Big, heavy deadlifts are one of the most central movements for hardcore strength training. The exercise forces you to recruit the biggest muscle groups in your body (glutes, hamstrings, back, core) to move massive loads up off the floor. From athletes striving to build up their bodies for performance purposes to competitive powerlifters aiming to pull the most weight possible, the barbell deadlift is essential–there’s a reason why some muscleheads consider it to be the ‘king of all exercises.’
But the barbell isn’t the end all be all when it comes to deadlifts. Both everyday exercisers and serious lifters alike can find a ton of strength and muscle building value in other variations, especially when you swap in dumbbells for the work. The smaller implements are much more versatile than the fixed barbell (or even hex bars); dumbbells allow you to introduce new stances or even work unilaterally (with the focus of your work on one side at a time). This can hammer the muscles in slightly different ways—some variations will put more focus on the hamstrings, for instance.
But one of the biggest benefits of using dumbbells for deadlifts is that you increase the range of motion you’re able to work with compared to barbell deadlifts. Since you don’t have the big, tall plates as part of the equation, you can (typically) descend much closer to the ground during the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement than you could using a barbell. When you do this, you should of course prioritize using proper form to protect your spine and lower back—but the increased movement path can be great for your gains.
Whether you have back problems and don’t train with barbells or you want to try some accessory exercises to help build up more targeted strength to bolster your weak points to boost your one-rep max, dumbbell deadlift variations are a great addition to your workout.
Check out the video to watch trainer Gerren Liles demonstrate 10 different dumbbell deadlifts that you can incorporate into your training. Add one or two of these exercises to sessions when you would typically deadlift (or if you don’t, lower or full-body workout days). Try starting with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
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