When you think of the deadlift, you may well approach it from the perspective of powerlifting. You’ll envision hefting a heavily loaded barbell that takes an enormous toll on your body. At its core, however, the deadlift is simply a hinge. When you look at the deadlift through that lens, you get ample opportunity to train with different implements and strategies.
This is where the kettlebell deadlift comes enters the game. This deadlift variation offers a wide array of training options for you to weave into your program.
From learning the hinge for beginners to building strength and conditioning for advanced athletes, here is everything you need to know — including how to do the kettlebell deadlift.
- How to Do the Kettlebell Deadlift
- Kettlebell Deadlift Sets and Reps
- Common Kettlebell Deadlift Mistakes
- Kettlebell Deadlift Variations
- Kettlebell Deadlift Alternatives
- Muscles Worked by the Kettlebell Deadlift
- Benefits of the Kettlebell Deadlift
- Who Should Do the Kettlebell Deadlift
- Frequently Asked Questions
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
When you’re looking to deadlift with kettlebells, it’ll always take the form of a hinge. It’s a similar pattern to many other deadlift variations you may have seen before. Here’s how to do it, step-by-step.
Step 1 — Foot Stance
Your foot stance on a kettlebell deadlift should be comfortable, somewhere between hip and shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be facing forward or slightly turned out. This should allow you to perform the kettlebell deadlift through its full range of motion without any hitches.
If it feels slightly awkward, you can shift your stance and or foot angle in or out slightly to find the best spot for your body.
Step 2 — Grip
Bend down with softly bent knees and a neutral spine until your fingers reach the bell. Your kettlebell deadlift grip will be different from that of other deadlifts. Given the smaller size of the kettlebell handle relative to a barbell, your hands will be much closer together.
Regardless of the size of the kettlebell you choose, line your hands up as close as you can to ensure that all your fingers are wrapped around the handle.
Step 3 — Brace
Brace for your kettlebell deadlift by aligning your chest over the top of your hips while you’re still in a standing position.
Breathe out all of your air through pursed lips, contracting your abdominals from all sides as you do. Lock this in by bearing down on your core (as though you were about to exhale forcibly — but do not exhale). Take a small sip of air through pursed lips to reinforce your brace and you’re ready to go.
Step 4 — Hinge
The hinge technique is the centerpiece of your kettlebell deadlift. Now that your brace is secured, slowly slide your hips back while slowly dropping your torso to face the floor. Let a deep stretch sensation run through your hamstrings and into your glutes.
With a soft bend in your knees, hinge forward until you reach the end of your range of motion. Maintain a neutral spine and use a slightly more generous bend in your knees (if necessary) to help you touch the kettlebell to the ground.
Step 5 — Repetitions
Reverse course by driving with your quads, extending your knees, and pushing your hips forward to standing. Lift your chest at the same pace to maintain a neutral posture throughout the range of motion. As you clear your knees, your hips should start to drive forward until you arrive in a standing position.
From here, you can complete as many repetitions as you’d like by following the same flow of a brace, hinge, and stand.
Once your kettlebell deadlift form is locked in, a whole world of hinging gains opens up to you. It’s not just about building strength (though you certainly can do plenty of that). This lift also invites you to hone in on your hip hinge technique.
- For Technique: Grab a light kettlebell. Lock in your brace and perform two sets of eight to 10 repetitions with an intentional three-second eccentric tempo.
- For Building Muscle: With moderate weight, aim for two to three sets of 10 repetitions.
- For Strength: Grab a heavier kettlebell and aim for three to five sets of five repetitions. Focus on pristine technique.
Although kettlebells are a great tool for a vast diversity of athletes, there still are some common mistakes with kettlebell deadlifts. Avoid these typical errors to make sure your hip hinge is at the top of its class — deadlifting strength will follow.
Lack of Mobility
The kettlebell is much smaller in size and shape than a barbell. With this in mind, you may need to work on some mobility to successfully navigate the full range of motion. You may find yourself struggling to stay braced with your hands so close together and with the kettlebell farther from the ground than a loaded barbell may be.
Mobility may not be the only thing affecting your kettlebell deadlift. Everybody has unique limb lengths that might alter what stance and set-up are the most effective for your kettlebell deadlift.
The right stance for your coach or training partner might not be the correct stance for you. You might need to bend your knees a little more (or less) depending on the length of your arms. Your leg length will help determine whether you need to place your feet wider or closer together.
If you’re struggling to hit a full range of motion or feel like you’re losing position prematurely, try changing your stance. A slightly wider or more narrow stance and subtle changes to your toe angle may be a quick fix.
One of the most common errors with any hip hinge is rounding your back. While some slightly forward shoulders aren’t the worst thing in the world, extreme back rounding during the kettlebell deadlift might mean you’re losing your brace.
Take your time to tighten your lats, pull your shoulders back and down, and engage your core during each repetition. These tricks combined should help keep your back neutral throughout your lift.
You may want to spice up your deadlift game with different types of kettlebell deadlifts. Get ready for even more gains — and a lot of variety on back or leg day.
Instead of gripping a single kettlebell with both hands, the suitcase deadlift places the kettlebell alongside your body. You’ll set up with the bell outside one foot.
In addition to increasing emphasis on your core and unilateral strength, the suitcase variation can be extremely accommodating for those with particularly broad shoulders. The suitcase deadlift can be performed with one or two kettlebells at a time — either in one hand or using both.
If the kettlebell deadlift feels like you’re getting squished trying to bring your hands in front of your body, try the suitcase deadlift instead.
Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift
The sumo kettlebell deadlift mimics the barbell version of the same name. Instead of setting your stance between hip and shoulder-width as in the kettlebell deadlift, assume a stance that is shoulder-width or wider.
From here, follow the same step-by-step execution as the standard kettlebell deadlift but be sure to push your knees out slightly as you descend. Keep your feet, shins, and knees tracking comfortably in line throughout the lift.
Single-Leg Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
This single-kettlebell deadlift — specifically, the single-kettlebell Romanian deadlift — will place extra emphasis on your hamstrings. Since you’re only holding the bell with one hand and only keeping one leg on the ground at a time, you’ll also reap the benefits of unilateral training.
The kettlebell single-leg deadlift lets you hold the bell in either hand. Choose which hand you use to hold the kettlebell depending on your specific training needs and balance preferences. Just make sure you keep your lift balanced on each side.
The kettlebell deadlift is fairly accessible to many athletes — even beginners. But if you’re not quite able to hinge to the ground yet, here are some alternatives to build up to the full version.
Kettlebell Block Pull
The kettlebell block pull is a great alternative to the full kettlebell deadlift from the floor. It “raises the floor” such that you can perform the same technique without as much demand on your range of motion.
Follow all the same steps as your kettlebell deadlift. But use a raised target such as a block or step-up riser to serve as your endpoint. This way, you won’t have to get to the floor.
Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift
The kettlebell Romanian deadlift also removes the bottom end of the range of motion from your kettlebell deadlift. You’ll stop at shin level instead of lowering to the ground. This might make the Romanian deadlift a more accessible alternative to folks who have trouble bringing the kettlebell to the ground.
Perform this alternative after you get used to the kettlebell block pull. This is a more dynamic variety where you’ll rely on your kinesthetic awareness instead of a block. That translates into even better coordination.
Cable Rope Pull-Through
If you’re fresh out of kettlebells but have access to a cable machine, an excellent way to mimic the hinge movement is with a cable rope pull-through. Attach a rope handle to a cable stack in the bottom position.
Grab the rope with an overhand grip, and take a few steps back from the machine. With your back to the machine, brace, hinge, pull the rope through your legs, and you’ll soon feel the resistance from the cable as you perform the hinge.
Landmine Romanian Deadlift
Another excellent alternative to the kettlebell deadlift will require a landmine. The landmine is in a fixed arc of motion but has a similar starting position as the kettlebell deadlift.
Load up the landmine and interlock your fingers on the barbell sleeve using an underhand grip. From here, simply slide your hips back and perform the hinge technique. Keep steady form and you’re ready to rock.
Any deadlift variation is going to provide a tremendous amount of muscle engagement, and the kettlebell deadlift is no different. Find out which muscles get the most action.
Your quadriceps will be responsible for the starting “push” out of the bottom of each repetition. Full range of motion deadlifts bring you to the floor, and your quadriceps are the muscles that will extend your knees back out from the bottom.
Your hamstrings help to flex your knee and extend your hips. When you’re performing the kettlebell deadlift, the middle range of motion is where your hamstrings shine. Once the kettlebell leaves the floor and hits about mid-shin, it’s hamstring time.
Your glutes are a solid extensor of your hips. Once your kettlebell hits the floor, you’ll be finding yourself in some pretty deep hip flexion. In concert with your hamstrings, your glutes will start to kick in during the middle to the top end of your range of motion.
Your back musculature may not be involved in directly lifting the weights, but control of your posture during any deadlift variation is crucial. To safely execute your kettlebell deadlift, the muscles of your back need to be tightened and braced to prevent rounding of the spine. Your traps and lats will be huge contributors here.
Your core is the other set of muscles responsible for stabilizing your spine during the kettlebell deadlift. Establishing a strong brace using all of your abdominal muscles in conjunction with your back will help keep your torso rigid while lifting.
Your grip strength is an often overlooked aspect of the kettlebell deadlift. But without a solid squeeze, it will become much more difficult to train all your other muscles. The muscles of your forearms and hands can be trained and potentially act as the gatekeeper for all other muscles in the kettlebell deadlift.
In other words, don’t skimp on your grip training. The kettlebell deadlift will help you here, especially if you’re establishing a good time under tension with eccentric training, tempo training, and simply working at high rep ranges.
The kettlebell deadlift is notoriously underrated. It can be a tool for skill development, it’s highly accessible, and can help produce full-body gains. If you’re skeptical, don’t be — kettlebell deadlift benefits are aplenty.
The hip hinge is the focal point of your kettlebell deadlift. That’s good news because a solid hinge is the cornerstone of so much in strength training.
From heavy barbell deadlifts and good mornings to Olympic lifting of all kinds, a strong hinge technique is going to drive a ton of your future success. The kettlebell deadlift helps to ease this technique into your training in a bite-sized and scalable way.
The ease of storage, mobility, and training with a kettlebell cannot be understated. All you need is one kettlebell, which barely takes up any space at all. The exercise itself also doesn’t require a lot of space — just enough to stand up and bend down. That makes this move a real win-win in terms of bang for your buck and your small space workouts.
Full Body Gains
The deadlift is one of the most foundational exercises in your repertoire. Recruiting the entire body’s worth of muscle mass in one smooth motion, the kettlebell deadlift serves as an accessible catch-all exercise. From your legs through to your hands and everything in between, a good kettlebell deadlift will train your full body.
The kettlebell deadlift is great for beginners, advanced strength athletes, and anyone who’s short on equipment. No matter what category of trainee you fall into, the kettlebell deadlift is likely a good bet for you.
If you’re a beginner looking to kickstart your training, the kettlebell deadlift is where it’s at. This move has one of the lowest barriers to entry, especially when you use a block to help raise the ground. You can use the kettlebell deadlift to build some foundational muscle mass, work capacity, and skills that will improve the rest of your training.
Strength athletes can harness the kettlebell deadlift in a wide variety of ways. Whether you’re an advanced powerlifter or a strongman athlete looking to lock in some technique, you can integrate the kettlebell deadlift into your warm-up or the main strength component of your workout.
The bracing, hinge, and overall full-body coordination that the kettlebell deadlift requires will be a great primer to prep for bigger lifts. Beyond that, a good hundred-plus-pound kettlebell will test the mettle of any lifter.
If you’re short on deadlift platforms, barbells, plates, collars, lifting straps, chalk, or any number of fun tools, you’re in luck. The kettlebell deadlift needs one thing to start — the kettlebell. Where other deadlift variations can become increasingly complicated for you to train in terms of space and equipment, the kettlebell deadlift only needs a one-and-done tool.
The kettlebell brings a new flavor to the deadlift that lifters of any experience level can use in their arsenal. There aren’t many exercises out there that are better at teaching a hinge and the proper positioning for a deadlift.
The unique shape and size of the kettlebell allow you to turn any location into a deadlift party. For everything from skill development to potentiating big muscle and strength gains, get started with your kettlebell deadlifts today.
You know a lot more about kettlebell deadlifts than you did to start. But if you’ve still got questions, no worries. We’ve got answers.
When should I kettlebell deadlift?
The kettlebell deadlift can be performed anywhere at any time. It’s a great tool to weave into a full workout routine as a warm-up or main movement. Since kettlebells are compact and travel relatively well, the kettlebell deadlift can go with you to train wherever you want.
Is the kettlebell deadlift dangerous?
Exercise comes with its inherent risks, but the kettlebell deadlift is of no greater risk than any other exercise. Take your time learning and progress the load slowly if you’re concerned with safety and you should be right as rain.
How do I progress with the kettlebell deadlift?
You can progress the kettlebell deadlift by adding a second kettlebell (either in sumo, suitcase, or conventional stance) and by increasing the load. In addition, the same typical progression tools for strength and hypertrophy apply. Slowly add sets, repetition, or other intensity-boosting techniques to make your workouts progressively more challenging.
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