How to deadlift with dumbbells: Form tips and tweaks, common mistakes and more

Never learned how to deadlift with dumbbells before? These are the form tips, variations, common pitfalls and more

Deadlift with dumbbells
(Image credit: iStock)

Are you somebody who's recently taken up walking for fitness, and looking to tackle some big hills? Perhaps you're a serious weightlifter who's stuck at home because of the pandemic, unable to access the gym. Whatever your fitness level, age, gender or sport of choice, you can benefit from learning how to deadlift with dumbbells.

You don't need a gym or a big heavy barbell to get the benefits of the deadlift. When you first think of deadlifts, you might think of somebody lifting heavy barbells, but splitting the weight up and deadlifting with dumbbells is still a fast, effective way to get fitter and stronger. 

Deadlifts with dumbbells work out your legs, back, forearms and glutes all at the same time. According to studies collected by Harvard University, deadlifts improve mobility and balance in adults, ensuring you’ll stay fit and active for longer. 

 That's because this dynamic weightlifting move will lengthen the muscles in your legs, keeping you more flexible, as well as working all the muscles you need to propel yourself forward when walking, jogging and even simply bending from the waist. It improves your grip strength too, which makes it a great exercise to help you fight the effects of ageing. 

It also builds up muscle in your legs, bum and lower back, preventing posture problems and back pain in later life. Because it works lots of muscle groups at the same time, it even boosts your metabolism to help you with your fat loss goals. Although you might not actually lose any weight, you will get fitter and stronger because the process of building muscle actually burns fat.

Deadlift with dumbbells

(Image credit: iStock)

Using dumbbells can still hit all the same muscle groups as the regular barbell deadlift, but it also provides a different stimulus: maintaining strict form with separate weights is often harder than holding a single bar. 

 So where should you start when learning how to deadlift with dumbbells?

“To start, practice without any weight,” says PT and expert strength coach, Hendrick Famatumi. “Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and soften your knees. 

"With dumbbells, you’ll want to keep your hands as close to your shins as possible on the way down.” You can also hold your dumbbells at your sides instead of in front of you, which distributes the weight differently and works a slightly different set of muscle groups. 

Follow our step-by-step guide below, which will show you how to deadlift with dumbbells in a controlled and safe manner. 

How to deadlift with dumbbells

Deadlift with dumbbells

(Image credit: iStock)
  • Pick up a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them in front of your sides. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and your feet placed shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. 
  • Allow your arms to hang down in front of your knees and shins. Make sure you keep your back in a neutral position, taking care not to round it. You should lower yourself into position slowly, in a controlled manner. 
  • From this position, stand up straight without changing the shape of your back. Famatumi recommends squeezing your glutes as you straight, pushing through the ball and heel of your foot. That’s one rep.  

How to deadlift with dumbbells: Common deadlift mistakes

Back stretch

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There's a reason Famatumi recommends keeping your hands close to your shins, if you're deadlifting with the weight in front of you: if you lift heavy weights with improper form, you risk damaging your back and legs. The further away the weights are from your legs, the more your lower back is working instead of your legs and glutes, and straining your back can be dangerous.

It’s one reason why professional environments involving lifting heavy objects usually require training, or a waiver to be signed, and it's essential to warm up with hamstring stretches and movements which limber up your back. 

Famatumi recommends lying down on your back, bringing one knee across the body and down towards the floor, as in the picture above. Hold it for 10-15 seconds and repeat the movement on the other side, performing the stretch three times. 

While warming up before a gym session is very important anyway, it's especially important when learning how to deadlift with dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell or any other significant amount of weight due to the strain on your back. But warming up also improves your stability and balance during the exercise according to Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology, so there's no reason not to spend a few minutes limbering up before you approach the dumbbells. 

Variation: Deadlift and row with dumbbells

Deadlift and row

(Image credit: Future)

 

This exercise, which can be performed with either dumbbell or a barbell, offers a good workout for the hamstrings, glutes and back like a normal deadlift, with the addition of the row working your biceps and upper back. Speaking of your back, try to keep it carefully neutral throughout the exercise to help prevent injury.

  • Pick up a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them in front of your sides. Stand with your knees slightly bent, and your feet placed shoulder-width apart. 
  • Bend at the hips and knees, lowering your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Allow your arms to hang down in front of your knees and shins. 
  • Quickly pull back the dumbbells in a rowing movement until they’re to the sides of your chest. Reverse the movement to return to the deadlift position, before standing up straight to complete one repetition. 
  • Take your time over your reps – if you’re holding onto the dumbbells throughout, your muscles will still be getting a workout. 

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