You Should Deadlift With Dumbbells Twice A Week

young woman with dumbbell
How To Deadlift With DumbbellsJohner Images - Getty Images

Deadlifts are a staple exercise that you'd be hard-pressed to find missing from any well-rounded strength training routine. “Whether you use dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell, deadlifts are wonderful for building grip endurance, glute and hamstring muscle, and even pelvic floor strength,” says Rachel Trotta, CPT.

That said, the advantage of doing a deadlift with dumbbells, specifically, is that they're more convenient when it comes to set up and storage, Trotta explains, and they can be more beginner-friendly and easy on the joints than barbell variations. Plus, they allow for more freedom of movement which can come with its own perks (more on this soon).

They're also versatile: Depending on your individual fitness goals, you can incorporate dumbbell deadlifts into your full-body workouts, leg days, lower-body strength days, circuit training, or supersets, says Jacqeuline Kasen, CPT.

Below, everything you need to know about *properly* executing dumbbell deadlifts, the best variations to try, and how often you should do them for optimal results.

Meet the experts: Jacqueline Kasen, CPT, is a Miami-based coach, master trainer, and senior director of group fitness at Anatomy. Rachel Trotta, CPT, is a fitness coach with specializations in women’s fitness, pre/postnatal, nutrition, and therapeutic exercise.

How To Deadlift With Dumbbells With Proper Form

So you’ve got your dumbbells set up at your workout station. How should you begin the movement? Stand with your feet roughly hip-width apart, holding one dumbbell in each hand, with your arms slightly in front of you, Trotta explains. Then, you’ll move on to the following steps, per Trotta:

  • Step 1: Inhale then slowly glide the dumbbells down the front of your legs as you push your hips backward. Picture that someone is standing behind you with a rope around your hips, pulling your hips backward. This will prevent your deadlift from turning into a squat.

  • Step 2: As you slide the dumbbells down, make sure your shoulders stay squeezed together—don’t let them slump forward or round your spine. Engage your core, keep your back straight, and your eyes ahead of you to maintain a neutral spine.

  • Step 3: Once you’ve reached mid-shin depth, pause and exhale. (FYI: Going any lower than mid-shin puts you at risk for hurting your back.)

  • Step 4: Then, squeeze your legs, and push your hips forward, keeping the dumbbells close to your body. As you return to standing position, think about powerfully pushing the floor away with your feet. You can do this part of the exercise slightly faster than the downward motion.

If you’re doing this move correctly, when you bend over, “you should feel a nice stretch in your glutes and hamstrings,” Trotta says. “If you don’t, your knees might be moving forward too much, turning the move into a squat.” Also, keep your eyes fixed on the floor about 10 feet in front of you for the entirety of the move. If you want to check your form, film yourself rather than watching the mirror, Trotta says.

From a technical perspective, when comparing a dumbbell deadlift to barbell deadlifts, this move might look more like a Romanian deadlift. That's because "when you’re using dumbbells for deadlifts, you’re probably not going all the way to the floor as you would with a barbell," Trotta says.

That said, if you want your dumbbell deadlifts to mimic a traditional deadlift, keep your hands at your sides as opposed to in front of you, bend your knees more as you lower down, and let your dumbbells reach closer to the floor as you finish each rep, Trotta notes.

Are deadlifts with dumbbells effective?

In short, yup! For the long answer, read on:

  • They improve full-body strength: Because they work multiple muscles at once, such as your hamstrings, glutes, quadriceps, and lower back, dumbbell deadlifts are a great compound exercise that targets the entire body, Kasen says.

  • You’ll improve your stability and balance: “Dumbbell deadlifts allow for greater freedom of movement. This freedom challenges your stability and balance, as you need to stabilize each dumbbell independently,” Kasen explains. In turn, this will enhance your overall core strength and coordination.

  • They're joint-friendly: Compared to barbell deadlifts, “the use of dumbbells allows your body to move in a more bio-mechanically efficient manner, reducing stress on the spine and joints,” Kasen explains.

  • They’re versatile and easy to set up: Not only can you perform many different versions of dumbbell deadlifts such as sumo deadlifts or single-leg deadlifts, Kasen says, but they’re also super simple to set up. After all, it’s easier to grab a pair of dumbbells than it is to set up a barbell and heavy plates.

How To Add Dumbbell Deadlifts To Your Fitness Routine

As mentioned, dumbbell deadlifts can be integrated into full-body exercise days, leg days, lower-body strength days, during circuit training, supersets, and more, Kasen says. It just depends on your individual goals and your training program.

Trotta recommends doing “heavier, lower-rep deadlifts one day toward the beginning of your workout, and then lighter, higher-rep deadlifts another day toward the end of your workout.” For example, you could do four sets of six heavier-weight deadlifts on Tuesday, and then three sets of 12 medium-weight deadlifts on Friday. "By doing heavier lifts one day and lighter lifts another day, you give your body more opportunities to practice a movement, while minimizing injury risk," Trotta explains.

How heavy should dumbbells be for deadlifting?

For absolute beginners, it’s fine to start out with the 10-pound or 15-pound dumbbell weights to get the hang of the hinge movement, Trotta says.

“But what many women don’t realize is how incredibly strong their lower bodies are, especially once they learn to engage their glutes,” Trotta says. Basically, even if you’re a beginner, you can probably lift more than you think! “Because of this, I like to see many women, even relative beginners, use at least 25 pounds per hand for dumbbell deadlifts,” Trotta says.

And if you feel like the weight is too heavy in your hands, remember: This is a lower body exercise! You’re not lifting or pulling the weights, you’re letting your legs do the heavy lifting. “If the weight does not feel heavy in your hands to the point that it is hard to do more than 12 reps without losing your grip, it is probably not heavy enough for deadlifts,” Trotta explains. “The weight should feel heavy, this is what makes it a deadlift,” she notes.

Remember to listen to your body along the way, too. If you’re in pain or compromising your form just to lift heavier weights, you could be putting yourself at risk of injury, Kasen notes.

Is it better to deadlift with a barbell or dumbbells?

“Barbells and dumbbell have unique benefits, and it all comes down to goals, preferences, available equipment, and more,” Kasen says. As mentioned, “if you want to develop maximum strength, you need to use some kind of bar [barbell or trap bar], because your loading potential will be much greater,” Trotta says, since bars allow you to lift heavier.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t build muscle with dumbbells alone. “You’ll get great results from doing higher-rep deadlifts with 25-pound or 45-pound weights, for example, especially if you use single-leg variations,” Trotta notes.

The Best Dumbbell Deadlift Variations

“If you have dumbbells at home and limited space for equipment, a great muscle-building strategy is to use deadlift variations,” Trotta explains. Here are three you can try during your next workout.

1. Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlift

Why it rocks: "Shifting the focus to one leg makes your dumbbells even more effective," Trotta says. That's because your body must work harder to maintain stability, and the single leg being used is forced to carry the weight that would otherwise be distributed between both of your legs during a normal dumbbell deadlift.


  1. Stand with both feet under hips, then shift weight to right leg, which should be straight with a soft bend in knee.

  2. Drive left foot back, keeping leg straight. At the same time, start hinging at waist, tipping torso forward until it’s almost parallel to the floor. Body should be in a straight line from the top of head to the bottom of left foot.

  3. Reverse the movement to return to start. That's 1 rep. Complete all reps on this side, then repeat on the other.

2. Kickstand Deadlift

Why it rocks: This is also technically a single-leg move, but you have the light support of your back foot, Trotta notes, which makes this version slightly more approachable than a full-on single-leg deadlift.


  1. Stand with feet staggered, right foot forward, left foot back resting on the ball of foot, holding dumbbells in your hands, palms facing your body.

  2. Hinge forward while pushing hips back, keeping back straight.

  3. Reverse the movement to return to start. That's 1 rep. Complete all reps on this side, then repeat on the other.

3. Sumo Deadlift

Why it rocks: With this variation, the wide-leg stance can help you deadlift more comfortably: "If conventional deadlifts cause back pain, wider stances or single-leg configurations often sidestep the problem," Trotta explains.

How to:

  1. Holding two dumbbells, stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, toes pointed out.

  2. Position weights in front of thighs, palms facing in.

  3. Keeping knees slightly bent, press hips back as you hinge at the waist and lower the weights toward the floor.

  4. Squeeze glutes to return to standing. That's 1 rep.

You Might Also Like