8 Deadlift Alternatives for Beginners, At-Home Workouts, and More

Want to deadlift but can't? Try these moves out in the meantime.

Deadlifts are one of the best expressions of full body strength there is – and they aren’t bad for building muscle either. However, there’s a very specific set of requirements you’ll usually need to incorporate deadlifting into your program.

For example, access to a barbell, enough plates, and you get bonus points if you have a deadlift platform as well. But if you’re finding it a bit daunting to launch directly into deadlifts from the floor, fear not!

At the core of the deadlift is the hip hinge technique, and harnessing your posterior chain of muscle through the hip hinge can be accomplished by plenty of alternative exercises.

Here are eight ways to reap the benefits of deadlifting — without actually having to deadlift.

Best Deadlift Alternatives

Band-Resisted Hip Hinge

The band-resisted hip hinge uses a medium to heavy band to act as resistance, helping to encourage your hips to naturally fall into a hinged position with minimal equipment and no need for a heavy barbell.

When to Use It

If you’re struggling to really nail the hip hinge technique for a deadlift or otherwise, the band-resisted hip hinge can be a fantastic teaching tool. Using the natural resistance of the band to help bend the hips and push the butt back into a perfect hinge – it also provides the resistance necessary to help grow the glutes.

How to Do It

Attach a band to a floor mounted squat rack or between a dual-cable pulley stack (placing the band in the carabiner attachments on either side).

Gradually walk into the band and allow it to bend your hips as you reach for a secure anchor point with your hands. While holding the anchor point, squeeze your glutes and push your hips forward against the resistance of the band.

Medicine Ball Good Morning

A medicine ball is another great deadlift alternative to help you train the core, hamstrings, and glutes without needing a barbell or plates. One of the biggest perks of the medicine ball good morning is that the way you hold the weight will help you naturally perform the exercise with the correct technique.

When to Use It

If you’re struggling to grasp how to properly brace your torso and engage your core during any hip hinge exercise, the medicine ball good morning is the perfect solution for you. You can use the medicine ball good morning as a preparatory drill for deadlifts themselves or even as a standalone exercise.

How to Do It

Hug a medicine ball tight to your body, wrapping your arms around it like a big hug. Brace your core, unlock your knees, and slowly slide your hips back until you find a stretch across your hamstrings.

Your torso should be about parallel to the floor and your shins vertical at the end of the range of motion. Reverse gear and stand back up by squeezing the hamstrings and glutes.

45-Degree Hip Extension

If you’re looking to cook the glutes without the crazy fatigue from deadlifting, the 45-degree hip extension is going to be a real treat. The back extension station has become a staple in most gyms, and you can repurpose it to focus on your glutes without loading your lower back much at all.

When to Use It

The 45-degree hip extension is a great warm-up, finisher, or meat-and-potatoes exercise depending on how much weight you have to play with. You can warm up your lower body for more strenuous exercises with little fatigue accumulation by using some high repetition sets.

Or, finish your backside off with some weighted versions at the end of a workout.

How to Do It

Line the thigh pads up at a height that matches your hip crease. Make sure to lock your ankles in the right position to ensure you’re not going to tip over the machine itself.

Brace your core and hinge over the thigh pads similar to how you’d do a Romanian Deadlift — squeeze the glutes tight to bring yourself back up. If you’re looking to load this exercise, hug a medicine ball or kettlebell to your chest.

Glute-Ham Raise

The glute-ham raise, or GHR, is a natural progression of the 45-degree hip extension, except it draws on even more of your lower body musculature. Instead of the machine being angled at a 45 degree level, a GHR station will place your body completely parallel to the floor.

When to Use It

If you’re looking to incorporate more hamstring work, insert the GHR. The glute-ham raise helps you perfect the hip hinge technique with a greater emphasis on concurrent mechanics and full-body tension. However, it is a degree of difficulty higher than the hip extension, requiring a great deal more strength and coordination to perform since you have to bend and straighten your knee as well.

How to Do It

Lock your ankles behind the pads with your knees bent and pressed into the seat. Your trunk should be nearly perpendicular to the floor. Brace your core, tense your hamstrings and glutes, and descend into the bottom portion of the movement by slowly straightening your knees.

You should be able to reach about parallel to the floor with the cushion supporting your pelvis. Squeeze your glutes and hamstrings hard to pull yourself back to the starting position. Think about pushing your kneecap into the cushion to bend your leg. 

Nordic Hamstring Curl

Nordic hamstring curls are wildly popular for athletes and bodybuilders alike, but they’re also deceptively difficult to perform. 

When to Use It

Nordic hamstring curls are a great alternative to deadlifts if you’re in a bind with literally no equipment on-hand. The Nordic curl requires you to eccentrically control yourself for as long as possible as you descend through a similar range of motion as the glute-ham raise.

The major difference here is that there is no thigh pad or leverage for you to take advantage of along the way. The only thing preventing a faceplant on the floor is the strength of your hammies. 

How to Do It

Anchor your ankles under a secure surface and grab a yoga mat for your knees. Brace your entire body and descend towards the ground under control by slowly opening your knees — your hips should remain locked in extension the entire time.

Resist the force of gravity as long as you can, and then break your fall with your hands. Explosively push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat. 

Kettlebell Swing

Kettlebells are a unique training implement that open up a huge array of options for any lifter. You can scale the kettlebell to your strength and coordination level for the best results.

When to Use It

Using a kettlebell swing can help build some muscle, coordination, and most of all, your cardio. The kettlebell swing is the ideal teaching tool for learning how to hinge, as well as getting a good glute pump along the way. 

How to Do It

Grip the kettlebell tightly by the handle. Assume a slightly wide stance and begin rocking your hips back and forth to generate early momentum. Swing your hips until the bell begins to oscillate back and forth, and then exaggerate the motion until you’re performing explosive hip hinges.

Let the kettlebell pull you into a bowed position as it swings between your legs. Reverse the movement in-line with the cadence of the swing and squeeze your glutes. Let the bell fly upward in front of your torso, but don’t raise it with your arms.

Cable Pull-Through

The cable pull-through is a great addition to, or alternative for, the kettlebell swing. All you need is a cable station and a set of long rope attachments and you’re ready to go.

When to Use It

If you’re looking to have an exercise to help guide you into a hip hinge and place some low-intensity volume across your posterior chain, look no further than the cable pull-through.

Much like the kettlebell swing, the cable itself will help reinforce the hip hinge technique without much coordination on your end. simply brace up and let the resistance do the work. 

How to Do It

Place a rope attachment on a cable stack pulley station in the lowest position. Face away from the machine and grab the ropes, standing with the handles between your legs.

Allow the cable to naturally pull you into a hinged position. Once you’re about parallel facing the floor, stand back up by contracting the glutes and hamstrings.

Hip Thrust

The hip thrust is one of the most popular glute exercises around and it shares a fair few overlapping characteristics with the deadlift itself. It also has many distinct variations, both free weight or machine, to serve your needs.

When to Use It

The hip thrust is a great tool to help build the glutes and reinforce a hip hinge technique without loading your back. If you’re concerned about your deadlift technique but still want to lift as heavy as possible, the hip thrust is the perfect juice for your caboose

How to Do It

Sit on the floor with your upper back against a bench or box. Pull a loaded barbell over your legs and into your hip crease, and then kick your feet back so they’re flat on the floor.

From here, push your hips upward into the bar until they’re locked out. Your shins should be nearly vertical, and there should be a horizontal line from your kneecap to your head with the bar balanced atop your groin. Reverse the motion by breaking at the hip and sinking into flexion again. 

How to Hip Hinge

To get the most out of a deadlift or any of its alternatives, a solid understanding of the hip hinge will go a long way. Any deadlift-adjacent exercise you perform will require you to hinge properly if you want to get it done. 

Step 1 — Unlock Your Hips

Hip Hinge Step 1

Start your descent by softly unlocking your knees. You want to keep them as extended as you can without locking them out completely — from here, start shifting your hips backwards without bending the knees any further. Be mindful to keep your core braced. Allow your gaze to fall forward as you bow. 

Step 2 Bend and Bow

Hip Thrust Step 2

A solidly executed hip hinge should stretch your posterior chain. While you may or may not feel an actual stretching sensation across the hamstrings, you know you’re at the end of the repetition once your torso has reached a nearly-parallel position with the floor.

Step 3 Thrust Yourself Tall

Hip Hinge Step 3

Complete each repetition by bringing yourself back to the beginning. Squeeze the hamstrings and glutes while maintaining your brace – returning to a fully locked out and tall-standing position. Think about pushing your hips forward, back under your shoulders. 

Benefits of Non-Deadlift Exercises

Deadlift alternatives are a great way to fine tune your hip hinge mechanics and also chase some great muscle gain in the process. These movements help you achieve many of the same overall outcomes of a deadlift when actually performing the lift itself isn’t in cards.

Building a Base

Building a base of strength and skill using your posterior chain of muscles is one of the best things you can do for any fitness goal. The muscles of the back, hamstrings, and glutes contribute to posterior chain strength, a great physique, and transferable strength to a barbell sport.

Woman performs back extension in gym
Credit: Bojan Milinkov / Shutterstock

Getting a head start on these qualities via low-level alternatives is a great way to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success in the long run.

Using deadlift alternatives that still challenge your posterior chain are a fantastic tool to elongate your progress in the gym before ever eyeing up a barbell.

Refining Technical Skill

Whether you want to deadlift or not, you need to know how to hinge your hips. The ability to properly brace your core and load your back, glutes, and hamstrings will help make you a more robust and resilient athlete.

While the deadlift itself is probably the best way to develop the hinge, alternative exercises are a smart way to stay strong in whichever goal you pursue.

Strengthening Weak Points

Deadlift alternatives can also be a clever way to isolate weak points, specific ranges of motion, or muscle groups all along the posterior chain. If you notice a lagging body part like the glutes, you can certainly help bring them up using 45-degree hip extensions or good mornings with much less load than a full deadlift.

Accommodating a Lack of Equipment 

Perhaps the biggest benefit of deadlift alternatives is the ability to train an enormous number of muscle groups and the skill of the hip hinge without the use of a heavily-loaded barbell.

If, for whatever reason, you lack the resources to deadlift with a bar, you can still make clever substitutions to ensure as little is lost in the interim as possible. 

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re trying to get strong, build muscle, or just started in the gym, the deadlift probably isn’t too far off your training radar. While it’s a great exercise for a number of reasons, you may not like, want, or even need to deadlift to accomplish your goals.

Breaking the deadlift down into its component parts can help you understand how to attack each aspect using clever alternatives. From medicine balls, kettlebells, and even your own bodyweight, these deadlift alternatives can be just as valuable to your training as a loaded barbell ever could.

Featured Image: Crime Art / Shutterstock