Most of the time the deadlift is done with a barbell because it’s a multi-joint exercise and your whole body is tasked to the maximum. However, sometimes you may be in a situation when you don’t have access to barbells. In that case your best bet would be a pair of heavy dumbbells or kettlebells. Is the dumbbell deadlift as effective as the barbell version?
1.Dumbbell deadlifts are too grip demanding.
One of the problems with dumbbell deadlifts is that they are a very grip dependent exercise. The dumbbells do not allow you to use the mixed grip which many people are used to during heavy barbell deadlifts. One of the ways to fix that is to use a hook grip or straps when you are doing high rep dumbbell deadlifts.
2.Dumbbell deadlifts are too ‘light’.
Using dumbbells for your deadlifts does not allow you to lift as much weight as the barbell version. As a result your big muscles (glutes, hamstrings, lats, traps…etc) don’t get as much stimulation. Usually people compensate for that by doing more reps but you have to know that endurance does not equal strength. You can certainly use dumbbell deadlifts for conditioning but maximal strength is usually trained with low reps – 3 to 5 per set.
One of the ways to make the dumbbell deadlift more effective is to do the single leg version. This exercise is really popular with kettlbells but dumbbells are also fine. You can see a more detailed presentation of the exercise in the video below.
3.The Romanian deadlift with dumbbells is a solid hamstring exercise.
Another cool way to make the dumbbell deadlift effective is to do the so-called Romanian version of the exercise which shifts much of the focus to the hamstrings. That way you don’t need as much weight and you still get a challenging workout with just a pair of dumbbells.
Conclusion: The dumbbell deadlift is a good exercise to have in your arsenal and can be used for conditionning and sometimes rehabilitation. It allows you to stress your posterior chain, back muscles and forearms with minimal equipment and can be safely done without a spotter.
If something goes wrong, you can just put the dumbbells on the floor. However, make sure that you don’t drop the dumbbells on your feet – it happens more often than you think. The biggest downside of the dumbbell deadlift is that it does not allow you to build as much strength as the barbell version does. In addition, depending on your gym or home equipment changing between dumbbells may be inconvenient.