The dumbbell deadlift and the barbell deadlift are both great exercises for building strength and muscle mass. Though both compound exercises are very similar in execution and may work the same muscles, using dumbbells may offer more benefits over using barbells. Let’s take a closer look at how dumbbell deadlifts may possibly benefit you more than the barbell deadlift.
Between the two, the barbell deadlift is obviously the more popular exercise. However, that does not necessarily mean it is the better choice. Depending on your individual needs and fitness goals, you may want to consider performing dumbbell deadlifts if you haven’t already.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore why the dumbbell deadlift may benefit you more and why you should incorporate them into your weekly workout routine.
So, is the dumbbell deadlift better than the barbell deadlift?
Let’s find out.
Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word deadlift is more often than not a barbell loaded with 45s.
Loading up a few 45s on each end of a barbell not only looks impressive but also sounds impressive when dropped between reps. That aside, deadlifts also serve a greater function. And that is to build mutant strength.
The main purpose of the deadlift is to build stronger quads and overall body strength. But is it the best exercise if you are trying to build muscle mass. Although this exercise may add some mass over time to your quads, it remains a compound exercise. Thus, its main function is still strength building overall.
The conventional deadlift is performed with pauses between reps. This means after each lift, you then lower and drop the weight back down to the floor, pause a second or two and the lift again.
Deadlifts… known as the #1 power and strength building exercise, but also for building great hamstrings and glutes!
Strength vs Muscle Mass
For muscle building purposes, you could also modify this exercise with a somewhat lighter weight. Then lower the weight to only a few inches off the floor without it touching, and immediately raising back up again. In this way, you are keeping constant tension on the quads. By making this modification, you will be performing what is better known as the Romanian Deadlift.
Performing this nonstop for 6-10 reps with constant tension creates hypertrophy. Thus, resulting in muscle growth.
So what if I told you that dumbbell deadlifts could be more beneficial and could provide you with more advantages and flexibility and workout options than barbell deadlifts. Would you be interested in learning more?
Before we examine the dumbbell deadlift any further, let’s first take a look into what muscles are targeted with various workouts.
What Muscles do Deadlifts Work?
We have already learned that when performing deadlifts to grow muscles, it is better to perform exercises that leave your muscles under constant tension. This pushes the most blood to your targeted muscles and results in hypertrophy.
Here are a few deadlift variations that target different muscle groups. Each exercise varies only slightly in execution, but all effectively work the muscles they intend to target.
Here are my top 4 deadlift exercises and the muscles worked:
#1 Romanian Deadlift
The Romanian deadlift is basically a conventional deadlift but without letting the weight ever touch the floor between reps. Furthermore, when performing the Romanian you do not squat as you do with the conventional deadlift, and you hinge at the waist while simultaneously bending at the knees.
The Romanian deadlift keeps constant tension on the targeted muscles as opposed to the conventional style deadlift.
Nonetheless, contrary to popular belief, a study from PubMed Central through NBCI on “An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts” shows that the conventional deadlift actually activates more glute fibers than does the Romanian.
However, remember that the conventional deadlift also activates your quads more than the Romanian. So if you are looking to build bigger glutes while keeping your legs slender, then you may want to choose the Romanian over the conventional deadlift.
To simplify, you would hinge and semi-squat until the weight is only a few inches from the floor and immediately return to the upright position and repeat.
#2 Stiff Leg Deadlift
The stiff leg deadlift is by far the most popular deadlift, especially among females when it comes to building bigger glutes. However, these are also ideal for building very strong hamstrings and glutes. This deadlift is also performed without dropping the weight to the ground and without pausing.
#3 Single Legged Dumbbell Deadlift
The single leg dumbbell deadlift can be performed using one or two dumbbells. I would suggest using one dumbbell for this exercise so you can use the other hand to support yourself. In this way, you can concentrate more on the exercise and muscles being worked with this deadlift without being distracted by keeping your balance.
This exercise is very similar to the Romanian deadlift. Except for the simple fact that you are only using a single leg. The muscles worked for this deadlift are primarily the glutes and the hamstrings.
#4 Sumo Dumbbell Deadlift
The Sumo Dumbbell deadlift is another great way to target your glute muscles. This exercise is very similar to the Romanian deadlift except that you position your feet wider than shoulder-width apart. You can also either use one or two dumbbells for this DB deadlift.
Top 6 Dumbbell Deadlift Benefits
The various exercises above are very effective workouts for targeting your quads, glutes, and hamstrings. However, there are many more advantages to be had using dumbbells for deadlifts. So let’s check out the many benefits dumbbell deadlifts have to offer.
#1 Exercise Variations
Using dumbbells to perform deadlifts provide you with much more flexibility, and thus more exercise variations. Take for instance the single leg deadlift. It offers you the possibility to concentrate all your energy on pumping blood into just glute and hamstring. But also gives you the opportunity to use the other free hand to support your balance.
#2 Muscle Targeting
These dumbbell exercises are ideal for targeting your quads, glutes, or hamstrings. With the constant tension you are providing, plus the added stretch and control you have by using dumbbells, you can easily generate the kind of pumps that guarantee hypertrophy.
#3 Hand Position
Unlike the barbell, you can easily adjust your hands or wrist angle to a position that is more comfortable for you. This, in turn, can put less stress on your wrists or even shoulders when performing heavier routines.
For example, when performing the conventional deadlift you would typically position your hands directly ahead of you around the barbell. However, with the DB deadlift, you can position the bars at any rotation. The best position for this movement would be to position the dumbbells to the outside of each leg and gripping the dumbbells with your palms facing your legs.
#4 More Control
Using dumbbells can give you more flexibility to control the position of the weights you could otherwise not do with a barbell. In this way, you can better control your center of gravity for proper weight distribution. For instance, moving the dumbbells close to your sides help stabilize your position, or put more tension on your quads or glutes and less on your lower back.
#5 Workout from Home
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to a gym. So investing in some dumbbells to use at home is a feasible option. Dumbbells are much easier and convenient than a barbell and weight plates.
Dumbbells take up very little space and can easily fit into your home or apartment. Another great way to save on space is by using adjustable dumbbells.
Besides using up very little space, dumbbells are also much more affordable. Buying a barbell and weight plates would put you out much more than dumbbells ever would. Plus, if you’re in a crunch, you could start with only the single leg dumbbell deadlift, and buy one dumbbell for the weights you need rather than a set of 2 for each.
10 Helpful Tips for Safe and Effective Deadlifting
When performing exercises involving the use of heavy weights, it is especially important that you know how to do them correctly. Form and execution not only makes the exercise more effective but also helps keep you safe from injuries.
I have included a video from the team at Bowflex with a quick demonstration on how to correctly perform the dumbbell deadlift below.
Keep a Neutral Back and Head Position
Always keep your back and head neutral when performing all deadlift variations. This means keeping your back straight, not arched back or curved forward. The same goes for your head position. Always keep your head aligned with your spine.
Basically, don’t bend your head back to look up when lowering your weights. And don’t tilt your head back when you pull back up. A trick is to concentrate on keeping your chin in the same position throughout the entire exercise.
Shoulder Back and Chest Out
Proper form not only includes a neutral back and head position but also keeping your shoulders pulled back and your chest out. Again, this will help prevent injuries but also helps assist in keeping your spine neutral.
Never Lock Out your Knees
Always keep your knees slightly bent when performing the stiff leg deadlift and the single leg dumbbell deadlift.
Keep Core Muscle Tight
Always keep your core muscles tight when performing deadlifts. Tightening your core helps stabilize your body which helps assist in the exercise but also helps keeps you safe from injuries.
Keep arms Straightened
Bending your arms, especially when using heavier weights, can cause additional stress and tension on the elbow joint and biceps. As a result, this could lead to unwanted injuries to the elbow or bicep tears.
Hinge at the Hips
Always hinge at the hips when doing the stiff leg deadlift and the single leg deadlift. Feel your glutes push our behind you and actively concentrate on producing a good stretch in your glutes and hamstrings as you lower your weights to the floor.
You’ll know if you’re not hinging properly if you are feeling most of the tension in your lower back rather than your glutes and hamstrings.
Warm-up and Stretching
Never go for the heavier weights and start exercising without warming up. If you’ve already performed other leg routines such as leg presses or squats, then you are obviously already warmed up. Otherwise, performing some stretching exercises or performing your deadlifts movements without weights or very light weights can prevent unnecessary injuries.
Squeeze your Glutes
Squeezing your glutes at the top of each exercise is a great way to keep your glutes activated. Some believe that throwing your hips forward is the same thing. But this method is incorrect and can cause more strain on your lower back. A better method is to concentrate more on squeezing your glutes.
Keep weights pulled in at the front or side of your legs and not out in front of your body. This keeps the load off your back and puts more tension on the targeted muscles such as quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Don’t Go Too Heavy
Many make the mistake of going too heavy. This can compromise your form and cause your back to round forward. Thus, resulting in lower back injuries or muscle tears. For this reason, It is always better to go lighter to maintain strict form. You may also want to check STACK for more tips on proper form and how to avoid more common deadlifting mistakes.
Top 4 Dumbbell Deadlift Workouts
Many of you may already be familiar with the proper execution of each dumbbell deadlift workout below. If not, or you just need a refresher, the following will give you a quick step-by-step on how to perform each exercise correctly to achieve the best results while also keeping it safe.
#1 Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift
The muscles worked for the Romanian dumbbell deadlift are the quads as the primary with marginal lower back and glute muscle activation.
- Foot placement should be approximately shoulder width apart.
- Position dumbbells directly beside each leg and bar being parallel to the leg.
- While keeping your back and head in a neutral position at all times and your shoulders pulled back and chest out, while actively bending your knees, lower the weights in front of you until they are only a few inches from the floor.
- Before touching the floor, drive straight back up using your quads while keeping your back and neck neutral, and squeeze your glutes in the top position.
- Repeat for 6 to 12 reps and 3 to 4 sets, or whatever workout routine you may be following.
#2 Stiff Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
The muscles worked for the stiff leg dumbbell deadlift are the glutes and hamstrings as the primary with marginal lower back and quad muscle activation.
- Place your feet anywhere between hip width and shoulder width apart.
- While standing straight and knees slightly bent, position the dumbbells firmly in each hand with palms facing you or at a slight angle; whichever is more comfortable.
- Keeping your head and back neutral and shoulders pulled back, with a slight bend in the knees slowly hinge at the hips and bend over lowering the weights just short of touching the floor.
- Note that this is not a squatting exercise. You must keep your knees locked in a slightly bent position.
- It is important to feel the stretch in your glutes and hamstrings and get those muscle fibers fired up.
- Concentrate on hinging as you lower the weights. This puts more emphasis on your glutes and hamstrings and less on your lower back.
- Raise back up to the starting position and repeat.
Unlike the Romanian dumbbell deadlift, be aware that you will be concentrating more on the negative execution for the stiff leg deadlift.
#3 Single Leg Dumbbell Deadlift
The muscles worked for the single leg dumbbell deadlift are also the glutes and hamstrings as the primary with marginal lower back and quad muscle activation.
The single leg dumbbell deadlift is very similar to the stiff leg deadlift.
- Again, always keep your back and head neutral with shoulders pulled back. And never arch or round your back during any of these exercises.
- Standing straight and holding one dumbbell in front of the leg you will be working out, hold on to something with the other hand for support. I strongly believe in using one dumbbell over two since it is safer and adds more stability to the exercise.
- While hinging at the waist, keep your knees slightly bent, and lower the weight to within a few inches off the floor.
- You will raise your non-active leg off the floor when lowering the weight and drop it back down again when you raise back up.
- Drop slowly and feel the stretch in your glutes and hamstrings on the negative, and slowly return to an almost upright position and repeat.
Here is a great demo by Nikkiey Stott showing how to perform the single leg dumbbell deadlift while using one arm as support.
#4 Sumo Dumbbell Deadlift
The muscles worked for the Sumo dumbbell deadlift are also the glutes and hamstrings as the primary with marginal lower back and quad muscle activation.
The Sumo Dumbbell deadlift will target your glutes differently and in most cases make you feel the stretch more easily since your feet are positioned much wider apart than any of the other deadlifts. You also have the option of using 1 or 2 dumbbells for this exercise.
- As with all deadlifts maintain proper posture and strict form.
- Position your feet wider than shoulder width apart with toes pointing slightly outward.
- Hold either one or two dumbbells straight down in front of you and then lower and raise the weight the same as you would when performing the Romanian Dumbbell Deadlift – actively bending at the knees.
- And repeat.
Is the Dumbbell Deadlift better than the Barbell Deadlift?
I personally believe dumbbell deadlifts to be more beneficial overall than barbell deadlifts. For the greater fitness population, I would say that the dumbbells offer far more advantages.
More and more women are interested in the squat and deadlift exercise craze for building bigger glutes. Deadlifts have become very popular exercises for women. It is also true that most women prefer working out at home over going to a public gym.
For this reason alone, I would say that for the vast majority of women, the dumbbell deadlift is by far the most beneficial and better choice.
Guys, on the other hand, are mostly concerned about how much weight they can lift. Thus, it’s more about building strength than building bigger glutes or hamstrings. In which case, I would recommend the barbell deadlifts.
Then you have your professional bodybuilder who may be more interested in building muscle mass but also gaining strength. So for them, a combination of both dumbbell deadlifts and barbell deadlift may be the preferred option.
And then you have athletes and powerlifters whose primary concern is strength and power. Obviously, the better choice for them would naturally be the barbell deadlifts.
So basically, to answer the question which is better?
Simply put, the better deadlift is the one that best suits your individual needs and fitness goals.
Adjustable Kettlebells are also a great alternative to dumbbells – save money and space!
With over 30 years of experience in strength training and fitness, Mark LaRue is the founder of Fitness Mastered, a blog to help educate fitness enthusiasts of all fitness levels, age, and gender. We write topics that range from weight training and exercise routines to weight loss strategies, motivational videos, and home workout machine reviews, to name a few.