6 effective deadlift alternatives for back problems in 2023 (2023)

The deadlift is an excellent exercise that combines functionality and strength gains. However, they are not suitable for everyone.

There are generally three reasons why people don't deadlift...

  1. You lack the necessary mobility
  2. They're hurt (or think they are)
  3. They just don't like them, they are often intimidated by the idea of ​​heavy lifting.

As a personal trainer and powerlifting coach, I appreciate that deadlifts aren't for everyone. There are exercises I use for people who can't or don't like deadlifts, or for whom the deadlift isn't an appropriate exercise for their goals.

In this article, I show you these deadlift alternatives that replicate most of the benefits without the risks. These exercises are both mechanically and technically sufficient for most people.

Table of contents

  1. Breakdown of deadlift technique
  2. Exercises that replicate the leg press element of the deadlift...
    • 1. Barbell squats
    • 2. Elevated back foot split squat
    • 3. Intensify
  3. Exercises That Recreate the Hip Hinge Element of the Deadlift...
    • 4. Hip Thrust/Scharnier
    • 5. Kettlebell swings
  4. Train if mobility is your biggest deadlift problem
    • 6. Zipper puller
  5. If you have a back injury...
  6. Why do people love deadlifts?
  7. Deadlift Alternatives: The Bottom Line

Breakdown of deadlift technique

We won't go into nuance here (there are entire books on deadlifts), but I'll provide an overview of deadlift technique.

To effectively replicate the deadlift, we need to understand two things about it: the mechanics of the movement and the desired outcome. Understanding these elements allows us to choose exercises that train the same movements and achieve the same results.

The deadlift can be broken down into two distinct phases of movement...

  1. leg press
  2. hip joint/thrust

Desired results are...

  • Improved overall strength
  • Stronger vertical pull
  • Better spine health

If you watch the deadlift in slow motion, you'll notice that your back stays strong and straight, and your legs provide the initial momentum that allows the weight to lift off the floor. This is the leg press phase.

As the bar goes through the knees, the hips push forward (the hip thrust phase). Activates the glutes, which helps stabilize the lower back and core muscles.

So to effectively replicate the deadlift, we need to look for exercises that duplicate those movements without aggravating previous injuries or risking new ones.

Exercises that replicate the leg press element of the deadlift...

To replicate the first phase of the deadlift, the leg press, we need to look for exercises that will press the feet into the floor and create hip and knee extension. This is very different thanLeg extension alternativeswho focus on keeping the hip locked and just straightening the knee.

The three I've picked are easy to make in the sense that they require minimal equipment...

1. Barbell squats

The squat is probably the most functional and important leg exercise of all. It's also the perfect exercise for recreating the leg press element of the deadlift, as it exactly duplicates the movement without the lifter having to hold the bar in front of them.

Squats provide a leg workout without taxing the lower back in the same way as deadlifts. As such, they are often appropriate for people who struggle with the excessive flexion and extension of the spine required during a full deadlift.

Equipment needed for barbell squats:

  • dumbbell
  • weight plates
  • Squat device

How to do a barbell squat:

  1. Place the bar on your upper back, not your neck.
  2. Inhale and engage your core - this will keep your lower back more secure
  3. Keeping your chest up all the time, push your hips back and bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  4. Drive your feet to the floor and return to the starting position
  5. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Barbell Squat Muscles Worked:

  • All leg muscles.
  • Center
  • Lower back

Would you like to focus more on your legs? Be sure to check out our Measure in MinutesBeintraining.

2. Elevated back foot split squat

Like the barbell squat, rear foot elevated split squats are a great option for replicating the leg press element of the deadlift. That's because it's the same movement pattern.

The single leg element often makes for a safer exercise.

This is because the overall loads are lighter and if you have a problem with a specific page, you can deal with it by reducing the load on that page. Finally, there are functional advantages to single-leg work since it eliminates anyImbalance of strength between the limbs.

Equipment needed for rear foot raise split squats:

  • weight bench
  • dumbbells

How to perform rear foot lift split squats:

  1. Place your back foot on the bench behind you and hop forward with your front foot.
  2. Hold the dumbbells by your sides and engage your core
  3. Keeping your chest up all the time, bend your back knee toward the floor and lower your front thigh until it's parallel to the floor.
  4. Slide your front foot toward the floor and return to the starting position
  5. Repeat as many times as necessary.

Raised rear foot split squat muscles worked:

  • Quadriceps and Hamstrings
  • buttocks
  • Center

3. Intensify

The step-up is similar to the rear foot elevated split squat in that it is a unilateral exercise that forces each leg to work on its own. Also (like the other two exercises in this section) it involves hip extension and flexion.

The one-legged element also involves a lot of core work.

This is a bit more challenging than split squats as it involves an element of coordination that you just don't get with the others. This is because you are constantly walking up and down a tall box. It has a wide range of motion, so it's like an extended version of the leg press element of the deadlift.

Necessary equipment for the step ups:

  • Cabinets nweight benchstep
  • dumbbells

How to do step ups:

  1. Put your front foot on the step
  2. Hold the dumbbells by your sides and engage your core
  3. Step onto the box by pushing up with the front foot, don't cheat with the bottom foot!
  4. With both feet on the box, lower the back leg slowly and under the control of the front leg.
  5. Repeat for each leg as many times as needed

Step Ups Muscles Worked:

  • Quadriceps and Hamstrings
  • buttocks
  • Center

Exercises That Recreate the Hip Hinge Element of the Deadlift...

The next phase of the movement is the hip joint/thrust. This is the portion of the deadlift where the lifter pushes their hips forward so the bar can complete the lift.

The glutes are squeezed at the top of the deadlift, which stabilizes the lower back.

4. Hip Thrust/Scharnier

The hip thrust is an underrated exercise. Many people write it off as something for the "loot brigade," but it's quite a good exercise that's both functional and effective. It doesn't require much technique and there are many performance-enhancing and injury-reducing benefits.

It's a bit harder to build than others, but once you get it, it's a great glute exercise and perfectly mimics the final hip thrust of the deadlift.

Equipment needed for hip thrusts:

  • dumbbell
  • weight plates
  • Bancolean against
  • Upholstery (optional for more comfort)

How to do hip thrusts:

  1. With your back and shoulders on the bench and feet flat on the floor, place the bar on your lap.
  2. Raise the bar with your glutes until you reach full hip extension.
  3. Pause at the top, then slowly lower your hips.
  4. Repeat

Hip thrust muscles worked:

  • buttocks
  • Knee tendons
  • calves

Check out oursAlternatives to buttock augmentationArticle for more exercises for the hamstrings and lower back.

5. Kettlebell swings

The kettlebell swing is the ultimate hip joint exercise, which means it works the last phase of the deadlift better than most.

It's also great for training the posterior chain, the muscles primarily targeted by the deadlift.

The fact that the kettlebell swing is so technically different from many other exercises means that it's a good idea to have a certain level of training before attempting it. While not a dangerous exercise per se, it can cause injury if done incorrectly.

Equipment needed for kettlebell swings:

  • Kettlebell

How to do kettlebell swings:

  1. Hold the kettlebell in an overhead grip with both hands
  2. Keep your back straight, lean your hips back and push them forward with your buttocks - this gives the kettlebell momentum.
  3. At the top of the swing, squeeze your glutes firmly.
  4. Keep your legs almost straight throughout the exercise; The only joints that move a lot are the hips and shoulders.
  5. Always keep your back and legs straight and build momentum with each swing until you reach chest height with the kettlebell.
  6. Repeat as many times as necessary

Kettlebell Swing Muscles Worked:

  • Knee tendons
  • buttocks
  • Lower back

Train if mobility is your biggest deadlift problem

A lot of people don't get injured, they just don't have the flexibility to get into the right deadlift position with good technique.

If that's the case, you can do a rack pull...

6. Zipper puller

A rack pull is basically the same exercise as a deadlift. It's just that it has a reduced range of motion, which makes it great for people with low hamstring flexibility.

It all engages the same muscles, the movement is the same, and it's a good starting point for the deadlift. You can gradually increase the range of motion until you're performing a full deadlift.

Equipment needed for zippers:

  • dumbbell
  • weight plates
  • Beto take the blocks

How to do rack pulls:

  1. Hold the bar with the grip of your choice
  2. Keeping your back straight and chest up, lean your hips back and push your feet toward the floor.
  3. Run through the legs, smoothing them out as you go.
  4. When the bar reaches mid-thigh, move past the hips
  5. Squeeze your glutes at the end of the movement.
  6. Reverse and repeat the movement on the way down

Muscles worked by rack pulls:

  • Lower back
  • Legs
  • buttocks
  • lifter
  • Center

For more information on barbell exercises, see ourThe best barbell exercisesArticle.

If you have a back injury...

I will not play physio on the internet, so this is not diagnostic advice - you should always seek a qualified opinion.

However, if you're not deadlifting because of a back injury, you could be doing a lot worse than Dr. Stuart McGill, one of the world's leading experts in spine mechanics. His work has enabled thousands of people around the world to live life free of back pain, often with very simple exercises you can do at home.

Here are his "Big 3" exercises, which are often enough to cure most people's problems, especially if they have a weak core...

Why do people love deadlifts?

Deadlifts have one major benefit in terms of overall strength development: they're the biggest exercise for most people, and it's usually easy to progress quickly for beginners.

They don't require a lot of technique or mobility to perform effectively. Certainly not compared to Olympic lifts, for example. They're also a functional movement, so deadlifts have some real real-world rewards.

Perform them safely, and they improve leg, back, and core strength better than most exercises.

With so many benefits, it's easy to see why they are so highly valued by strength and conditioning coaches.

These are the reasons why they are part of our popular12 week weight lifting routine for beginners.

However, like any heavy lifting, deadlifts come with some risk. Before jumping, build core strength and technique and work on your flexibility - this will make your deadlift safer and more effective.

That does not meanneedto do a deadlift. As we've noted here, there are other ways you can replicate many of the benefits without having to perform them and risk compounding a previous injury. Worse, doing it with poor technique can result in new injuries, so weigh the risk and reward first.

If you're looking to add variety to your back exercises, check out our article on the bestback exercisesas well as oursAlternatives to back lengthening.

Deadlift Alternatives: The Bottom Line

No deadlift isn't a bad thing and by following these deadlift alternatives you'll reap the most benefits without the risks.

While an excellent exercise, deadlifts have earned a reputation that probably outweighs their importance. Sure, they're a great workout, but you can replicate the effects without missing a thing.

You don't have to be a hero: if deadlifts aren't going to a good cause, don't do them.

If you have trouble with the technique or find it painful, stop.

Instead, follow the exercises here. You can always work on your core strength and technique alongside the exercises so you can safely deadlift in the future.

Another great way to build your back muscles and core strength is with pull-ups. However, not everyone can or has access to a bar. Check out oursextract alternativesin a safe way so everyone can reap the benefits of pull-ups at home.

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Author: Reed Wilderman

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