How to deadlift with dumbbells

Learn how to deadlift with dumbbells using the perfect form to build a stronger lower body and improve your posture

Woman performing a dumbbell deadlift
(Image credit: Getty)

Learning how to deadlift with dumbbells can help you build lower-body muscle mass and strengthen the muscles in your back, core, and legs, but keeping proper form is paramount to benefitting from the exercise. 

The deadlift is a staple found in most strength programs, and whether you're a beginner or an experienced weightlifter, you can benefit. The move primarily works the muscles in your posterior chain (the back of your body).

It's a compound exercise (opens in new tab), so it engages several muscles at the same time, even if you lift lighter weights. That's why we recommend investing in a set of the best adjustable dumbbells (opens in new tab) so you can find a weight that'll challenge you but won't affect your form. 

And if you want to avoid developing lower back pain, you'll need to perfect your deadlift technique. Look no further, as we've put together this guide and picked up some expert advice from Mike Silverman, a certified personal trainer and fitness expert at Living.Fit (opens in new tab).

The guide covers everything you need to know, including the benefits of deadlifts, common mistakes, muscles worked, and variations to try. Read on to learn how to deadlift with dumbbells and why we should all be doing it more often.

How to deadlift with dumbbells

Man performing a dumbbell deadlift

(Image credit: Future)
  • 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 and in a controlled manner. 
  • From this position, stand up straight without changing the shape of your back.
  • Squeeze your glutes as you straighten, pushing through the ball and heel of your foot.
  • That’s one repetition. 

The best way to learn how to deadlift with dumbbells if to practice the movement without weights to begin with, says personal trainer Hendrick Famatumi (opens in new tab).  "With dumbbells, you’ll want to keep your hands as close to your shins as possible on the way down,” he says. 

This is because the further the weights are from your legs, the more you need to use your lower back, which is where there's a risk you could injure yourself. You can still vary the move by holding the dumbbells by your side rather than in front of you, which distributes the weight differently and work slightly different muscles.

How to do dumbbell deadlift and row

Man performing dumbbell deadlift and row

(Image credit: Future)

Learning how to do a dumbbell deadlift and row is a great way to work your hamstrings, glutes, and back (as you would in a regular deadlift), but the row also requires your biceps and upper back. It's essential to keep a neutral spine during this exercise to avoid 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.
  • Slowly reverse the movement to return to the deadlift position, before standing up straight to complete one repetition. 

What muscles do you use during a dumbbell deadlift?

The deadlift is brilliant at building muscle and strengthening your quads and glutes — one deadlift variation even made it into our roundup of the best leg workouts for building strength (opens in new tab).

But those aren't the only benefits. Deadlifts mimic the action of bending down and picking something up. Therefore, the move hits the muscles in your posterior chain. "Deadlifts are probably the most functional of all exercises," says Mike Silverman.

"I've never met anyone who didn't need to pick something up from the floor. The biggest benefit I've seen is in desk jockeys getting their glutes and legs working. They tend to see improved balance and reductions in back pain."

Headshot of Mike Silverman
Mike Silverman

Mike Silverman is a Certified Personal Trainer and fitness expert at Living.Fit. He uses his extensive background in cardiology, sports medicine, and emergency medical services to create fitness programs that are fun, challenging, effective, and, most importantly, safe.

Silverman says the muscles worked in a deadlift (opens in new tab) include the glutes and hamstrings, with the quads getting pretty squarely in the game. "You tend to see additional gains in the stabilizers — the lower back, lats, lower traps, and even shoulders, as well," he adds.

The erector spinae (the muscles in your back that hug your spine), hip flexors, and core muscles also work hard. During a deadlift, you should keep your core braced throughout and squeeze your lats (the large muscles that run along the sides of your back), glutes, and quads as you drive the dumbbells upward.

By contracting as much of your body as possible before the lift, you will activate the necessary muscle groups and prevent loading into your lower back — a common deadlifting mistake due to the focus on your posterior chain.

Get it right, and not only will you work most of your major muscle groups, but you could build maximal strength and power and even improve hip mobility. It's a winner in our books.

Why should you learn how to do deadlift with dumbbells?

Deadlifts are an effective way to build strength in your posterior chain, according to a review published in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise (opens in new tab). This includes your legs, glutes, and back. 

Improving strength in these areas helps you stay mobile over the years, develops flexibility, and aids with everyday activities like walking, jogging, and bending down towards the floor. 

And, as a multi-muscle compound exercise, it's an efficient way to train. Isolation exercises like bicep curls can be effective, but the deadlift engages several areas of your body so you can build muscle even when you're short on time. 

If you regularly train at the gym, it's also worth learning how to deadlift properly with barbells (opens in new tab), but perfecting your technique with dumbbells means you don't have to own a gym's worth of equipment to train at home. 

Catherine Renton

Catherine is a freelance journalist writing across titles such as Verywell Health, Healthline, The Daily Telegraph, Refinery29, Elle, and Vogue. She specializes in content covering health, fitness, wellness, and culture.
A once reluctant runner, Catherine has competed in 30 running events in the past five years and looks forward to one day running the London Marathon.

With contributions from