How to Deadlift With Dumbbells – Save Your Back

According to, the deadlift is one of the best full-body exercises you can do. However, with a big reward, there can be a big risk. A deadlift performed without proper technique is one of the quickest ways to injury and caution should be used. No matter your skill level or strength, learning how to deadlift with dumbbells can tone your body.

At the time of this blog, the pandemic is in full effect and some gyms are limiting capacity and some are closing down. If your new to working out at home, or are left to your devices of home gym equipment, learning how to deadlift with dumbbells will help you maintain or even tone your body until the gyms open back up.

Benefits of Deadlifts

Deadlifts with dumbbells can be just as effective as barbell deadlifts.

The benefits of incorporating deadlifts 1-2 times a week are huge. Since deadlifts work both the front and back of your body, they’re especially good for posture. And as women age, we become susceptible to osteoporosis and the curving of the back. Deadlifts are a great exercise to keep you standing tall, and maintaining good posture.

One of the other best benefits of deadlifts is its ability to build practical and useable strength. Deadlifts aren’t just for the guys on Muscle Beach, California trying to bulk up. Deadlifts work your legs, back, core, and upper body too. All this while burning through calories and toning muscle.

The other benefit of many that I’ll mention is how much of a time-saver they are. Exercises like the deadlift are considered compound exercises. This means they work more than 1 muscle. Imagine having to do 3-4 different exercises, to get the same benefit of just doing deadlifts. In our fast-paced life, time is crucial, and if you can get a workout done in 20 minutes vs an hour, that’s 40 minutes saved.

Barbell deadlift vs dumbbell deadlift

Typically, we use a barbell for deadlifts. Our legs are some of the strongest muscles we have, so we can lift quite a bit. However, when we don’t have access to barbells, a good set of dumbbells will do the trick. And in some cases, they might work better.

We can still hit the same muscles using dumbbells as we do with barbells. As mentioned above, one of the best benefits of deadlifts is their ability to give us a full-body workout. When switching from barbell deadlifts to dumbbells deadlifts we don’t have to sacrifice or miss out on any of those muscles being targeted. This allows us to reap the same body sculpting rewards.

Getting started with dumbbell deadlifts

The same core principles apply to doing dumbbell deadlifts, that you use with barbell deadlifts. You want to keep your feet shoulder-width apart maintaining a slight bend in the knees.

As you go down, keep the weights close to your shins and upper thighs, just like you would with a barbell. It’s likely that since you’re using dumbbells the weight won’t be as much as it would with a barbell. This may be the case but you still need to keep the weight close to your legs.

When the weight starts to move away from your body, is when injuries start to occur. Just because the weight is lighter doesn’t mean it won’t happen. As you fatigue, your form and technique will decrease and this is how injuries occur.

One of the conveniences of using dumbbells’ for deadlifts is you can place the weight a little at your sides. Since you won’t be encumbered by the barbell, you can center the weights a bit, which can help prevent back strain.

You don’t want the weight so far back it’s unnatural, but you can shift the weight around. This will also engage other muscles, which is great for total body strength and toning.

Here is a quick video showing deadlifts with the weight at your sides vs down in front of you:

Deadlifting with dumbbells

Here is a step by step process for how to deadlift with dumbbells:

  • Grab a pair of dumbbells you are comfortable doing deadlifts with.
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart
  • Engage your core while maintaining a straight back
  • Slowly bend at the hips, lowering the weight down directly in front of your thighs, past your shins. You don’t need to go all the way down to the floor. Just ensure you’re getting a full stretch. The chest should be out and shoulders back.
  • As you stand back up, you want to focus on pressing your heels into the floor, pushing away from the ground through your heels and the balls of your feet. You should be standing tall at the end of this repetition.
  • Your core should be engaged during the entire lift, protecting your back.

If you find that there is a strain in your back or any pain you need to either lower the weight or likely work on your form. As a matter of fact, there’s no shame in just using your body weight when starting out and perfecting your form. Bodyweight exercises (Bodyweight Burn Review) are a great place to start for the novice lifter. The deadlift is a great full-body exercise but you shouldn’t be experiencing any pain while doing the lift.

On the flip side if you find the exercise too easy there are adjustments you can make to intensify the workout.

Dumbbell deadlift intensifiers

Single leg dumbbell deadlifts

Doing deadlifts with dumbbells is a great full-body workout.

If you find that the normal deadlifts with dumbbells aren’t providing much of a workout, you can switch to doing single-leg deadlifts. The single-leg deadlift is done the same only you lift one leg off the ground and raise it behind you like a counterbalance on the way down.

You should look like the letter f when your back leg is extended out, and your arms are hanging down in front of you. As you come back up, return the counterbalance leg to the standing position. You can either alternate legs or do the same leg for several repetitions and then switch legs. By doing the same leg, you’ll really fatigue the leg muscles, so take stock of how your body feels when doing single-leg deadlifts.

Four-second eccentric deadlifts

Another alternative you can do is to slow the reputation down and do a four-second eccentric. By taking a four-second count on the way down, it really lengthens the muscle and provides extra intensity. Eccentric contractions are a more efficient way of working the muscle, thus making them a bit harder. If you’ve never done any slow eccentric workouts, start out planning on doing fewer repetitions.

Remember, whichever way you decide to do the deadlift, proper deadlift form with dumbbells will keep you pain and injury-free.

How much should I deadlift with dumbbells?

This will depend on the person and their level of fitness. If you’re new to exercising or have never done any deadlifts before, I would suggest starting without any weight. Working on your form and technique will help engrain it into muscle memory. Once you start adding weight you’ll be less likely to have any injuries if your technique is down.

Keep in mind the legs are some of the bigger muscles in the body, so you’ll be able to increase the weight pretty quickly if you’re just starting. If you have access to multiple dumbbells, start with a lighter weight, and work your way up. The last thing you want to do is go too hard and injure yourself.

Are deadlifts with dumbbells effective?

The good thing about doing deadlifts with dumbbells is they target the same muscles as if you were using the bar. Granted the weight will probably be a bit lighter, but there are things you can do to intensify the workout and get a better “pump.”

If you’re looking to add muscle mass to your legs, then deadlifts with dumbbells might not be as heavy as you need. In which case, getting a set of adjustable dumbbells, so you can access heavier weights is always an option.

Can you sumo deadlift with dumbbells?

Absolutely. You would take a sumo stance with your feet wider than shoulder-width, with toes pointing out. You maintain a straight back with your head in a neutral position. You would go all the way down until the weights are sitting on the floor, keeping your knees behind your toes, and press back up. When you get back to the top you’ll want to flex your glutes to ensure a full posterior workout.

Wrapping up deadlifts with dumbbells

If you’re not able to access your gym or use barbells for your deadlifts it doesn’t mean you have to stop doing them. Using dumbbells for your deadlifts might provide a twist on a very old and established exercise. The benefits are still there, and virtually all of the same muscles are worked.

If you’re looking to tone your backside and legs I recommend a home workout called Turbulence Training. Click here to read my full review and see how it can help you.

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