Dumbbell deadlifts are worth doing.
I personally feel that there are very few exercises that are “not worth” doing. Many exercises, often simple variations of a more common lift, offer some degree of benefit to an athlete when purposeful programming has been done.
When determining if an exercise is worth doing, we must look at a few factors, such as:
- Does this variation (dumbbell deadlift) offer anything that the standard cannot (barbell deadlift)?
- In times where training duration is limited, is this variation better than the standard? In other words, we need to determine what is the most “bang for the buck” exercise to elicit the results we are looking for (maximal strength, hypertrophy, metabolic conditioning, correct movement asymmetries, etc)?
- If one omitted a lift entirely from their routine (dumbbell or barbell deadlift), which one would have the largest negative impact on performance? If one was to stop barbell deadlift, and only dumbbell deadlift (or vice versa), who would be left in a less than optimal condition more?
My verdict on whether or not the dumbbell deadlift is pretty straightforward, and will be defended below.
The dumbbell deadlift, while similar to the barbell deadlift, can offer athletes some unique benefits, however does not replace the barbell deadlift.
Maximal Strength and Hypertrophy
The dumbbell deadlift can induce strength and hypertrophy, however only to a certain extent, especially as a lifter moves through the novice stages and beyond. The barbell deadlift is a compound lift, allowing lifters to maximally load the back, hips, hamstrings, and spine, with the limitation often upon whether or not a lifter can induce enough force to overcome a resting object.
The dumbbell deadlift can place significant stress upon a body and the respective systems (neuromuscular, endocrine, and muscular), however I find that the main limiting factor when performing the dumbbell variations is that the loads are not heavy enough to bring about certain strength and hypertrophy adaptations (lack of 200lb dumbbells in most gyms). Furthermore, grip strength and the awkwardness of the movement (dumbbell deadlift) may be more limiting at heavier loads.
There are some distinct benefits that are unique to the dumbbell deadlift that the barbell variation may not offer. Increased unilateral control, scapular and lat engagement, and grip strength are all benefits of the dumbbell deadlift (as well as their main drawbacks when looking at maximal loading and strength training). That said, I personally have found the dumbbell variation as great tool when programming assistance work for grip, back, or conditioning exercises.
While both deadlifts (dumbbell and barbell) are pretty straightforward (picking an object off the ground), dumbbell deadlifts may be a fast and effective way to train new lifters, beginners, and/or to incorperate basic strength training in group/class settings. Additionally, most commercial and hotel gyms (if they happened to have a fitness/gym center) have dumbbells, but rarely a barbell. The dumbbell deadlift can be a very easy and effective means to training the back and hips (provided the loads are heavy enough).
All deadlifts will increase grip strength, however I find that because dumbbells are generally pperformed with lighter oads and more reps than barbell deadlifts (it can be difficult to find the equivalent dumbbell to equate to a 405lb deadlift 5×5 day). Due to the lighter loads (relative to one’s strength) that are often lifted using dumbbells, more volume (sets and reps) can be seen, which in turn stress grip strength and endurance greater. Once again, the main limitation is also one of the top reasons to do dumbbell deadlifts: to get a stronger grip.
Dumbbell deadlifts, and the unilateral dumbbell deadlift variation, are a great way to teach lat engagement, address any asymmetries and imbalances caused by poor scapular control and/o lat engagement during the deadlift. Additionally, the dumbbell deadlift can be done during assistance training and/or conditioning sets to help repair overuse injuries cause by athletes religious pulling using mixed grips (provided they are not alternating grip during work sets).
The dumbbell deadlift can offer coaches and athletes some unique training benefits. In my experience as a coach and athlete, I do feel that nearly every athlete can benefit from the barbell deadlift, while potentially also benefiting if performing the dumbbell variation. Therefore, inclusion of the dumbbell deadlift should serve a specific purpose (application to sport, grip training, metabolic conditioning, etc) in order to facilitate overall growth and development., however they do not replace the barbell deadlift.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
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