The Deadlift is by far one of the most beneficial exercises. It builds great strength in the hips, lower-back extensors, upper back and grip. It’s a staple movement, with good reason. Everyone should do it.
That said, some Deadlift alternatives aren’t for everyone. Lifting a barbell off the floor with 45-pound plates on each side may sometimes only work for powerlifters and Olympic lifters.
If you don’t find yourself in one of those two categories, there’s a good chance you don’t need to be pulling from that depth.
I know the Internet gods who make the rules of lifting might strike me down for saying that, but performing the Deadlift requires good mobility. A younger person may be able to get down into a great starting position. But as you get older, your hips and ankles might not bend as well, you may have had a few back injuries over the years, and your body might not move as well as it used to. Remember, increased range of motion plus increased intensity (weight) plus decreased mobility equals an injury waiting to happen.
Physical build also plays a big role in how well you’re able to Deadlift. A taller person has much more distance to travel to get to the bar than a shorter person.
If you have trouble getting down to the bar and find your back always hurts after Deadlifts, why keep beating yourself up?
If your goal with lifting is to get stronger and be healthy, plenty of other exercises can accomplish this.
Here are my 4 favorite Deadlift alternatives.
1. Deadlift Off Mats / Rack Pulls
Deadlifting off mats allows you to decrease your range of motion and keeps your back flat (neutral spine). This is a great option for taller people and for those who have lost some mobility over the years.
2. Trap Bar Deadlift
The trap bar is another great alternative to the traditional Deadlift. It is a few inches higher off the ground than a straight bar, and the weight is positioned through your center of gravity instead of just in front of you. This allows you to keep the weight closer to your body and makes it harder for you to let the bar drift away and create shear force on your back, which you don’t want.
RDLs are like three-quarter Deadlifts. The benefits are essentially the same as the traditional Deadlift, but RDLs allow you to easily control your depth. Unlike with a traditional Deadlift, your body is already preloaded with the weight it is about to lift, making it easier it create tension through your legs and upper back.
4. Barbell Hip Thrusts
The Barbell Hip Thrust is an effective exercise to train the posterior chain. It is comparable to the Deadlift because you go through a similar range of motion. Where the two exercises differ are the sticking points and how they are loaded.
The Hip Thrust is hardest at the top of the lift—whereas the hardest part of the Deadlift, for most people, is at the start (bottom) of the lift. Also, the Deadlift works the upper back and lower-back extensors, and the Hip Thrust primarily works the glutes and hamstrings.
The Hip Thrust is a great choice for saving your lower back. It’s easier to get into a neutral alignment and maintain a neutral spine. The barbell is placed on the hips, so it will not cause you to flex at the lower back. What you have to be careful of though, is the tendency to over-extend your lower back at the top of the lift.