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6 Deadlift Alternatives to Consider During Leg Day

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

The deadlift, hailed as the ultimate test of raw power and strength, targets your core, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all exercise. For those dealing with back pain or struggling with form, it might be better to skip it.

Conventional deadlifts are heavyweight champions, engaging your posterior chain, including the glutes, hamstrings, rhomboids, traps, and core. However, poor form can lead to strain, especially in the lower back. If you still need to get more comfortable with the traditional deadlift, dealing with an injury, or just looking for something new, there are many alternatives that target the same muscle groups without the risk.

In this article, we will discuss six deadlift alternatives that provide almost the same benefits without the risk factors that can come along with doing deadlifts.

Disclaimer: It is recommended that you speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

6 Deadlift Alternatives That You Can Do

While many believe the deadlift is the king of lifting exercises, there’s more to the story. The deadlift, a powerhouse in its own right, can put a significant strain on your back. But fear not, for there are six fantastic alternatives that promise an exceptional workout without the heavy burden on your spine.

1.      Glute bridge

For those seeking an alternative to the demanding deadlift that specifically targets the glutes, the glute bridge is a prime choice. This compound exercise not only sharpens the glutes but also engages the hamstrings and core. It’s beginner-friendly, requiring just your body weight.

Three key advantages of the Glute bridge include:

  • Glute activation: Ideal for those with sedentary lifestyles
  • Pre-workout readiness: It ignites your glutes for upcoming exercises
  • Posterior chain improvement: Enhancing overall strength by targeting multiple muscle groups.

2.      Bulgarian split squat

The Bulgarian split squat, also known as the rear foot elevated split squat, is a highly effective exercise designed to help you build muscle and strength in your quads and glutes. This exercise goes beyond mere muscle development and enhances hip stability in the frontal plane, requiring significant stability to perform a squat with one leg elevated.

For optimal results, incorporate the Bulgarian split squat into your workout routine following bilateral squats and deadlifts to maximize its benefits and contribute to a well-rounded lower body workout.

3.      Kettlebell swing

As the name implies, the kettlebell swing calls for a kettlebell, and it’s often recommended anecdotally as one of the best deadlift alternatives. Kettlebell swings deliver a rigorous full-body workout featuring a hip hinge movement reminiscent of the deadlift.

In alignment with various kettlebell exercises, they are also great at promoting cardio fitness and help in fat burning, making them an effective and valuable addition to your fitness regimen.

4.      Trap bar deadlifts

Trap bar deadlifts offer a lower back and shoulder-friendly alternative to conventional deadlifts. Using a hexagonal bar with handles positioned at your sides reduces stress on the lower back and anterior deltoids. With reduced mobility requirements, trap bar deadlifts allow for a more accessible lift.

Additionally, the neutral grip reduces strain on the shoulder joint, making it a favorable choice. Unlike traditional deadlifts, the weight in trap bar deadlifts is centrally loaded, distributing the load more evenly and sparing the lower back from excess strain.

5.      Hang power clean

For those looking to enhance explosiveness, the hang clean is an accessible route to refining force production. While Olympic lifts can be intricate to master, the hang clean simplifies the process by commencing with the bar at hip level, reducing room for error. This exercise still engages the explosive hip drive and triple extension (toes, hips, and back) vital for lifting the bar to the front rack position.

Incorporating hang cleans at the outset of a strength session effectively primes the central nervous system, optimizing the connection between your brain and muscles, ultimately improving performance.

6.      Cable pull-through

Cable pull-throughs offer a slow-motion counterpart to kettlebell swings, replacing the kettlebell with a low pulley machine. This deadlift-like, full-body exercise emphasizes the explosive aspect of training.

The deliberate pace in cable pull-throughs ensures that your muscles remain active for an extended duration, making this an excellent choice for those focusing on muscle growth and bulking. Specifically, this alternative targets your glutes, hamstrings, and deep spine, providing an effective and thorough workout for these muscle groups.

 

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