After parts 1 and 2 of this deadlift series, you should have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’re ready for deadlifts. In Deadlifts Part 1, we talk about the range of motion you need and other prerequisites that I look for to see if you’re ready for this complicated exercise. In Deadlifts Part 2, we talked about how to improve your mobility to get you ready for deadlifts.
In Part 3, we’re talking about what to do if you’re not quite ready for deadlifts. I talked in part 1 about how great deadlifts are but how they may be a high-risk exercise for some people. If you a) don’t have the mobility for a deadlift, b) don’t have the skill or fitness baseline for a deadlift or c) just don’t have any reason or desire to go after deadlifts – this post is for you.
The exercises I’m discussing below are great alternatives to deadlifts to either help get you ready for deadlifts down the road or replace them in a fitness program altogether. Deadlifts are a great compound exercise that work your upper back, core, glutes, hamstrings, and grip. So, you can see that there’s a LOT going on here. Below are some of my favorite exercises to work on all of these pieces.
While a deadlift is not a row, you will still need a strong upper back to hold your shoulders in place as you move through the deadlift. I love cable rows as an exercise to get ready for this because you get a little extra deadlift work here. You’re working your upper back in the row itself but you’re also getting a feel for a deadlift while the cable is yanking you forward.
When you have to ground yourself against the cable, you’ll be using your core and your legs (particularly your glutes and hamstrings) to keep you still. This row is the most directly translatable to a deadlift so it makes for a great deadlift drill or replacement. You can do this as a single arm row like in the video or a double arm row.
What if I told you that a deadlift is a moving plank? *GASP* It basically is. Your spine needs to stay neutral under the load throughout the entire range of the deadlift. This requires some serious core stability – so what better way to work on that than with a plank!
I love hardstyle planks because they are all about activating the most core in a short period of time. This is a stationary or isometric exercise BUT this one calls for you to feel like you are actively pulling the entire time. It’s hard to tell in the video but you should be pulling your elbows toward your toes and your toes toward your elbows the entire time. Nothing is actually moving. Think of this as a tug of war where no side is winning. Just by doing that pull, you’ll feel so much more core kick on. Don’t forget about engaging your glutes to help maintain position!
Leg Lowering with Band Pull
This one trains your ability to maintain a neutral spine like the plank does. I also went over this one in Part 2 because this is great for teaching core stability as it relates to leg movements like a squat or a deadlift because you are maintaining core position while the leg moves about the hip joint. This one can also help you improve your range of motion.
Be sure to pull the band “across” with straight arms as if you’re trying to move it towards your feet. Keep that tension the whole time. Exhale to lower one leg away toward the floor, keeping the other leg stationary, and inhale to bring the leg back to the start position. Only go as low as you can without tilting your pelvis/arching your back. If your other leg moves, that’s a sign that you’re doing just that! Don’t touch the floor! That’s a cheat-rest.
Glute Bridges with Band
A classic exercise to help you strengthen your glutes and teach a hip hinge. Be sure that this is a glute bridge focus – meaning your spine remains neutral and your glutes are driving the motion. Do not arch your back to get any higher. I like having clients do these with a band around the knees to emphasize the lateral parts of your glutes.
These will really start to prep you for a deadlift because a little more range of motion is involved and you can start to load this with some real weight. Play with your feet placement. You want them to be hip-width apart but you don’t want them to be so close to your butt that your knees feel “scrunched.” You should feel glutes and hamstrings driving the motion. Again – only go as high as the glutes take you! Don’t arch your back for extra range of motion. During a deadlift, you want to maintain a neutral spine so keep practicing that here as well.
Tall Kneeling Hip Hinges
This one is great for anyone who struggles with loading their spine either because of injury or poor posture. With the band at your hips, your glutes almost have no choice but to drive the motion themselves. Still, work on keeping a neutral spine and don’t arch to get hips to move forward any extra.
This one can easily turn into a kneeling squat if you’re not careful so don’t try to sit back on your feet. Remeber a deadlift is all about hinging at the hips, not squatting down. Think about your butt and your head getting as far away from each other as they can.
This one is a little counterintuitive for deadlift work. A squat focuses on quads more than hamstrings and glutes. However, it can still be a valuable exercise to improve your deadlift form. This is an exercise that requires you to keep a neutral spine while you hinge at the hips under load – making this a great exercise to work on your hip hinge without going through a direct deadlift pattern. I recommend box squats with front-loaded weight to help you get a feel for that hinge.
These are great for working on the alignment of your spine as well as grip strength. You’ll have to work to stay “tall” against the weight which is great for getting you ready to maintain core stability in a deadlift. This will really challenge the grip if you are selecting a good weight for yourself. Be sure to keep a solid, closed grip (thumb wrapped around to meet your fingers and the handle firmly in your palm). Without puffing your chest, think to keep your shoulders back – this will also help in a deadlift when you have to keep shoulders back through the movement.
Keep What Works For You
Again, all of these are great substitutes for what your fitness program may be missing if you skip the deadlifts or will help you develop the strength and skills required to perform safe deadlifts. But, remember, this is about picking the exercises that work for you, your goals, and where you’re at! Dabble with these and see what feels GOOD. Then keep those exercises in your personal exercise library!
Next week for part 4 of this series, I’ll be going over how to progress your deadlifts. To stay in the loop, you can sign up for my email list here or check back on the blog on Wednesday! When signing up for my email list, you’ll also get my free guide on “How to Build a Workout” so you can learn more about how to put these exercises together into a solid program.