Deadlifts might look scary, but they're incredible at building full-body strength—start with these Pilates prep exercises to gain confidence

Strengthen your back and work on your form with these three deadlift prep exercises

Smiling woman in gym holds barbell in front of her hips. Her hair is in a pony tail and she wears a matching dusty pink leggings and sports bra set.
(Image credit: SrdjanPav / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Deadlifts might conjure images of Olympic athletes straining to pull overloaded barbells off the floor—not something a normal person would consider doing, but that's not the case! Every time Fit&Well asks a certified trainer for essential exercises everyone should learn, or the best exercises for longevity, they include the deadlift.

The deadlift is a compound exercise, which means it works multiple muscle groups and joints at once. It's also a full-body move, simultaneously strengthening the upper and lower body as well as your core (this article has more about what muscles deadlifts work).

You may be wary of deadlifts if you've experienced back pain but deadlifting has been shown to improve lower-back pain issues. For instance, a study of 35 patients published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that an eight-week period of training deadlifting reduced pain and increased activity in most patients with mechanical lower-back pain.

While deadlifts can feel intimidating if you've never done them before, there's no need to be scared of them. Getting your form right is one way to avoid hurting your back and using prepping exercises can you help you practice correct form and boost your confidence.

The experts at the physio-led Pilates studio Complete Pilates have put together three Pilates-based exercises to help you get ready to deadlift.

How to do these Pilates prep exercises

The number of reps is not specified, but it's a good idea to aim for around 30 seconds of each exercise to start with. Take them slowly and make sure you engage your core and that your spine remains neutral (never rounded) throughout. Keeping your shoulders pinned back can help you avoid a rounded back.

Deadlift with band

If you're not ready to deadlift with weights, attaching a resistance band to a Pilates bar can mimic the resistance of a weighted deadlift. "Using a band adds some assistance on the way down and resistance to come back up again," the caption on the Instagram Reel reads. "Try to keep the bar close to your thighs so that you keep the activation in the lats as well."

A Pilates bar is surprisingly affordable, the Gaiam Restore Pilates bar reformer kit is less than $20 on Amazon right now.

Reformer deadlift

Placing one foot on the moving carriage of the reformer will challenge your balance and stability. "Forget the upper body for a moment and focus on that hip hinge and leg power," writes the Complete Pilates team. "Keep the carriage still and try to hinge forward from your hips. Your gaze will come down and body will stay straight. Then press through your feet to lift yourself back up and restack your ribs over your pelvis."

Remember to repeat on the other side.

Single-leg deadlift

Another challenge to your stability, this exercise requires a lot of focus as you balance on one leg while practicing the hip hinge movement. "This one's a great challenge for those stabilising muscles around your hips," the team writes.

More tips on preparing for deadlifts

It's also a good idea to practice with dumbbells to get your form right before you progress to a barbell. We've got a useful guide that takes you through how to deadlift with dumbbells. Once you've mastered that, use our form guide to learn how to deadlift with a barbell.

Contributing writer

Camilla Artault is a fitness writer with a passion for running and yoga. She interviews experts and writes about a wide range of topics for Fit&Well encompassing health, fitness and nutrition.