10 Deadlift Alternatives (Best Substitutes For Lower Back)

The deadlift is one of the best exercises around for working pretty much your entire body. It massively recruits your glutes, hamstrings, and lower back, causing tremendous strength and muscle gains in your posterior chain.  

But what happens if you can’t deadlift in your home gym?

This guide is your perfect guide to show you the best deadlift alternative exercises and how to perform each one.  

As impressive as deadlifts are, what happens if you can’t do them? There are many barbell deadlift alternative exercises that can be performed at home without needing a barbell. The list below is some of the best substitutes for deadlifts and how to perform them.  

1. Barbell Rack Pull 

The barbell rack pull, or as it's sometimes known as "the block deadlift," is a partial range of motion deadlift that focuses on the top end of the exercise.

This barbell deadlift alternative starts at knee height, so it reduces the range of motion your body needs to work through. This allows you to load the barbell with more weight and overload your lockout portion of the movement.  

It’s an excellent stiff leg deadlift substitute as it places your glutes and hamstring through significant load.

The barbell rack pull can be performed using two elevated boxes or a power rack, and use whichever you have available in your home gym.  

barbell rack pulls

Garage Gym Pro Tip: I use Olympic bumper plates to elevate the bar off of the floor. While it’s not ideal, it’s a good DIY workaround solution. 

How to do it: 

  • Set up two boxes so your barbell can rest on them at around knee height. If you’re using a power rack, set up the support bars at knee height.  
  • Stand in front of the barbell and grip the bar just outside your legs.  
  • Place your shoulders slightly over the barbell.  
  • Take a deep breath and brace your core muscles.  
  • Lift the barbell from the rack or boxes and drive your hips forward while squeezing your glutes.  
  • Reverse the movement in a controlled manner until the barbell is back in the starting position.  
  • Repeat and complete your set. 

2. Farmer’s Walk 

While the farmer's walk isn't a direct replacement for the barbell deadlift, it can be combined with other substitutes for deadlifts on this list to create one hell of a workout.

The farmer's walk is one of the only exercises on this list that primarily targets your grip strength. As you know, grip strength plays a massive role in the deadlift and can be make-or-break for many lifters.  

If you’ve struggled to perform heavy deadlifts due to your grip giving way before your knees achieve lockout, then this is the exercise you want to perform.  

By holding heavy dumbbells in each hand for an extended amount of time, all the smaller muscles in your hands and forearms are forced to engage to prevent you from dropping the weight. This will help develop gorilla-like grip to help you smash your next deadlift PR attempt.  

Related Article - Dumbbell Forearm Exercises For Grip Strength

How to do it: 

  • Grab a set of heavy dumbbells.  
  • Hold them hanging at your sides.  
  • Draw your shoulders back (retracted), open your chest and keep your head up, looking forward.  
  • Walk for a certain amount of time or distance and then pace the dumbbells down.  
  • Rest, and then repeat for the desired time or distance.  
farmers walk

3. Barbell Hip Thrust 

The barbell hip thrust is one of the best alternatives to deadlifts for lower back pain. It lets you place huge amounts of load on your glutes and some on your hamstrings without putting a ton of stress on the back.  

It’s an ideal movement for anyone who suffers from lower back pain but needs to train their glutes. You’ll probably find that the lower back pain subsides by training your glutes more often.

Read Also - Hip Thrust Alternatives

How to do it: 

  • Set up a bench or step in a knee-high position.  
  • Sit with your back against the bench and place a heavy barbell across your hips (be sure to use a barbell pad for comfort).  
  • Hold the barbell and bend your knees, planting your feet flat on the floor underneath your knees.  
  • Push your hips upwards, squeezing your glutes to generate the power until your hips are as high as they’ll go.  
  • Lower the barbell slowly until it’s resting on the ground.  
  • Repeat for the desired amount of reps.  
barbell hip thrusts

4. Single-Leg Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift 

The single-leg dumbbell Romanian deadlift is an excellent deadlift substitute with dumbbells. Not only does it allow you to work on each side individually, but it helps you improve your balance and coordination.  

During the movement, you’ll work your posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back) iso-laterally, ensuring both sides of your body are working equally as hard—no muscular imbalances over here.  

This stiff leg deadlift substitute is best suited for intermediate or advanced gym-goers. But, if you have good balance, feel free to try it.  

Read More - Romanian Deadlift Vs Stiff Leg Deadlift

How to do it: 

  • Hold a dumbbell in each of your hands.  
  • Keep your back straight and core braced. 
  • Place your weight on one foot and hinge forward from the waist.  
  • As you hinge forward, your non-weight-bearing leg should rise backward until your body creates a “straight line” from your toe to your head.  
  • Return to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner, then repeat.  
  • Once you’ve completed your reps with one side, switch to the opposite leg.  

Garage Gym Pro Tip: Keep your hips square at all times; don’t be tempted to allow one of them to rise out of alignment.  

single leg dumbbell romanian deadlift

5. Deficit Deadlift 

The deficit deadlift is one of the best substitutes for deadlift, and it helps increase the range of motion during your deadlift, placing more emphasis on the quads.  

As this deadlift alternative increases the range of motion, it’s recommended only to be attempted by more advanced lifters. Beginners tend to find the regular deadlift difficult enough and don’t need to make it even harder or may increase the chance of injury.  

One of the easiest ways to elevate yourself is to place your feet on a 45lb Olympic plate, and it’s usually the perfect height for most people.  

Read Also - Trap Bar Vs Barbell Deadlift

How to do it: 

  • Choose where you’re going to deadlift and place a 45lb Olympic plate on the floor. You may wish to use two bumper plates depending on how wide your stance is.  
  • While standing on the 45’s, place the barbell over your feet until it touches your shins.  
  • Set your hips up in a slightly lower than usual deadlift position and brace your core.  
  • Lift the barbell with the aim to “push the earth away” and squeeze your quads during the initial part of the deficit deadlift.  
  • Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, locking your hips out.  
  • Reverse the movement and repeat. 
deficit deadlifts

6. Pause Deadlift 

The pause deadlift is an outstanding substitute for deadlift exercise as it increases the time under tension (TUT), making the exercise more challenging. As the movement is more challenging to perform than the traditional deadlift, it's recommended that only advanced gym-goers try this deadlift alternative.  

One of the main benefits of using the pause deadlift is it requires less load on the barbell due to the increased difficulty. It also shifts the emphasis onto the quads; the burn you’ll feel during the set is phenomenal.  

How to do it: 

  • Start in the normal deadlift position with your feet underneath the barbell.
  • As you pull the barbell off the floor, pause mid-way for around 1-2 seconds (usually between the floor and the knee).  
  • Ensure the barbell is entirely motionless.  
  • Proceed with the remainder of the deadlift, locking out your hips at the top.  
  • Return the barbell to the floor and repeat.  
pause deadlift

7. 45-Degree Back Extension 

If you’re looking to develop your lower back and glutes without deadlifting, the 45-degree back extension is a fantastic stiff leg deadlift alternative. 

While some gyms don’t have this, it could be something you have in your home garage gym, as it’s a relatively small but valuable piece of equipment.

Check out our guide to the best Roman chairs for back extensions!

How to perform: 

  • Set up the back extension so your waist can bend over the top of the machine without causing discomfort.  
  • Pick up a plate or dumbbell and hold it against your chest.  
  • Place your feet on the platform and lock your ankles into the padded supports.  
  • Lower yourself toward the floor in a controlled manner.  
  • Keep your spine neutral and your legs straight.  
  • When you feel your hamstrings and glutes are at their maximum stretch, pull yourself back to the starting position.  
  • Repeat until your set is complete.  
back extensions

8. Standing Cable Pull Through 

The standing cable pull-through is a brilliant alternative to deadlift for back pain as it places less stress on the lower back than the conventional deadlift does.  

One of the best things about the cable pull-through is it mimics the hip hinge movement that the barbell deadlift does, so you get all the benefits of working your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, and more without aggravating the back.  

A nice benefit of the standing cable pull-through is that the cable creates constant tension throughout the movement, so your muscles need to work hard to control the weight throughout the exercise. 

See Also - 7 Best Cable Crossover Machines

How to perform: 

  • Walk up to your cable machine and adjust the height of the rope pull attachment so it’s at ground level.  
  • Stand with your back to the machine with the rope between your feet.  
  • Pick up the rope with both hands and stand upright.  
  • Walk forward several steps to create tension in the cable.  
  • Draw your shoulder blades back and down and brace your core muscles.  
  • While maintaining a neutral spine, bend from the hips until your hamstrings are fully stretched 
  • Push your hips forward and squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement.  
  • Repeat until your set is complete. 
standing cable pull through

9. Bulgarian Split Squat 

The Bulgarian split squat is an excellent deadlift substitute that will not only strengthen your leg muscles, but it'll also put your balance to the test.  

It mainly targets the hamstrings and glutes by isolating each side of the body one at a time. The iso-lateral nature of the movement makes it perfect for fixing any muscular imbalances that may have developed while using bilateral training methods, e.g., barbell deadlift.  

It’s an excellent alternative for the stiff leg deadlift as it primarily works your glutes and hamstring muscles.

Also See - Split Squats vs Lunges

How to do it: 

  • Stand 2-feet in front of a knee-high bench and place one of your feet on the bench behind you.  
  • With your opposite leg, shuffle forward or backward (depending on your current position) until you’re in a comfortable position to perform a lunge-like movement.  
  • Slightly lean forward at the waist and bend your leading leg until it reaches 90 degrees.  
  • Drive yourself back upwards toward the starting position by pushing through your lead foot.  
  • Repeat the movement for the rep range you want to work.  
bulgarian split squat

10. Pendlay Row 

Even though the Pendlay row is an entirely different movement from the deadlift, it’s still considered one of the best substitutes for deadlifts as it relies heavily on your spinal erectors, lats, and core to stabilize your body throughout the movement.  

As this movement is mainly an upper-body movement, you should combine it with another deadlift alternative on this list that works the legs, such as the Bulgarian split squat.  

How to do it: 

  • Place a barbell in front of you with the desired weight you want to lift.  
  • Grip the barbell placing your hands just outside shoulder width.  
  • Roll the barbell toward you until it’s a few inches from your shins.  
  • Straighten the spine and engage your core muscles.  
  • Keep your torso parallel to the ground and row the barbell to your sternum. 
  • Return the barbell to the starting point. Let the barbell come to a dead stop.  
  • Repeat and complete your set. 
pendlay row

How To Do Deadlift Exercises At Home (Without A Barbell)

Dumbbells 

The dumbbell deadlift is a fantastic alternative to a barbell deadlift and can be performed from home easily while using minimal space. Using dumbbells is more challenging for your grip strength as they’re harder to hold than a barbell. 

You can perform the dumbbell deadlift the same way you’d use a barbell. However, as the dumbbells are lower than a barbell, I’d recommend stopping the deadlift short of the floor (around mid-shin height).  

Related Articles

Kettlebells 

Kettlebells are versatile pieces of home gym equipment that are a brilliant alternative exercise for the deadlift. An added bonus is that kettlebells don’t require as much room as a barbell.

You can use one kettlebell singly or use a pair of kettlebells to perform the deadlift. The form for the exercises is the same as it is for the barbell deadlift.  

Related Article - Best Kettlebells On The Market

person lifting a kettlebell

Resistance Band  

Resistance bands are light, compact, and can be taken with you anywhere you want. They're an excellent substitute for barbell deadlifts. The strength curve of a resistance band differs from a barbell; the resistance band is lighter at the bottom of the movement and more taxing at the top.  

The resistance band deadlift is performed using the same form as a barbell, but you stand on part of the band and hold the opposite side, then hinge from the hips.

Related Article - Top Resistance Bands For Home Use

Sandbags 

Sandbags can be bought or self-made at home using a duffel bag and sand. It’s a simple yet effective alternative to barbell deadlift.  

Fill a bag with sand, rocks, books, canned food, and perform a deadlift using the duffel bag.  

Using a Couch 

Got a spare couch in your basement? It could be the perfect alternative to barbell deadlift. Making use of your couch or even those storage boxes you’ve been meaning to empty could come in pretty useful.  

Pick up the couch from one end using deadlift form and place it back down. Or pick up a box and move it from one side of the room to another.  


Benefits Of Doing Regular Deadlifting Type Exercises 

If you look at most strength training programs, you’ll see the deadlift is one of the staple exercises.

The deadlift is one of the big three lifts performed in powerlifting, but the exercise has many benefits outside of the sport. It’s suitable for most people of all experience levels, particularly if you want to build muscle and strengthen your posterior chain.  

Some of the most notable benefits are: 

  • Increases Muscle
    Your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and stabilizing muscles need to work incredibly hard to move the weight, leading to an increase in muscle. Arnold Schwarzenegger used to swear by deadlifts, and if his impressive physique is anything to go by, they sure as hell work.
  • Strength Increases
    If you want to be strong, deadlifts will get you there, and it heavily recruits your muscle fibers in all areas from your glutes to your abs. There’s a reason why it’s the staple of almost every strength training program.
  • Improved Grip Strength
    Increasing your grip strength will help with many of your other lifts such as pull-ups, lat pull down, bent over rows, and more. You’ll also benefit from increased grip strength if you participate in sports such as Jiu-Jitsu or wrestling. 
  • Reduction In Lower Back Pain
    Movement is key to keeping your back strong; deadlifts are perfect for strengthening the back. Strengthen the lower back, and you’ll help prevent any future injuries from occurring.
  • Increases Bone Density
    Deadlifts help fight off Osteoporosis which can develop in the later stages of your life. In addition, a 2018 study found that resistance training dramatically improves your bone health as your body ages. Stronger bones reduce your risk of fractures and muscle breakages, which are serious long-term injuries for the elderly.
  • Activates Core Muscles
    Maintaining a stable core is crucial for your overall health and has sports-specific carryovers that can help improve your overall performance. Your other major lifts, such as squats, will benefit from deadlifting regularly.
  • You Don’t Need A Spotter
    The load isn’t placed above you like it is with a back squat or bench press, so you can safely drop the barbell without having to worry about being crushed under the weight. This is a massive bonus if you’re training in your home gym. Learn more about which workout exercises need spotters.

What Muscles Do Deadlifts and Substitutes Work? 

Glutes 

The glutes are the largest muscle group in the body, making them a key area to work. Having a strong set of glutes removes the pressure placed on the lower back and helps prevent lower back injuries. Building your glutes will also help with other sports you might participate in.  

Hamstrings 

The hamstrings are the biceps of the legs. They’re vital for the deadlift and are placed under a lot of stress during the movement. They are the antagonist muscle to the quadriceps and need to be worked equally as hard.  

Hip flexors 

The hip flexors are key movers for your legs and are required to walk, run, bend, kick, and swivel your hips. As you can imagine, these are all critical movements for many sports, and the deadlift is a great way to develop your hip flexor strength.  

Lower back muscles 

The lower back is often one of the areas people develop pain in as they age. Much of this can be due to inactivity and not developing the lower back muscle adequately. As the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it.  

Training your lower back muscle with the deadlift is brilliant for injury prevention. 

Upper back muscles  

During the deadlift, your entire body is required to help stabilize your spine as you lift the weight from the floor. During the movement, your upper back muscles such as your lats, traps, and rhomboids are engaged to help lock the spine into a safe, neutral position.  

Quads 

The quadriceps are heavily activated during the first portion of the deadlift. Then, as you move the barbell upwards, your quads are required to help straighten your knees.

Core 

As you perform a deadlift, your body needs to engage its core muscles to assist your major muscle groups in lifting the weight on the bar. The core is necessary for stability and helps you maintain a neutral spine position, preventing any injuries from occurring.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you build hamstring muscles without deadlift? 

You sure can; you can perform many fantastic exercises to target the hamstrings, such as the deadlift alternative exercises mentioned in the list above. Each one works your hamstrings, causing muscle growth.  

Can kettlebell swings replace deadlifts? 

Sometimes you find yourself in a position where you can’t deadlift; maybe you’re injured, don’t have the equipment, or want to mix it up a little. Performing kettlebell swings is a brilliant substitute for replacing deadlifts in your workout.

Is deadlift bad for knees? 

The deadlift requires minimal movement in the knees as it is a hip-dominant exercise, and this places most of the stress of the deadlift on your hips rather than your knees.  

Overall, the deadlift is a fantastic exercise for strengthening your entire body, and so long as you use good form, you’ll be fine and aren’t at risk of injury.  

Are deadlifts worth the risk? 

Deadlifts are a complex movement that, if performed incorrectly, can cause injury. However, this can be said for any exercise if executed poorly.  

You must use the best form possible while performing the deadlift to minimize the risk of injury and work the targeted muscles in an efficient manner. The last thing you want is to waste your time and effort doing deadlifts incorrectly.  


Conclusion

The deadlift is one of the best exercises around for developing your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and many other muscles throughout your body. I don’t think there is a single muscle not worked during the deadlift.  

However, not everybody is in a position to perform deadlifts regularly. Whether it’s due to injury, not having the equipment and space, or simply you want to mix it up a little to keep things fresh.  

The list above is the complete guide for the best alternative to barbell deadlift exercises. Add them to your workout; you’ll love them.  

Paul J