exercise. It's possibly the best all-round lift for strength. But if it's no longer working for you or you're working around an injury, you need some alternative exercises. Here are five excellent choices that will substitute nicely for the deadlift until you're ready to get back to it.

1. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Main Benefits – Athletic Development and Safe Lifting

For athletes outside of the iron sports, the single-leg deadlift does a better job preparing the body for your sport. The hip, lumbo-pelvic complex, and core have to work as a unit to keep you from falling while generating force. This is exactly what you need when running, changing directions, and performing the fundamental athletic movements.

Another huge benefit is the elimination of asymmetrical problems faced when doing the conventional, bi-lateral deadlift. While asymmetries don't have to be problematic, they often are. If one side of your body works far less than the other, there'll be compensations in your spine. These can be hard for your lower back, but you can work around and even correct these imbalances with the single-leg deadlift.

The funny thing is that after you've been training this exercise for a while, it becomes your natural way to pick things up from the ground, simply because it feels more efficient and safer for your back.

The video shows a top-down start, but you can use the same movement pattern when lifting from a dead start as well, just like the deadlift.

Technical Focal Points:

  • Make sure your whole foot is in contact with the ground at all times.
  • Start the movement by pushing the free foot backwards, and "push the heel to the wall."
  • Contract the glute as you "pull" back to the start position. This is a hinge, not a squat, so limit forward knee movement.

2. Glute-Ham Raise

Main Benefit – Posterior Chain Development

The glute-ham raise (GHR) has been a staple exercise for powerlifters and athletes for a long time. This exercise trains the whole posterior chain from calves and hamstrings to the glutes, lower back, and even upper back (when loaded). It's an obvious supplemental exercise to the powerlifts.

It doesn't just have to be a supplement, though. You can use it as your main posterior chain exercise, even as an alternative to the deadlift. Rest assured that you'll train the muscles on the backside to a great degree, and probably do so with more focus than ever.

If your goal is hypertrophy of the posterior chain, the GHR is more effective and much safer than the deadlift. You'll also experience serious glute gains by focusing on the mind-muscle connection while upping the volume. If your main objective for training the deadlift is to build muscle, but you're constantly dealing with pain or injuries, you'll be better off by switching to the glute-ham raise.

Technical Focal Points:

  • Straighten the legs/knees to really stretch the hamstrings in the bottom position.
  • Keep the core engaged.
  • Finish with a glute contraction. Place the knees lower on the pad to do this. Placing them higher is tougher on the hamstrings.

3. Pull-Through

Main Benefits – Hip Movement and Glute Development

If back pain is your main problem during deadlifts, it might be because you move from the wrong places. The pull-through is a great exercise for learning how to move from/with the hips and glutes while making sure the spine is kept in a stable position.

One of the main reasons people struggle with the deadlift is quad dominance – the tendency to move more from the knee joint than the hip joint. The pull you get from behind your body in this exercise forces you to push the hips back, and is therefore a great learning tool for the deadlift. Since the pressure on the spine is very low compared to the deadlift, you can train this movement with a high volume. This makes it a great booty-builder.

Technical Focal Points:

  • Let the weight pull the hands/arms back, while simultaneously leaning the torso forward.
  • Make sure you mainly move from the hips, and don't push the knees forward. Make it a hip movement/deadlift, not a knee movement/squat.
  • From the bottom position, think "glute bridge" and finish with a solid glute contraction.

4. Kettlebell Swings with Band

Main Benefit – Hip Power

While explosive deadlifts obviously train your explosive abilities, the kettlebell swing works better. Adding a band to the execution makes the swing even more explosive. It also helps with pulling the kettlebell towards you, an element many overlook or forget while doing the exercise.

Try to minimize "downtime" and make the kettlebell move fast in both directions. This will make the movement far more explosive, as a faster decent/eccentric will increase the potential for a faster and more explosive concentric, power-generating phase.

Compared to Olympic lifts for training explosive qualities, the swing is easier to learn and carries lower risk. It's the smarter choice for most athletes.

Technical Focal Points:

  • Limit the forward knee movement and focus on the hip movement.
  • Pull the kettlebell towards you and push the hips back.
  • From the bottom or stretched position, initiate the forward movement with a powerful hip and glute contraction that's synchronized with quad contraction.

5. Hip Thrust with Band

Main Benefit – Glute Development

Can you get the same results from doing hip thrusts as you can with the deadlift? Well, if your main goal is to hit the glutes, the hip thrust is actually a better choice. It might also be a better choice if your main goal is to develop isolated hip power for kicking or combat sports.

Many train this exercise really heavy, but it's better to train this isolated movement with light to moderate resistance, preferably with bands as well, since they allow you to more fully contract the glutes in the top position where it really counts.

Besides, heavy hip thrusting just doesn't promote long-term health and performance. I've used a decent amount of weight on glute bridges myself (see photo), but I can now admit that it was an ego thing.

I gained nothing from performing it heavy. Muscle contraction develops the glutes far more than the total amount of weight you use.

Technical Focal Points:

  • Finish with a strong glute contraction. This is far more important than bridging "high" which often leads to back hyperextension more than anything else.
  • Be more focused on mind-muscle connection than the amount of weight you use.
  • Do one-and-a-half reps. They allow you to spend more time in the contracted position that stimulates the most muscle growth.

Do You Need an Alternative to the Deadlift?

You should continue with the deadlift if you're a competitive powerlifter or intend to be one. You should also continue deadlifting if you love the deadlift and don't mind injuries or obstacles. If either of these is the case, you obviously "need" the lift, so consider the exercises above as supplemental.

You should choose an alternative to the deadlift if:

  • You experience back pain (or other type of pain) during or after training the deadlift.
  • You have a history of back pain or injuries.
  • You value a healthy body more than performance in this specific exercise.
  • You consider strength training as a tool to get stronger, more muscular, leaner, and more powerful, not as something you want to compete in.

Moreover, if you've invested in learning the deadlift technique, trained intelligently for a long time, and still find you have issues with the lift, you need an alternative.

Alternatives shouldn't be confused with variations, though. Variations of the deadlift like rack pulls can work, but if you really struggle with back pain in the deadlift, most of its variations will also cause problems. This is because heavy load in the bi-lateral lifting stance (whether you lift conventional or sumo) is one of the primary reasons for the lift being a problem in the first place.