Bodyweight Alternatives for the Deadlift

By Pedro Dias

Posted 3 weeks agoHEALTH

Deadlifting is a widely considered one of the most efficient weight training exercises in the bodybuilding community. However, many athletes steer away from it due to fear of injury. In this article, we’ll show you bodyweight alternatives to this popular exercise.
What Could Be Considered A Deadlift Alternative?

Widely considered one of the best (if not the best) weight training exercises in existence, the deadlift is a force to be reckoned with.

Many swear by it, and even those who refuse to incorporate it into their exercise regimen can’t deny the movement’s overall effectiveness.

What many may not realize is that it is a highly technical exercise. Do it without proper form and you risk injuring your back or legs.

For that reason, we thought we’d work out (no pun intended) a bodyweight exercise alternative. 

This kind of training has become quite trendy recently, and for good reason. It doesn’t require a gym membership, nor much expertise, and the risk of injury is minimal. Great for overweight people and for those recovering from injuries.

What Could Be Considered A Deadlift Alternative?

In order to answer the above question, we will first need to list the benefits of the exercise. There are many, which will eliminate a good number of potential candidate moves.

Incorporating deadlifts into your workout regimen will:

Work your glutes. In fact, out of all powerlifting moves, the deadlift will hit your glutes the hardest.

Build your traps, because they work the posterior chain all the way up to the neck.

Strengthen and widen your lats, which are somewhat difficult to target outside of pull-ups.

Build your whole core. Deadlifts engage both your front and back.

Strengthen your hamstrings, given that they do a lot of the work too.

Increase grip strength. Grasping and holding that much weight is nothing to joke about.

That is one long list, isn’t it? 

Almost long enough to persuade one to go out and get a gym membership, right?

Nothing wrong with that. But before going there, there’s no harm in considering some bodyweight alternatives and healthy bodybuilding diet. They all have the same shortcoming, i.e. the inability to tack on more weight, but they target most of the above-mentioned muscles.

Contender One: The Back Bridge

Back bridges hit your shoulders, upper back, lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, covering most of the areas deadlifts would affect. 

As if all that wasn’t enough, back bridges also improve (and demand) flexibility, which is a feature that goes right out the window whenever weight training comes into the picture.

As for the downsides, there are two:

Back bridges will do next to nothing for your traps, which is partially a consequence of downside number two: 

Once you’ve got a good back bridge game going, it will be difficult to increase resistance. Although people have gotten creative and invented an advanced variant by using one arm and the opposite leg (it’s a killer and not a pleasant experience).

All in all, an excellent lightweight alternative for a heavyweight move.

Contender Two: Bodyweight Single-Leg Deadlifts

Generally considered an easier move, but not to be taken lightly. Bodyweight single-leg deadlifts “only” target your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings, which makes them a bottom tier contender, but also makes them the most accessible of the bunch. 

To top things off, they also help with balance and stability, which is nice.

Eventually, you are likely going to hit the ceiling with these, so consider doing slower reps, adding in sets, or moving over to a harder move. Nothing’s really wrong with them, they simply get outclassed.

Contender Three: The Glute-Ham Raise

While it is reliant on a static piece of equipment (unless you’re willing to improvise), the glute-ham raise works your entire posterior chain: calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back. 

This is a move for everyone: easily accessible, and able to make even experienced athletes feel the burn via slower repetitions and additional sets.

The downside? Like the bodyweight single leg deadlift, this one does nothing for your arms. That said, it is overall the better of the two (at least when it comes to mimicking the actual deadlift), and never gets obsolete.

Contender Five: The Pistol Squat

As a strong and advanced all-rounder, the pistol squat deserves a mention in any conversation about compound moves. 

Hitting your entire core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads, as well as improving balance and stability, this is one of the best squats out there.

Aside from not working your arms, the pistol squat has another quirk working against it. As an advanced move, it isn’t something most can just dive into. 

Also, you being a bit on the heavy side could seriously mess up your capacity to perform this move.

Contender Six: The Back Lever

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the back lever. It does next to nothing for your legs but works your whole back, shoulders, arms, even that rarely worked-on grip strength.

It is the only static move on this list, but don’t let its lack of motion lull you into a false sense of security; the back lever is difficult, requiring a solid foundation to hold for a decent amount of time. 

Progression programs do exist, however, so you can work your way up with a little risk of injury.

Contender Seven: The Upside Down Deadlift

Sometimes called a piston or kip extension, this somewhat weird-looking move will work most of your core, posterior chain, arms, and grip strength. As an added bonus, it also helps with balance and stability.

As a definite minus, it demands a good deal of balance and stability to begin with, as well as a high overall level of fitness. Like the pistol squat, you being on the heavier side will make this exercise significantly more difficult, even if you are strong.

As far as replacing deadlifts with bodyweight goes though, this may be the best you can get. It hits nearly everything, does a little bit more on the side, and looks cool to boot!

Conclusion

We know it’s sad, but a direct replacement for deadlifts doesn’t exist. 

Nothing you can do with your own bodyweight will mimic the exact list of benefits you would get from that move. 

However, the deadlifts themselves won’t give you all the effects mentioned on some of the exercises we’ve listed today, such as improvements in balance, flexibility, and stability.

You could, for instance, add both back levers and pistol squats to your routine for a heavy whole-body workout. That approach would take more time, but would also come with added benefits. 

The world of fitness isn’t exclusionary. It is meant for you to experiment, tweak, add, and remove, leaving only what works best for your body. 

If that includes deadlifts, then so be it. If (for whatever reason) you wish to skip them, then this list is for you. Just remember to cover all of your bases. 

About the author Pedro Dias

Pedro Dias has been practicing calisthenics for over 4 years. He writes and produces video content over at calisthenicsguide.com .