The dumbbell deadlift is a delicious little exercise that you can do at home or at the gym. Not only is it a great quad and hamstring exercise in its own right but its also a great training exercise for doing squats and deadlifts. As I mentioned in my squat and deadlift prep video, being able to feel where the weight is on your feet is critical because where your center of gravity (CG) is limits your hip and knee geometry so you have to be able to closely control it. Because this exercise is done with the weights hanging at your side, its perfect for working on CG control. Not only that, but because it uses so many major muscles, you can use it as part of an indoor interval training cardio workout. The dumbbell deadlift is the best thing since bucket hats!
Note that this exercise is a “deficit deadlift”, meaning that you are going much lower than you would in a standard deadlift. The dumbbell handles are only about 5″ off the ground in this exercise whereas in a standard deadlift its closer to 8.75″. What this means is that your thighs become much more horizontal in the dumbbell deadlift than in the standard deadlift which means this is more squat-like in its quad involvement. Dumbbell deadlift, dumbbell squat – call it whatever you want :)
So lets talk about form first. The #1 most important thing is that you be able to lock in the neutral lower back position. As I mention in the squat and deadlift prep video, I strongly suggest that before doing this exercise or any other freeweight leg exercise that you do SDL for at least three months.
Stand with your feet about two fists apart, toes pointing ever so slightly outward. Bend down and grab, but dont lift the dumbbells. Back locked in neutral, chest out and look forward. Feel your center of gravity. Roll onto your toes. roll back onto your heels. Now halfway between the heel and toe – hold that balance point the whole exercise. Now lift upward while focusing on keeping your back in the neutral position. The first half of the lift is all legs – keep your back in the neutral position and at the same angle. Your knees go the direction your foot is pointed. The upper half of the motion is like a SDL, its a hip pivot thats hamstrings and spinal extensors. At the top, lean back. Going slow lets you focus on keeping your center of gravity in the correct position. You dont want to be on your toes, you dont want to be over your heels ready to roll over backwards, you want the weight over your arch – closer to your heel than the ball of your foot. By keeping your CG over your arch, it will force you to move your hips backward rather than your knees forward when you bend down.
The reason I say this exercise is so delicious is that its wonderfully balanced. If your center of gravity is in the right spot then when you are in the down position almost ready to touch the dumbbells to the ground you feel a very balanced pull on your hamstrings and your quads.
So thats it for the dumbbell deadlift. A delicious little exercise you can do at home or the gym that not only gives a killer hamstring and quad workout but can be used as part of an interval training cardio workout as well!