The barbell deadlift is a popular exercise in the fitness community that is performed in both powerlifting competitions and at the CrossFit games. Many people see them almost every day in the gym because the deadlift – and its many variations – is a field-tested exercise that builds strength, muscle, and grit.

Although most people are familiar with the barbell, switching to the dumbbell rack for deadlifts can be beneficial.

Dumbbells can help improve your barbell lifts, as well as your everyday life. Dumbbell deadlifts can help increase strength and power.

Benefits of the Dumbbell Deadlift

Increase Muscle Mass 

The dumbbell deadlift is especially good for building muscle. Hypertrophy, or muscle growth, happens when the muscles are under a lot of stress and tension, and you have enough time to recover. This exercise works the following muscles: glutes, hamstrings, quads, lats, core, traps, and lower back.

Dumbbells allow you to put more tension on target muscles and have a greater range of motion than barbells. You may not be able to lift as much weight, but you can do more reps while engaging your muscles the whole time.

Boost Grip Strength

The dumbbell deadlift is a great exercise for improving grip strength. The increased number of reps performed with dumbbells compared to barbells puts more stress on the grip, making the exercise more effective at improving grip strength.

The dumbbell deadlift is a good exercise to do if you want to improve your grip strength.

Fix Muscle Imbalances 

If you want to be good at weightlifting, it is important to have the same amount of strength on both sides of your body. If you have more strength on one side than the other, doing dumbbell exercises is a good way to fix the problem, because your stronger side can’t make up for the weaker side.

According to research, using tools and techniques that challenge each side of the body independently can improve strength and muscle mass in even the strongest athletes.

Extend Range of Motion 

In order to be effective at weight lifting, you need to have proper technique and a sufficient range of motion. Since dumbbells don’t have weight plates limiting the range of motion, they allow for a greater range of motion in the deadlift. An extended range of motion has been scientifically proven to be positively correlated with more potential for muscle growth.


Although the barbell deadlift has many benefits, it may seem intimidating to novice lifters. The dumbbell deadlift is more appealing to beginners and is generally more accessible, but it still retains most of the same benefits as the barbell deadlift.

An extra perk of dumbbells is that they are fantastic for training bodily coordination and proprioception, qualities that beginners should devote extra attention to. If you’re just starting your strength journey, dumbbells allow you to work out with pretty light weights if desired.

Increase Stability

If you want to lift weights properly and make progress, it is important to be sturdy and stable from head to toe. The good news is that the dumbbell deadlift can help you with this. Studies have shown that dumbbell training increases core activation and involvement of stabilizer muscles.

The dumbbell can help improve your stability, which is useful not only in the gym, but also in everyday life situations like carrying all the groceries in one trip. The dumbbell mimics real-life movement patterns, making it a beneficial tool for improving your day-to-day lifestyle.

Improve Posture 

The deadlift is a great way to build stronger legs and a stronger back. When performed properly, it targets your traps, the muscle that extends from your neck down through your mid-back. This muscle is essential for stabilizing the spine and keeping it lined up properly.

The Lift also strengthens the erector spinae, which are muscles along the spine responsible for aligning the lower back. In addition, all deadlifts provide great training for the core muscles, which can help prevent slouching and alleviate back pain.

How To Do The Dumbbell Deadlift

When holding dumbbells, you are going to want to keep them at your sides with your palms facing your thighs When you are using dumbbells, you will want to keep them at your sides with your palms facing your thighs. This is different than using a barbell, where you would have the bar straight in front of you with your hands just outside of your legs.

You should hold dumbbells out to the side, rather than directly in front of you. This will help keep your shoulder blades back and tight. It’s important to keep your shoulder blades back and tight during the lift, while still keeping your chest up.

Let’s look at the procedure of movements from the starting position for proper dumbbell deadlift form:

  • The starting position will begin on the floor. You will be in the traditional deadlift finishing spot with your back straight, head up, hips deep, and the dumbbells on the floor.
  • Before you lift upwards, make sure that your heels are under your hips, shoulder blades back, and chest up.
  • Keep your abs tight and breathe out on the way up as you drive through your heels upward.
  • Push your hips forward as you reach the top phase of the deadlift and pause for a second
  • Breath in and slowly lower back down under control to the starting position.
  • The difference here is that the dumbbells will probably not touch the floor compared to a barbell deadlift unless you have very long arms. This is ok because it’s going to allow you to build more muscle since the muscles will not relax as they would when a barbell touches the floor.

If you’ve never done dumbbell deadlifts before, you should focus on perfecting your form before increasing the weight. The lift can be awkward at first, but if you focus on nailing the form, the weight will naturally go up.

You will be using a lighter weight dumbbell than you would with a barbell deadlift, so this is a good time to get some more volume for added muscle growth. You can aim for 2-3 sets and 10-12 repetitions.

Dumbbell Deadlift Variations

Dumbbell deadlifts are really effective, but it’s still a good idea to do different variations of them to add more variety to your workout.

Here are 3 variations of the dumbbell deadlift and how to perform them:

Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift

You will continue to use dumbbells, but for a Romanian deadlift. these do not vary much from a traditional dumbbell deadlift, however the focus here will be more on your hamstrings. As with a regular dumbbell deadlift, you will want to keep your core tight and your chest and head up.

Stand upright with feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbells in front of you. Inhale as you bend your knees slightly and lower your body until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs. You probably won’t get close to the floor.

When you’re stretching your hamstrings and feel the tension, exhale and proceed to pull yourself up. Be sure to flex your glutes at the top and push your hips forward.

Stiff Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift is a great exercise for targeting the hamstrings. You will likely need to use a lighter weight than you would for other types of dumbbell deadlifts. This is because the hamstring is the weakest muscle on the body and doesn’t require a lot of resistance to properly engage it.

The cues for this exercise will be similar to the Romanian dumbbell deadlift. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and the dumbbells at your sides. There should be a slight bend in your knees, and you should hold the dumbbells in front of your legs with your palms facing towards you.

Breathe in and lower the dumbbells down your feet while keeping your legs as straight as you can. Imagine you’re leaning over to pick something up from the floor, which will help you maintain the correct form. Once you feel the stretch, stop and stand back up, squeezing your glutes at the top and pushing your hips forward.

Before doing this exercise with heavier weights, start by doing a few sets with lighter weights. You probably won’t need much weight for this exercise, and 5-pound dumbbells should provide enough resistance.

Dumbbell Sumo Deadlift

You are going to be using one dumbbell in the dumbbell sumo deadlift and it will be placed vertically between your feet. Your feet should be just wider than shoulder-width apart and your toes should be slightly pointed outward.

To complete the dumbbell deadlift, start by sitting in an imaginary chair. As you lower yourself down, grab the top part of the dumbbell. Remember to inhale on the way down. To stand up, exhale and drive through the heels of your feet. During the entire exercise, keep your core tight, head and chest up, and back straight. Make sure your weight is over your heels.

Dumbbell sumo deadlifts may feel unfamiliar at first because of the unusual leg and foot placement. As always, start by practicing with light weights to get the hang of the form before gradually increasing the amount of weight you lift.

Muscles Worked

You can see that the dumbbell deadlift uses most of the muscles in your body. We could be here for a while if we listed every single one, so let’s take a look at some of the key muscles used when performing a dumbbell deadlift:

Here are the muscles worked during the dumbbell deadlift:

  • Glutes – many forget how much the glutes are worked during a deadlift. One of the main functions of the glutes is to help to extend the hips and keep the back straight – both things imperative to a proper deadlift
  • Hamstrings
  • Trapezius
  • Latissumus dorsi
  • Erector spinae
  • Quads
  • Calves
  • Hips
  • Core muscles

Besides working your larger muscles, dumbbell deadlifts also work your smaller stabilizer muscles. This lift also helps strengthen your tendons and ligaments. In addition, muscles through your forearms, wrists, ankles, and even your feet are strengthened.

Dumbbell Deadlift Tips

Now that you know how to perform the dumbbell deadlift and you have practiced with a few bodyweight reps, it is time to get into the specifics. Making sure the small things are done correctly can make a big difference when it comes to any compound movement you perform.

Hinge Properly 

Many people make the mistake of bending their spine when they deadlift instead of their hips. This can be dangerous and isn’t very effective. It’s important to make sure that the movement in a deadlift comes from the hips instead of the back.

If you’re hunched over during every repetition, you’re probably not reaching your full potential and you could be putting your body at risk.

Stay Tight 

The phrase “keep your back flat” means to keep your spine in a straight line. Imagine there is a pole running from your head to your hips. Your goal is to keep that pole straight, meaning your back should be rigid and straight throughout.

If you want to be able to lift heavy weights and train hard, you need to master the hip hinge and strengthen the muscles in your back and core. This will help keep your spine locked in place.

Keep the Weights Close

Keep the dumbbells close to your body when performing the deadlift for best results. If the dumbbells drift out, the exercise becomes more difficult.

When you are performing an exercise, it is beneficial to keep the load close to the muscles that are being used. This is not only true for the dumbbell deadlift, but for all exercises.


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Rhoda is an award-winning dietitian, mature age model, and CEO of Sayvana Women.  

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