In general, the deadlift is a barbell exercise. However, many people who train at home and don’t have access to a bar wonder whether dumbbell deadlifts are an effective way to train. The exercise offers some value but comes with a set of limitations too.
Dumbbell Deadlifts Are Too ”Light” and Feel Awkward
The dumbbell deadlift 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 by doing more reps, but endurance does not equal strength. You can certainly use dumbbell deadlifts for conditioning or rehabilitation, but they are not optimal for strength training. Technically, you could purchase or assemble Olympic dumbbells in order to lift more weight, but if you decide to choose this path, it may be wiser to simply get a regular barbell.
Another way to make the dumbbell deadlift more demanding is to do the single leg version. This exercise will hit your hamstrings pretty hard. Sadly, this method has a downside too – it comes with balance requirements, and many lifters find the set-up and the execution awkward. Performing a regular deadlift seems more convenient.
The video below showcases a single leg deadlift.
The Romanian Deadlift With Dumbbells Is a Solid Hamstring Exercise
A cool way to enhance the dumbbell deadlift’s effectiveness is to perform Romanian deadlifts. This variation does not require a ton of weight, and a pair of heavy dumbbells can produce a great workout. Nonetheless, the barbell version is still superior and more ”comfortable” to perform.
Conclusion: The dumbbell deadlift is a good exercise to have in your arsenal and can be used for conditioning and rehabilitation. It allows you to stress your posterior chain, back muscles, and forearms with minimal equipment.
The biggest downside of the dumbbell deadlift is that it doesn’t build as much strength as the barbell version. In addition, the set-up for the lift, the execution, as well as the switch between dumbbells during warm-ups and work sets, could feel awkward and inconvenient.
Still, dumbbell deadlifts are better than nothing. Try them if you want, but don’t give them more credit than they deserve.
FAQ: Do you think I can reach my back and hamstring potential with dumbbell deadlifts?
As far as overall strength is concerned – NO.
What’s the heaviest dumbbell in most gyms? 135lbs?
135lbsx2 = 270lbs deadlift. That’s not an impressive deadlift unless you are a female. Most people would lift far more with a barbell. The heavier weight will stimulate the cultivation of more strength overall. Also, the process will be more streamlined.
Note: When you perform dumbbell bench presses, the body has to work extra hard to stabilize the weight. Therefore, you are technically getting stronger by lifting lighter loads. However, the deadlift is different. You don’t get many extra points for stabilization when you perform the exercise with dumbbells.
As far as size is concerned, the answer is yes, but you will have to do more exercises. If you want to build a big back with dumbbells, it would be better to add movements such as rows, shrugs…etc.
A back workout consisting of heavy dumbbell rows, dumbbell shrugs, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, and maybe even good mornings, will definitely build muscle mass in the back and the hamstrings. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume that someone who trains like that for a long time and could get really close to his maximum potential in the back department.
However, if you have access to more equipment, do yourself a favor and use it. Even if you can get from point A to B by following an alternative route, you will meet less controversy if you stick to a path that has already been tested.