Conventional deadlifts have a reputation for being the king of weightlifting exercises.

They target the entire posterior chain — including the glutes, hamstrings, rhomboids, traps, and core — which is essential to everyday function.

But problems can arise if good form isn’t in place, with the lower back usually taking the brunt of it.

Whether you aren’t yet comfortable with the standard variation, are unable because of an injury, or just want to switch things up, these alternatives target many of the same muscles — without the strain.

This beginner-friendly exercise requires only your body weight and takes the pressure off your low back.

Why it works

It targets the posterior chain but is much more accessible than a deadlift.

How to do it

  1. Lie on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms down by your sides.
  2. Inhale and push through all four corners of your feet, engaging your core, glutes, and hamstrings to lift your hips toward the ceiling.
  3. Pause at the top, then slowly release back to start.

Complete 3 sets of up to 20 reps. If that becomes easy, consider the barbell hip thrust below.

A progression from the glute bridge, the barbell hip thrust allows you to add resistance to the movement.

Why it works

You’ll hit the glutes and hamstrings with extra resistance but without much lower back involvement.

How to do it

  1. Position yourself in front of a bench, seated with your upper back against it and a barbell across your hips. Your knees should be bent with your feet flat on the ground.
  2. Driving through the heels, push your hips toward the sky while keeping your core engaged and squeezing the glutes.
  3. When you reach the top, pause and release back to start.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps, and gradually increase your weight.

Stronger hamstrings are an important benefit of the deadlift. Try a lying curl for similar results.

Why it works

This move will strengthen your hamstrings without loading up your back.

How to do it

  1. Anchor your band to a stable object.
  2. Lie on your stomach in front of the band, legs extended, positioning yourself with the band looped taut around one ankle.
  3. Inhale and raise your foot with the band attached, bending the knee and stopping when your lower leg is perpendicular to the ground.
  4. Exhale and slowly release your foot back to the ground.

Complete 3 sets of 12–15 reps on each leg.

A variation on a conventional deadlift, a trap bar deadlift is just as effective.

Why it works

With a trap bar, the weight will be in line with your body’s center of gravity while you lift — instead of in front of it like in a traditional deadlift.

This allows you to put less stress on your lower back while hitting many of the same muscles.

How to do it

  1. Load the trap bar with appropriate weight and step inside, positioning your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hinge at your hips, then bend your knees and grasp the handles on either side.
  3. Keeping your back flat and your chest up, sit back in your hips, focusing your gaze in front of you.
  4. Inhale and stand up, initiating the movement in your hips and squeezing your glutes at the top.
  5. Exhale and release down to the starting position.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps.

Challenge your balance by deadlifting on a single leg.

Why it works

You’ll challenge your posterior chain and your balance.

How to do it

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Keeping your back straight and gaze straight ahead, put your weight into your right leg.
  3. Begin to hinge at the waist, keeping your right knee soft.
  4. Hinge forward, taking your left leg up and back until your body forms a straight line from head to toe.
  5. Ensure that your hips stay square to the ground and your chest stays proud throughout the movement. The dumbbells should hang down in front of you.
  6. Return to start and repeat.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps on each leg.

Using the hyperextension machine can provide many of the same benefits as a deadlift.

Why it works

You’ll target your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes with this move.

How to do it

  1. Get up on the hyperextension machine with your front side toward the ground.
  2. With your hands behind your head, hinge at the waist, lowering down until your upper body is perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Use your lower back and quads to raise your upper body back up, stopping when your body forms a straight line — coming up higher than this will put your lower back at risk for injury.
  4. Pause here, then lower back down and repeat.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps. If this becomes easy, hold a weight close to your chest for an added challenge.

Practice your hip hinge with a cable pull through.

Why it works

Again, you’re hitting your posterior chain with less stress on the back than a conventional deadlift.

Plus, the cable pull through mimics the hip hinge movement of a deadlift.

How to do it

  1. Adjust the cable machine so the rope pull attachment is at the ground. Stand with your back to the machine.
  2. Grab the rope between your legs with two hands and stand up. Step out a few steps so the weight is off the rack.
  3. Hinge at the waist and push your hips back toward the machine, allowing the cable to go through your legs until you feel a pull in your hamstrings. Keep your spine neutral and your chest up.
  4. Pause and return to start, squeezing your glutes at the top.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps.

Test the strength of your legs — plus your balance — with this move.

Why it works

It strengthens the hamstrings and glutes by isolating one side at a time, which helps remedy strength inconsistencies.

How to do it

  1. Stand about two feet in front of a knee-level bench, placing the top of your right foot on top of it.
  2. Your left foot should be far enough in front of the bench where you can comfortably lunge.
  3. Lean slightly forward at the waist and begin to lunge on your left leg, stopping when your left thigh is parallel to the ground.
  4. Push up through your left foot to return to standing.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps on each leg.

Focus on those big mover muscles — and your power — with the kettlebell swing.

Why it works

The kettlebell swing utilizes a hip hinge movement, just like the deadlift.

How to do it

  1. Place a kettlebell on the ground slightly in front of you.
  2. Hinge at the hips and bend down slightly, placing both hands on the kettlebell handles.
  3. Pull the kettlebell back between your legs and drive your hips forward, using the force to push the kettlebell up to chest level. Keep your back straight throughout the movement.
  4. Let the kettlebell come back down, hinging at the hips and allowing it to fall back through your legs.
  5. Repeat the movement.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps on each leg.

Deadlifts strengthen your back, too. For the same effect, hit your upper back with a bent-over row.

Why it works

It targets your traps, lats, and rhomboids, plus your arms and core.

How to do it

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. Hinge at the waist 45 degrees with your arms extended. Your knees should be soft and your spine should be neutral.
  3. Pull your elbows up and back toward the wall behind you, squeezing your shoulder blades at the top.
  4. Pause here, then release back to start.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps on each leg.

As an advanced move, the pistol squat requires strength and power in the posterior chain, balance, and flexibility.

Why it works

By challenging balance and unilateral strength, pistol squats provide distinct benefits.

How to do it

  1. If you’re a beginner, position yourself next to a wall or another object you can use for stability.
  2. Put your weight into your right leg, lifting your left leg up in front of you slightly.
  3. Initiate the movement in your hips, sitting back while ensuring that your right knee doesn’t cave in and your chest stays lifted.
  4. Lower down as far as you can, but stop when your thigh is parallel to the ground.
  5. Push through the foot to return to start.

Complete 3 sets of 10–12 reps on each leg.

While conventional deadlifts have plenty of benefits, they aren’t the only way to develop a strong posterior chain. Mix and match these alternatives to take your strength training to another level.


Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, Wisconsin, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife, and more.