August 21, 2021 10 min read

It's no secret that we at Steel Supplements love the traditional deadlift. It's perhaps the best strength training exercise for building muscle mass, strength, and power all at once. Not only that, but it targets almost all of the muscle groups in your posterior chain, including the shoulders, back, glutes, and legs.

However, there may be instances where the deadlift is not the best exercise for you, including if you have back pain.  If this is the case for you, you can exchange your regular deadlift for an effective deadlift alternative!  To help you get started, we are sharing our top ten favorite deadlift alternatives!

These exercises make great alternatives because they have almost all of the same benefits as the OG deadlift. At the same time, they can help you avoid back pain caused by regular deadlifts.

Cancel your conventional deadlift and replace it with one of these ten best deadlift alternatives to avoid pain!

1. Kettlebell Swings

There are countless different kettlebell exercises, and the kettlebell swing is one of the most popular!  It’s also a fantastic deadlift alternative exercise. 

Swings are similar to deadlifts in two particular ways, including:

  • Targeting all the posterior chain muscles
  • Helping build muscular power

Young athlete doing kettlebell swings

At the same time, kettlebells are significantly lighter than heavy barbells.  Therefore, if you struggle with pain due to the weight of barbells, then kettlebell swings are ideal for you!  Choose a kettlebell between 50 and 60% of your max load to go easy on your back.

Here is how to do the kettlebell swing with proper form:

  1. Place a kettlebell on the floor about one foot in front of you. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and make sure that the kettlebell is in between your feet.  
  1. Bend your knees slightly and send your hips backward so that your upper body comes close to parallel with the floor. Reach down and grab the handle of the kettlebell overhand with both hands.
  1. When you are ready, inhale, pick up the kettlebell, and swing it back in between your legs to generate momentum. 
  1. Exhale and power your hips forward to swing the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Your arms should be straight as you lift the kettlebell. This movement combines a swing movement and muscle strength in your back muscles to lift the kettlebell.  
  1. Allow the kettlebell to swing back between your legs and repeat! The idea is to make this a fluid swinging movement pattern. The kettlebell should flow from between your legs to up by your shoulders. 

Don't stop at kettlebell swings!

Check out our complete guide to the ten best kettlebell exercises.

Many of them, in addition to the swing, make great barbell deadlift alternatives!

2. Cable Pull-Throughs

We love cable machine exercises! If you want a deadlifting alternative that initiates hypertrophy very well, then give the cable pull-through a try! Cable machine exercises are excellent for hypertrophy because they put constant tension on your muscles. 

The longer your muscles are under tension, the sooner you should see muscle growth!  Moreover, if you want to see posterior chain gains ASAP, then give cable pull-throughs a try!

Here is how to do cable pull-throughs with proper form:

  1. Set your cable machine to the lowest setting. Attach the double rope handle to the cable attachment.  
  1. Face away from the cable machine. Use both hands to hold the ends of the rope attachment in between your legs. Take a couple of steps away from the cable machine, so there is mild tension in the cable. Stand up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.  
  1. When you're ready, hinge forward from your hips and allow the cable to pull your upper body close to parallel with the floor. Go slow, and keep your back straight as you lean forward.
  1. Allow the cable to pull you until your upper body is parallel with the floor. Squeeze your hamstrings and glutes to hold the position for one to two seconds. 
  1. Unhinge your hips to come back up to a standing position. Squeeze your glutes to pull the cable back through your legs.

3. Barbell Hip Thrusts

Barbell hip thrusts primarily target the lower body posterior chain muscles.  More specifically, they target the gluteal muscles, including the gluteus medius and gluteus maximus.

The glutes are commonly neglected muscles. However, if you want to improve your deadlifts, you must have strong glutes! 

Not only will having glutes of steel improve your deadlift performance but they will also:

  • Improve your cardio performance
  • Improve lower back posture
  • Reduce the likelihood of getting workout-related injuries

Here is how to do the barbell hip thrust with proper form:

  1. Grab a barbell and sit with it on the floor about one foot in front of a flat bench. Lean your upper back against the bench and bend your knees to 90-degrees. Rest the barbell on your waist.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and thrust your hips in the air. Thrust until your upper body comes to knee height and creates a tabletop. Press into your heels and against the bench to channel strength in your hamstrings and glutes.
  1. Squeeze the backs of your legs to hold your hips up for one to two seconds. Then, release the squeeze and allow your glutes to drop back to the floor. 

4. Glute Bridges

Love doing barbell hip thrusts but can’t make it to the gym?  No problem!  Glute bridges are an excellent alternative to barbell hip thrusts.  They target the same muscles but require no equipment.

If you want to take things a step further, you can put together an entire glute bridge workout that includes:

  • Single-leg glute bridges
  • Glute bridge pulses
  • Frog bridges

Here is how to do glute bridges with proper form:

  1. Lay flat on your back on the floor with a neutral spine. Rest your arms by your sides and pull your feet in towards your glutes. Your knees should bend to 90-degrees. 
  1. When you are ready, exhale and lift your hips in the air by squeezing your glutes and hamstrings. Lift until you create one long line from your knees to your neck.  
  1. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then slowly lower them back to the floor. Make sure to keep your back neutral as you lift and lower your hips!

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift

Is one side of your body stronger than the other?  Or, are you experiencing pain in one side of your body and not the other?  If so, then we suggest trying single-leg Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) to strengthen your weaker side or avoid pain!

RDLs are a deadlift variation that splits your body into two.  Instead of working the entirety of your posterior chain muscles at once, they work on only half of them at a time.  That way, you can either strengthen your weaker side or avoid the side of the body causing you pain, but still get a great workout!

Here is how to do the single-leg RDL with proper form:

  1. Get into starting position by standing up tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and holding a dumbbell in each hand. Allow your arms to dead hang, but be sure to keep your shoulders rolled back.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and slowly hinge your upper body forward while lifting your left foot off the floor. Hinge until your upper body and left leg come to parallel with the floor. Squeeze your right glute and leg muscles to maintain balance. Your body should look like it is in a T-position.
  1. Hold the T-position for one to two seconds, then slowly lift your upper body and drop your left foot back to the floor. End in starting position, then hinge forward again on the right foot. Do ten to twelve reps balancing on the right foot, then switch to the left foot.

6. Resistance Band Deadlift

Resistance band deadlifts are significantly easier on the joints than regular deadlifts.  Lifters struggling with arthritis, herniated disks, or severe back pain should opt for banded deadlifts!

Not only do resistance band deadlifts take pressure off of your joints, but they also do an excellent job at targeting your stabilizer muscles.  Stabilizer muscles are those that keep your body upright and in good alignment.  They include the core muscles in your midsection and lower back.

Here is how to do resistance band deadlifts with proper form:

  1. Grab a looped resistance band and hold one end in each hand. Step on top of the middle of the resistance band with both feet. Keeping your feet on the resistance band, slide them to hip-width apart.  
  1. Get into starting position by hinging your upper body forward by sending your hips backward and slightly bending your knees. Hold your arms straight down. There should be mild tension in the resistance band.  
  1. When you are ready, exhale and drive your hips forward to come up to standing. The opposing force from the resistance band should make it challenging for you to straighten your legs. Keep your shoulders held back as you stand up tall.
  1. Squeeze your glutes at the top of the movement, then slowly hinge forward from your hips and bend your knees to return to starting position. 

7. Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squats are a deadlift variation that targets all of your major leg muscles, including the hamstrings, quads, and calves.  Each of these muscles gets worked during conventional deadlifts.

While the split squat fires up the same leg muscles as the deadlift, it does not work any of the same upper body muscles.  Therefore, if you want a deadlift alternative that won’t aggravate any upper body pains, then give the split squat a try!

Here is how to do the Bulgarian split squat with proper form:

  1. Hold a dumbbell, weight plate, or kettlebell by your chest with both hands. Stand two to three feet in front of a flat bench and face away from it.
  1. Pick up your left foot and set it on the bench behind you. Keep your body facing forward. It should look like you are in a lunge position with an elevated foot.
  1. When you are ready, exhale and bend your right knee to drop into a lunge. Bend until your right leg creates a 90-degree angle, and your quadricep is parallel with the floor.
  1. Squeeze your right side lower-body muscles to hold your knee bent for one to two seconds. Then, press back up to standing by extending your knee. Do ten to twelve reps balancing on your right foot, then switch to the left foot.

8. Trap Bar Deadlift

Do you feel pain in your hips or lower back when doing regular deadlifts?  If so, then we highly suggest giving the trap bar deadlift a try!Trap bar deadlifts have all of the same benefits as the conventional deadlift.

Attractive blonde woman doing trap bar deadlift exercise with help of her personal trainer

However, the trap bar helps take tension off your hips and back by shortening the distance between the weight plates and your body.  With less space between you and the weights, your hips and back have more balance and are relieved of their pain.

Here is how to do the trap bar deadlift with proper form:

  1. Step inside your loaded trap bar and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure that you are standing dead center inside!
  1. Hinge your upper body forward from your hips and slightly bend your knees to grab the handles of the trap bar. Keep your back neutral - no arching!
  1. When you are ready, exhale and power your hips forward to come up to standing. Feel the activation in the backs of your legs, glutes, and upper body to stand up tall for one to two seconds. Avoid hyperextension by keeping a tiny bend in your knees.
  1. Inhale, then slowly bend your knees and hinge your upper body forward. Do not drop the trap bar flat on the floor. Instead, keep some tension in your muscles by stopping just above the floor.

9. Good Mornings

Good mornings do a great job at firing up your spinal erectors, a set of back muscles active during regular deadlifts.  The spinal erectors are a group of back muscles that run up and down the entire length of the spine.  When they are weak, many lifters experience back pain and find it challenging to rotate their spine. 

If you are one of those people with painful and weak erectors, try the good morning deadlift alternative!While we know that good mornings are excellent for your back muscles, we are still unsure why they are called good mornings.

Here is how to do good mornings with proper form:

  1. Grab a barbell and lift it over your head to bring it right behind your shoulders. It should be on the top of your shoulders, right below your neck. Spread your hands on the bar to a wide grip, step your feet to shoulder-width apart, and slightly bend your knees.
  1. Lengthen your spine by standing tall, then exhale and slowly hinge your upper body forward from your hips. Hinge forward until your upper body comes close to parallel with the floor. The weight of the barbell should make it challenging for you to lower slowly. 
  1. Squeeze your back muscles at the bottom for one to two seconds, then inhale and unhinge your upper body. Finish the repetition by standing up tall and releasing tension in the back muscles.

10. Rack Pulls (Block Deadlift)

When you do a deadlift, does your lower back start to hurt as you hinge your upper body forward?  If so, then try doing rack pulls!With rack pulls, the barbell starts higher up on power rack pins instead of on the floor.  That way, you don’t have to hinge all the way forward when lowering the barbell in between reps or picking it up.

Rack pulls are also very popular in bodybuilding for improving sticking points.  Therefore, if you want a deadlift variation that avoids pain and puts you in the bodybuilder leagues, then look no further than rack pulls!

Here is how to do rack pulls with proper form:

  1. Set the height of your power rack to almost knee height. Place your barbell on the rack.
  1. Approach the barbell and grip it overhand with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Bend your knees slightly and have a small hinge in your hips.
  1. When you're ready, exhale and drive your hips forward to lift the barbell off the rack. This should be a small range of motion, but it should still challenge your posterior chain muscles.  Squeeze the muscles to hold in standing for one to two seconds.  
  1. Slowly release the squeeze to lower the barbell back to the power rack. Then, repeat! 

Final Thoughts

You no longer need to avoid deadlifts altogether to avoid pain!  Just opt for one of our top ten deadlift alternatives. You will get almost all of the same benefits as you would doing regular deadlifts, but keep pain at bay. The deadlift is the king exercise!  Don’t let pain get in the way of you doing them!


Bonus tip: Looking for more exercises that fire up your posterior chain muscles?  If so, check out our top ten upper back exercises for size and strength!


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