A deadlift is a compound exercise where a weighted barbell starts on the floor. This is known as “dead weight.” It is lifted with no momentum, giving the exercise its name.

Deadlifts train multiple muscle groups including the:

To perform a deadlift, you’ll pick up the barbell with a flat back using your hips to push back to perform the movement.

Deadlifts can be beneficial because they are an effective exercise to strengthen multiple major muscle groups at once.

The number of deadlifts you should do depends on the amount of weight you’re using.

If you’re at an advanced fitness level, you’ll need a heavy amount of weight to benefit from deadlifts. If that is the case, perform 1 to 6 deadlifts per set, and perform 3 to 5 sets, resting in between.

If you are new to deadlifts and focusing on getting the correct form down with a lower weight, perform 5 to 8 deadlifts per set. Work your way up to 3 to 5 sets.

Remember, correct form is always more important than the number of sets. Perform deadlifts no more than 2 to 3 times per week, allowing muscles ample time to rest in-between workouts.

To do a deadlift, you’ll need a standard 45-pound barbell. For more weight, add 2.5 to 10 pounds to each side at a time. The amount of weight to use depends on your fitness level. Continue to add weight only after you’ve mastered the correct form.

  1. Stand behind the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. Your feet should be almost touching the bar.
  2. Keep your chest lifted and sink back into your hips slightly while keeping a straight back. Bend forward and grip the barbell. Keep one palm facing up and the other facing down, or both hands facing down in an overhand grip.
  3. As you’re gripping the bar, press feet flat into the floor and sink your hips back.
  4. Keeping a flat back, push hips forward into a standing position. Finish standing with your legs straight, shoulders back, and knees almost locked out. The bar should be held with straight arms slightly lower than hip height.
  5. Return to the starting position by keeping the back straight, pushing your hips back, bending the knees, and squatting down until the bar is on the ground.
  6. Repeat the exercise.

Aim for 1 to 6 reps, depending on the amount of weight you are lifting. Perform 3 to 5 sets.

Romanian deadlift

This exercise is similar to a traditional deadlift, but felt in the hamstrings.

  1. Start with the bar at hip level and grip it with palms facing down. Keep shoulders back and your back straight. Your back may slightly arch during the movement.
  2. Keep the bar close to your body as you lower it toward your feet, pushing your hips back throughout the movement. Your legs should be straight or have a slight bend in the knees. You should feel the movement in your hamstrings.
  3. Drive your hips forward to stand up tall, keeping the barbell in front of the thighs.

Cable machine Romanian deadlift

If you’re a beginner and you don’t want to use weight, try the cable deadlift. Use a cable machine with a cable on a low height at a medium resistance.

  1. Grab a cable in each hand and stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly and bend forward at the hips. Let the cable resistance slowly pull your hands toward the top of your feet.
  3. Extend from the hips and return to the starting position, standing up tall.

The following exercises are alternatives to deadlifts. They work similar muscle groups.

Kettlebell swing

Equipment needed: Kettlebell

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place kettlebell on the floor between the feet.
  2. Keep a flat back and hinge forward with your hips to bend down and grab the kettlebell with both hands.
  3. Keep your spine straight and feet flat on the floor. Pull kettlebell back between your legs.
  4. Push your hips forward and pull your knees back to generate forward momentum. Swing the kettlebell forward in front of your body. The movement should be coming from the strength in your legs, not your shoulders. This explosive movement should propel the kettlebell to chest or shoulder height.
  5. Tighten your abdominal muscles and contract your arm and shoulder muscles to pause briefly at the top before pulling the kettlebell back down through the legs.
  6. Perform 12 to 15 swings. Work up to 2 to 3 sets.

Pistol squat on Bosu

Equipment needed: Bosu balance trainer

  1. Place the Bosu balance trainer on the ground, flat side up. Place your right foot on the middle of the flat side of the Bosu.
  2. Straighten your left leg and lift it out in front of your body.
  3. Balance on the standing leg while bending your knee and slowly lowering your body down into a squat. Keep your body weight in the heel, and, with your back straight, lean forward.
  4. Squeeze your right glute and stand up to return to the starting position.
  5. Perform 5 to 10 reps on one leg. Then switch to the left leg and repeat. Work up to 3 sets.

You can also perform this exercise on the ground if balancing on the Bosu is too advanced.

Deadlifts are a challenging exercise to master. If you belong to a gym, work with a trainer or fitness professional. They can demonstrate the correct technique. Have the trainer watch your form to confirm you are performing the exercise correctly.

Once you have the correct form down, you can practice deadlifts regularly as part of your exercise routine. Always talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness regimen.