The traditional deadlift is one of the most popular movements you will see at the gym.
The nature of this exercise means you can load up a lot more weight than any other barbell movement.
And there’s just something about being at the gym and picking up some heavy weights without having to think too much about the process or technique.
You just hinge down and pick the bar up. But what about with other equipment?
Let’s dive right into dumbbell deadlift vs barbell deadlift.
While there are a lot more variations to the deadlift like trap bar deadlift, sumo deadlift, and hex bar deadlift the main focus of today’s article is going to be about dumbbell deadlifts.
The starting position for a dumbbell deadlift is basically the same as a conventional barbell deadlift.
You’re going to need a pair of dumbbells and you’ll hold them at the side of the body rather than out in front of you like with a barbell.
Let’s have a look at a few of the benefits of dumbbell deadlifts.
Because you don’t have the thickness of the weight plates you can get down further into the movement and lift from lower than you typically do with a traditional barbell deadlift.
When you do any exercises with an increased range of motion you open up different muscle groups you wouldn’t normally hit.
Another one of the advantages of the dumbbell deadlift is muscle activation.
Because you won’t be lifting as heavy, you can get more reps out per set, which will move you into the hypertrophy rep ranges.
It’s also a lot safer to slow the reps down and spend even more time under tension on each repetition.
When you train for strength gains with a straight bar deadlift the first thing to let you down with the heavier weights is your grip strength.
You can mitigate this for a bit by switching from an overhand grip to opposite grips in each hand.
But that approach will still only last for so long until your forearms give out.
Because you can perform more reps with dumbbells you can spend more time improving that grip strength.
Something people tend to ignore when we exercise is the impact it has on our joints.
As soon as your joints start breaking down everything else starts to go out the window.
Especially as we see more people trying to build the biggest muscles possible while ignoring the other elements that make us move, like our ligaments, tendons, and joints.
When we lift a big heavy load that’s putting a tremendous amount of stress on our joints.
So if you can get all the same benefits without having to bust your body up, why wouldn’t you do it?
As a personal trainer, I constantly have to work on muscle imbalances with clients.
Another issue with training any exercise with a barbell is your stronger side will start to steal work as your weaker side struggles.
This can lead to your stronger arm getting stronger and your weaker side getting weaker.
So by having equal load being moved independently you give your entire move equal opportunity to improve.
Not only can you do them, but you can easily get greater benefits when you do dumbbell deadlift variations.
Don’t get me wrong though a regular deadlift is a great exercise for both building strength, muscle growth, and burning fat.
But when you don’t do this with good form you run the risk of serious injury. Ego is one of the biggest causes of injury from deadlifts.
We get too carried away trying to hit big lifts and we start to forget about how we are lifting them.
Dumbbell deadlifts go a long way towards eliminating that.
You can’t get as heavy with dumbbells as you can with the barbell version. Even doing deadlifts with a resistance band is a great alternative.
I do a lot of my training with resistance bands now and I’m a big believer in the benefits they give you.
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Both dumbbells and barbells are fine for doing deadlifts with.
But if you are nursing a few injuries, or perhaps you’re only just starting your fitness journey then maybe dumbbells are the better choice.
It really doe depend on your goals and where you are at level-wise.
If overall strength gains are the aim, the barbell is going to let you lift much heavier loads.
But if you are fairly new to exercise you are more interested in getting HUGE then dumbbells a the better option.
But both versions are going to work more or less the same muscles.
You’re going to get great activation in your hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and your lower back muscles.
Deadlifts and kettlebell swings are both amazing exercises for your whole posterior chain and I’ve heard both referred to as the king of all exercises.
There really are loads of different types of deadlifts you can be doing. But good form is a must with any version.
Always keep a straight back and look forward with your neck in a neutral position as you can see in the photos below.
If equally out muscle imbalances are a big focus for your training then look no further than a single leg dumbbell deadlift.
Single-leg deadlifts are something I do every single weak, mind you, I do them with kettlebells, I have kettlebells at home, not dumbbells.
And you can even keep your leg straighter and perform a Romanian kettlebell deadlift as well like you can see me do with a kettlebell below.
Deadlifts are a great way to build muscle and not just in your lower body.
When you perform deadlifts with proper form you are working almost your entire body. And they are a great exercise for improving core strength.
As I mention often when you have a strong core it opens up all sorts of options with your training.
Doing a heavy deadlift correctly and without risk of injury, it becomes a great strength and size building, full-body exercise.
The beauty of training with compound exercises is you work more muscles at once.
And all you’re smaller muscles get a chance to move bigger loads around.
You see a compound exercise like a deadlift, benchpress, or squat uses more joints.
And when you move more joints, you move more muscles.
Compound movements really are one of the best ways to give the little guys a really good pump as well.
So yes, deadlifts build mass and deadlifts also burn calories.
So no matter if your goal is to get bigger or smaller, deadlifts can help you do that.
Romanian deadlifts or stiff leg deadlifts really are fine to do with both.
But for me, I can’t look past doing them single-leg.
I do single-leg Romanian deadlifts every week with kettlebells.
I have a full set of kettlebells at home so doing single-leg movements with them has made me realize I no longer see the need for an Olympic barbell in my training anymore.
Sure If I go work out at the gym I’ll use the equipment I don’t have access to.
But I can use what I have and still get an amazing workout in.
My approach to fitness now is all about training when and where you want.
And doing with just one dumbbell you can do that.
You can get a great leg and core workout just by doing your Romanian deadlifts with that.
The risks that come with doing deadlifts are magnified with Romanian deadlifts.
Because you keep your leg straight you are doing more of a hip hinge than you normally would.
This can put increased pressure on your lower back.
Still not as much as good mornings, if you don’t know what they are that’s ok. They are terrible.
So if you are worried ego lifting is going to bite you in the ass with Romanian deadlifts (pun intended) then dumbbells are the better choice for you.
And when you do them single-legged it even you even greater core activation.
Anytime you do an exercise single arm or leg your core works overtime to keep you balanced and upright.
Pistols are an amazing single-leg exercise you should be trying to master as well.
Check out all my hacks to getting pistol squats below.
I feel like I answer questions like this every day.
It’s never a good idea to do any kind of training any day.
You need to let your muscles rest.
If you don’t let them recover you run the risk of serious injury.
Every time you work your muscles you are quite literally tearing them.
Tiny little tears, but still tears.
But if you get to let them rest and get enough protein in they will grow back bigger and stronger.
If you don’t let them rest, those tiny little tears slowly get bigger and bigger.
And bigger tears take a lot longer to heal than teeny tiny little tears.
This is where protein does its job. Protein is the building block of muscle growth.
I do deadlifts a few times a week now, but I’m training with much lighter weight than I used to.
When I was all about the barbell I would only do really heavy deadlifts once a week. I might do a few sets of light lifts as well.
But the recovery time your body needs for a big heavy deadlift is a lot more than you would think.
As a personal trainer, I’m always on my client’s case about recovery.
I plan their sessions accordingly as well.
If it works out that I train someone two days in a row they do very different sessions each day.
Recovery is one of the most underestimated parts of any exercise routine.
So there we have it!
A very thorough breakdown of one of the most popular exercises that are honestly fine to do with both dumbells or a barbell.
So now it’s time to put it into practice and add deadlifts to your weekly routine.