- Deadlifts are great for getting strong, but bad for building muscle
- No exercise is mandatory, just movement patterns
- The best way to make a bad back better is to work your butt and hamstrings
The deadlift is shitty exercise to build muscle.
Oh schnap, shots fired.
Why am I shit talking about one of the best exercises ever invented and one of my personal favorites keeping in mind I once deadlifted for 125 straight days?
Because it’s true.
Think about how you normally do a deadlift.
Struggle to pull the bar up, hold it at the top while looking around to see who was lucky enough to witness your God-like feat of strength then you lower the bar as fast as humanly possible.
Rinse and repeat.
If you are looking to build muscle, this is the exact opposite of the tempo you want. Plus there’s one whole section of the movement, the lowering, that is completely non-existent.
And this is completely side-stepping form and if you actually have the mobility to do a proper deadlift.
So in this article, you’ll learn the best alternatives for deadlifts for better muscle gains regardless if you have a bad back or just hate deadlifts.
Why Deadlifts In The First Place
What are the absolute mandatory exercises you need in your workout?
Barbell Bench Press?
All good responses. All completely wrong…except curls. Curls are a must.
But outside of that, there are NO mandatory exercises, only mandatory movement patterns.
Everyone’s body and mobility is different.
Some people have had past injuries that prevent them from doing an exercise. Some people have been sitting at a desk for years so their hip flexors are like banjo strings. While others have legs like a giraffe and arms like a t-rex making it impossible to get into position.
Regardless if you’re built like Manute Bol or Mini-Me you have the same muscles that need attention to grow and get stronger.
And that’s where working movement patterns come into play.
The deadlift works the hip hinge movement pattern.
Meaning it works your glutes and hamstrings predominantly. Sure there are other muscles involved like your entire back and arms but the main focus is the glutes and hammies.
Each movement pattern has a few muscles that are emphasized. So as long as you hit all the movement patterns throughout the week, you can ensure all your muscles are getting the work they need.
For a breakdown of the other movement patterns you need in your workout, check out this article.
To ensure you are hitting the muscles that a deadlift works the alternative for deadlifts must be a hip hinge movement pattern.
I know what you might be thinking.
I’ma guy, I don’t what to build a big butt. I don’t need my cheeks to clap when I walk.
If you’ve ever complained of a “bad back”, I’m willing to bet my son it’s because of weak glutes and hamstrings.
When you have a weak muscle, the surrounding muscles have to over compensate. When they overcompensate they tend to hurt.
Hence why bad back was in quotes, it’s not the issue, it’s a symptom of the issue.
The solution…hip hinge movement patterns.
But if you are starting from a place of pain, have bad deadlift genetics or are looking to fill out the backside of your pants, the deadlift is not where you want to start.
There is no exercise you need to do that will sacrifice your ability to move and function tomorrow.
Why Deadlifts Suck For Muscle Building
Lifting tempo plays a key role in your ability to build muscle.
A controlled movement forces the muscles to work harder and longer. Ripping through a set to get it over with shifts the momentum to all the muscles and your joints.
Just like the turtle, slow and steady wins the muscle building race.
Like I mentioned in the intro, completely negating the lowering portion of the lift as the barbell dents the floor is leaving a lot of muscle build potential on the table.
You want to control the lifting and lowering portion, ideally with a 1-2 count, on each rep. This extra tension = extra stress to the muscles which will lead to more gainz.
Even if you slow down the reps, I still think the deadlifts are a shitty muscle building exercise.
For pure strength I don’t know a better one but for muscle building, straight trash.
The main reason I say that it’s straight trash is it’s too complex. There’s too many moving parts and the risk for injury is hella high especially the deeper into the set you go.
The alternatives for deadlifts below lower that risk to reward ratio in your favor especially if you have back injuries or mobility issues.
Deadlift Alternatives with a Barbell
Trap Bar Deadlift Alternatives
Trap Bar Deadlift
Trap Bar RDL
Deadlift Alternatives with Dumbbells
Bulgarian Split Squat
Glute Dominate Reverse Lunge
Alternatives for Deadlift If You Have A Bad Back
Feet Elevated Glute Bridge
Barbell Hip Thrust
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift
Glute Focused Back Extension
Cable Pull Through
All these exercises work the hip hinge movement pattern and all will help reduce the stress on your lower back without killing it in the process.
Take 2 of these exercises and do 2-3 sets for 6-12 reps. Progress these over months like any other exercise.
I’m still a big fan of deadlifts and there is nothing like the feeling of lifting hundreds of pounds off the floor.
But like a good tool box, you need to use the right tool for the job and the deadlift is just a tool. It’s a fantastic tool to get stronger but a shitty tool to build muscle.
Use it appropriately.