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Have you ever wondered if there’s one “ultimate” lower body/core exercise that works a lot of major muscle groups… without the need for expensive equipment or even a gym membership?
You’re in luck. The dumbbell deadlift strengthens the legs and the back, particularly the glutes, quads and hamstrings. It’s also a powerful core strengthener that also develops your balance and improves the strength of your grip, and your lats.
Many experienced lifters consider this one of the foundational, essential components of a good lifting routine, and a great exercise for a beginner.
The barbell deadlift is probably the way most people do this, but it isn’t the only way to do a deadlift.
The dumbbell deadlift is a more natural movement than barbell deadlifts. Imagine picking up two stones and how much full-body engagement is involved – this is why the dumbbell deadlift is such an essential part of any workout routine!
Having a dumbbell in each hand uses the muscles differently, as now your core will be more engaged keeping balance.
Two Types of Dumbbell Deadlifts
There are two different ways you can perform this exercise: the stiff legged deadlift and the classic deadlift. Each type targets a slightly different muscle group.
To get the benefits of these exercises and reduce your risk of injury, be sure to read through this tutorial before you start the exercises.
For best results, perform the exercise in front of a mirror so you can spot any flaws in your form.
First, choose your weights. Choose a weight for each dumbbell that you can realistically handle for 3 sets of 10-15 reps. Don’t worry if you start off with a weight that’s “too light” – you can always build up, but starting with a too-heavy weight can lead to lower back or hamstring injury, or unnecessarily sore muscles.
Also keep in mind dumbbell exercises are much more dynamic (think full-body) and thus more challenging. If you have done these with a barbell, you won’t be able to lift the same amount, so go down in weight to find where you are at with dumbbells.
Next, choose your space. You’ll need at least 4 feet of space around you, in case you lose your balance and need to take a step in any direction.
And finally, WARM UP before you do these exercises! Cold muscles are easily injured. Go for a brisk walk or a short run to get some heat built up in your muscles, especially if you are doing the straight leg deadlift.
The Classic Dumbbell Deadlift
Good form is essential for effectiveness and safety! Like we mentioned above, do these in front of a mirror to check your form, and you can even film yourself if you don’t have a mirror.
That is always a good tool to see where you’re at. Be sure to perform this exercise in a fluid and controlled manner (avoid jerking or any abrupt movements) and be sure your back remains flat and not hunched over.
1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and the dumbbells on the floor next to your feet, with each dumbbell aligned approximately with the middle of each foot.
2. Bend at the hips and the knees, reach down, and firmly grasp each dumbbell.
3. Next, go into a squat – lowering your bottom as close as you can to the floor. Many people cannot reach a full squat, but that’s okay – go as low as you can.
4. At the same time, raise your chest, ensuring that your back remains flat and you’re not hunched over.
5. Take a deep breath and on the exhale, push into a standing position while contracting your glutes. As you straighten your legs, be very careful not to lock your knees once you reach full leg extension. Your arms should continue to hang normally at your side (your body is doing the lifting, not your arms). Keep your eyes forward to maintain proper form (eyes downcast lead to being hunched over).
6. Slowly lower back to the starting squat position, allowing the dumbbells to rest briefly on the ground.
7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for 6-8 reps; rest briefly, and repeat for one or two more sets.
Here is a pretty good visual demo:
The Stiff-Legged Dumbbell Deadlift
The stiff-legged dumbbell deadlift puts more of the workload on your hamstrings. As with the classic dumbbell deadlift, form is important to prevent injury and get the most out of the exercise.
Once again, if possible, do the exercise in front of a mirror to ensure proper form, or consider filming yourself if you can. You want the movements to be fluid and controlled, and pay particular attention to keeping your lower back flat to avoid injury.
1. Start with your feet approximately shoulder width apart, with the dumbbells on the floor, positioned over your toes or just in front of each foot.
2. Reach down and firmly grasp each dumbbell; as you reach down, make sure your knees remain slightly bent (“stiff-legged” does not mean “lock-kneed”). A slight bend in the knees prevents injury while challenging the hamstrings and glutes. Also make sure that your back remains flat as you bend down, and especially as you lift. To maintain a flat back, keep your chest and eyes forward to avoid hunching over.
3. Take a deep breath and on the exhale, push up into a standing position. Squeeze your glutes tightly as you lift, and keep your arms hanging straight at your sides.
4. Move slowly in a controlled fashion back down to the starting point, replacing the dumbbells on the floor just in front of your feet, while keeping your knees slightly bent.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for 6-8 reps; rest briefly, and repeat for one or two more sets.
Here is an insightful video about stiff legged dumbbell deadlifts:
Success Tip #1: Start with lighter weights to avoid injury. You can always add more weight if the exercise feels too easy. And if you are new to this, no need to push too fast, go easy the first couple times or else your muscles will be really sore.
Success Tip #2: Adjustable dumbbells allow you to add just the right amount of weight to challenge yourself more, without having to purchase multiple sets of dumbbells.
Success Tip #3: Do not bend your arms during dumbbell deadlifts. Their only job is to keep a hold of the dumbbells. Your legs and glutes are doing the lifting, not your arms, so keep your arms straight at your side throughout the entire exercise