Sumo Deadlifts are a very popular exercise (both lower body and upper body), and for good reason. Sumo Deadlifts are one of the most effective exercises for developing size and strength. But, what if you need an alternative for Sumo Deadlifts?
Maybe you don’t have access to a barbell or maybe you’re just looking to add some variety to your strength program.
I’ve been a Collegiate Strength Coach for 20 years and in this guide, I’m sharing with you 10 of the best Deadlift alternatives.
Sumo Deadlift Alternatives
In this list of Sumo Deadlift alternatives, I’ve tried to include as much variety as possible. There are exercises that use all different kinds of equipment – barbells, dumbbells and even (spoiler alert) giant tires.
There are also exercises that are more beginner-friendly and exercises better suited to more advanced lifters.
Hopefully, no matter what equipment you have access to or what your level of experience is, at least one of these Sumo Deadlift alternatives will be a good fit for you.
Now, I’m not going to go into the debate of which is better – Sumo Deadlifts or Conventional Deadlifts. Or, whether or not I believe Sumo Deadlifts is cheating.
All I’ll say is that if you’re looking for Sumo Deadlift alternatives then it only makes sense to list it’s closest variation first, the Conventional Deadlift. Much of the list remains the same except for the stance being much narrower (legs start inside the arms).
- Position your feet hip-width apart, with your toes under the barbell.
- Bend at the hips and knees to lower your body and grip the barbell. Your grip can be overhand or mixed (one hand overhand, one hand underhand).
- Ensure your spine is neutral, your chest is up, and your shoulders are slightly in front of the bar.
- Engage your core and begin the lift by pushing through your heels, extending your hips and knees simultaneously.
- Keep the bar close to your body throughout the entire lift.
- Once you’re fully upright, stand tall with your chest out and shoulders back.
- To lower the bar, hinge at your hips first, then bend your knees once the bar passes them. Return the bar to the ground in a controlled manner.
In regards to your Deadlift setup and form; treat every rep like it’s a 1 rep max. Put a tremendous amount of detail in your setup (Do it the exact same way, every rep) Make small gains in weight over time.
Trap Bar Deadlifts
Trap Bar Deadlift is a more beginner-friendly alternative to a barbell Deadlift. Using a trap bar has a few advantages over a Sumo Deadlift with a barbell that can be especially helpful for beginners including:
The raised handles can be more forgiving to lifters with poor mobility. Being able to stand in the middle of the bar shifts the resistance slightly more to the hips and away from the low back. And, finally, it can be easier to stand with the bar without worrying about it scraping up the shins or hitting the knees.
- Load the trap bar with the desired weight and stand inside it.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, aligned with the bar’s handles.
- Bend at the hips and knees to grab the handles, palms facing your body.
- Take a deep breath and brace your core, keeping your back flat.
- Push through your heels while extending your hips and knees to lift the bar.
- Fully extend your hips and knees, standing upright with the bar.
- Reverse the movement, lowering the bar back to the starting position.
Rack Pulls / Deadlift From Blocks
Another Sumo Deadlift alternative that is really more of a variation, Rack Pulls are Deadlifts that are done with the bar starting elevated on safety bars or boxes. This limited range of motion can be beneficial to work on weak areas, or sticking points, of your Deadlift.
- Set a barbell on a power rack or squat stands at knee height or slightly below.
- Approach the bar with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Bend at the hips and knees to get into position, ensuring your chest is up and spine is neutral.
- Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width, using either an overhand or mixed grip.
- Before lifting, engage your lats, brace your core, and ensure your back is straight.
- Lift the bar by extending your hips and knees, keeping the bar close to your body.
- Stand tall at the top with your chest out and shoulders back.
- Lower the bar back to the rack in a controlled manner.
Rack Pulls are generally done with the bar starting around mid-shin, although technically the bar can be placed anywhere up or down the leg and it would still be a Rack Pull.
Because the plates are not actually touching the ground during Rack Pulls, there is no difference regarding what kind of plates you use. Lifting blocks, used more commonly by Olympic weightlifters, are an acceptable substitution for a power rack when doing Rack Pulls.
Using a kettlebell for Kettlebell Deadlifts is another great alternative, especially for beginners and/or young athletes. Not only will Kettlebell Deadlifts work the same posterior chain muscles, but they can be done with light weight and a focus on technique.
Using one kettlebell on the floor between the feet, get into a good starting position by bending the hips and knees and maintaining a good flat back. Grab the kettlebell with both and then deadlift – no different than you would with a barbell.
If you don’t have a heavy enough kettlebell where deadlifts make sense, consider Kettlebell Swings. Kettlebell Swings are essentially a lighter, more explosive version of a deadlift that provides a lot of the same benefits.
Kettlebell Swings emphasize the posterior chain muscles just like a deadlift does, but they do so in a much different way. Kettlebell Swings are more similar to an Olympic lift than they are a deadlift.
They’re generally done with much lighter weight and the focus is on driving the weight explosively using power generated from the hips. They may not pack on muscle mass quite as well as deadlifts, but a kettlebell can be taken on a road trip much easier than a barbell and 400 pounds.
- Choose an appropriate weight that you can swing with control.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding the kettlebell with both hands in front of you.
- Push your hips back, bending slightly at the knees, and lowering the kettlebell between your legs.
- Powerfully extend your hips and knees, swinging the kettlebell forward and upward to chest height.
- At the peak, your body should be in a straight line from head to heels.
- Allow the kettlebell to swing back down, hinging at the hips, and preparing for the next repetition.
The kettlebell swing is a great movement to train rapid hip extension and flexion. Remember to always keep a neutral spine. Choosing the proper kettlebell weight is important. Heavier is not always better.
Because of the rapid nature of the kettlebell swing, the emphasis should be on velocity, speed, and power. I would recommend starting light and you will be able to increase weight easily as you get more comfortable with the movement.
Barbell Hip Thrust
Barbell Hip Thrust is another great Sumo Deadlift alternative that focuses purely on hip extension and developing strong glutes and hamstrings. It won’t work the upper body like a Deadlift will, but if you need Deadlift alternatives to target the glutes Barbell Hip Thrust is about as good as you can get.
- Start by sitting on the ground with your feet flat on the floor and your upper back resting on a bench or other stable surface.
- Hold a weight, such as a barbell or a dumbbell, across your hips.
- Engage your core and glute muscles, and push through your heels to lift your hips off the ground until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.
- Hold for a moment at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your hips back down to the starting position.
If holding a barbell across your hips is uncomfortable when doing Barbell Hip Thrust, try using a folded-up yoga mat, towel or an Airex Pad. These are all viable options to use as padding to make the exercise more comfortable.
Romanian Deadlifts, or RDLs for short, are a deadlift alternative that takes some of the focus away from the quads and overemphasized the posterior chain – the erectors, the glutes and the hamstrings.
I use Romanian Deadlifts all the time in my programming on lower body days when there has already been a sufficient amount of quad work already done (squats, single leg exercises, etc).
- Begin by standing upright, holding a barbell in front of you with an overhand grip.
- Feet should be hip-width apart with a slight bend in the knees.
- Keeping a neutral spine and your chest up, hinge at the hips, pushing them backward.
- Allow the barbell to slide down close to your legs. Your back remains straight throughout.
- Lower the bar until you feel a strong stretch in your hamstrings or it reaches mid-shin level, whichever comes first.
- Engage your hamstrings and glutes, then reverse the motion, bringing the barbell back to the starting position.
The ‘depth’ that each person gets will be different and absolutely solely dependent upon hamstring flexibility. Do NOT try to ‘reach’ the barbell toward the ground because you believe the plates should touch the floor.
If you have tight hamstrings you may be doing well to get the bar to mid-shin. Trying to reach the bar to the floor will result in the lifter losing their neutral spine and rounding their back, allowing the back to round is the most common mistake I see with RDLs and can lead to injury.
I love Deadlifts and think they are one of the best exercises for building strength and muscle mass. However, I don’t use them very often in my programming for athletes.
I usually opt for Clean Pulls with athletes. They’re the same basic movement, but Clean Pulls are a lighter, more explosive version.
A Clean Pull is an Olympic lift variation that focuses only on the pull and the triple extension – no high pull with the arms and no catch. This explosive triple extension has a better carryover to sport and that is why I often use it in place of deadlifts.
- Choose a suitable weight on the barbell and position it over your mid-foot.
- With feet hip-width apart, grip the bar with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width, maintaining a flat back and shoulders over the bar.
- Lift the bar by powerfully extending the hips and knees, keeping it close to your shins.
- As the bar passes your knees, explosively extend your hips and rise onto your toes, shrugging your shoulders.
- The bar should reach maximum height, with your body fully extended and shrugging upwards.
- Control the bar back down to the starting position.
An easy way to get your grip in the right position is to place your hands one thumb length away from the start of the knurling of the bar. This width will work for 90% of lifters. Wider athletes may end up sliding their hands just a bit wider and vice versa for narrow athletes, but it’s a good starting point for anyone.
One of the biggest mistakes with clean technique is that lifters will shoot their butt up first, locking their knees out and then they end up pulling the bar with their back instead of their legs. This is most often caused by lifters trying to rush the first pull too much. Don’t get ahead of yourself.
The DB Deadlift wouldn’t be one of my first choices to replace Deadlifts, but if dumbbells are all you have to work with then they can do the job. Deadlifting with dumbbells can be done one of two ways. First, you can use a single dumbbell, grabbing it by the head and using it exactly as you would a kettlebell.
The other way is to use two dumbbells and either hold them by your side or in front of you as if you were holding a barbell. Hinge down until the dumbbells get to about mid-shin and then stand back tall.
The reason I’m not personally a huge fan of Dumbbell Deadlifts is I find holding them while deadlifting to be cumbersome and awkward. However, as I said before, if dumbbells are what you have you can definitely make them work.
Hammer Strength Squat Lunge Machine
The Hammer Strength Squat Lunge Machine (we always called it the Hammer Pull) is the machine that is most like the Deadlift itself. The handles sit laterally of the body and are more elevated off the ground than a barbell.
However, the reason I don’t have it listed higher on the list is that most of us probably don’t have access to a Hammer Pull machine. I’ve had them in a few of the college weight rooms I’ve worked in, but not all.
Some commercial gyms may have one if you’re lucky and they’re extremely expensive to buy for a home gym. But, if you do happen to have access to this machine, I’d highly recommend giving it a try.
This last suggestion is admittedly a little more creative than the rest, but I believe Tire Flips can also work as a solid alternative for Deadlifts.
After all, picking up a tire from the ground uses the same body position and the same movement pattern. So, if you don’t have a barbell, but you do have a tire that you workout with – put that thing to use!
- Choose an appropriate tire size that you can flip safely.
- Stand facing the tire, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down and grip the tire with your fingers under the edge, arms fully extended.
- Take a deep breath, tighten your core, and keep your back flat.
- Drive through your heels and extend your hips and knees, lifting the tire off the ground.
- As the tire reaches knee height, reposition your hands and push it forward.
- Extend your arms and hips fully to complete the flip.
The biggest key to Tire Flips is perhaps in finding the right tire. Every school I’ve ever worked at had big tires that were used for Tire Flips. However, the size and weight of these tires have all been drastically different. They’ve ranged from tires that were barely heavy enough to be worth using to tires that took two and sometimes even three football players to flip.
Just like with Deadlifts and Power Clean, it’s extremely important to drop the hips, use the legs and keep the back flat. Once fatigue starts to set in I generally see athletes resort to using more back than legs. If form reaches this point then it’s time to stop flipping the tire.
For any exercise or piece of equipment, there are almost always alternatives you can use as a substitution. Don’t get frustrated if you’re not able to do an exercise listed in your workout program, just figure out how to adapt the movement.
There are always other movements that will work the same muscle groups, oftentimes just as effectively.
This is why I list alternatives for every exercise in my Exercise Library. So, if you’re wanting to do Sumo Deadlifts, but you find yourself without a barbell, I hope one of the alternatives I’ve listed in this guide works well for you.
More Links and Info
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