Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell – Introduction
Between the dumbbell deadlift vs barbell deadlift, which is best for you?
It’s challenging to think of a strength training exercise that’ll do you more good than the deadlift.
Squats are often called the king of exercises, but, really, the deadlift is the star of the show.
For starters, deadlifts engage more muscles.
In fact, they’re basically a full-body exercise.
Also, you don’t need a squat rack or power rack to do deadlifts, so they’re more accessible and arguably safer, too.
There are also several deadlift variations you can use to keep your workouts interesting, including dumbbell and barbell deadlifts.
Is one type of deadlift better than the other?
That’s what we’re here to discuss!
In this article, we examine the pros and cons of dumbbell vs barbell deadlifts, so you can decide which one’s the right option for you.
Table of Contents
- Barbell Deadlift Versus Dumbbell Deadlifts – Introduction
- Dumbbell Deadlift 101
- Dumbbell Deadlift Pros and Cons
- Barbell Deadlift 101
- Barbell Deadlift Pros and Cons
- Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell Deadlift – Compare and Contrast
- Dumbbell vs Barbell Deadlift – Closing Thoughts
Dumbbell Deadlift 101
The dumbbell deadlift is an entry-level version of this popular exercise.
It’s a compound movement, which means it involves multiple joints and muscles working together.
As mentioned, deadlifts are virtually a full-body exercise, but here’s a list of the main muscles developed during dumbbell deadlifts.
- Quadriceps – front of the upper thigh
- Hamstrings – back of the upper thigh
- Gluteus maximus – main hip muscles
- Core – the muscles of your midsection
- Erector spinae – lower back
- Trapezius – middle and upper back
- Latissimus dorsi – side of the upper back
- Deltoids – shoulder muscles
- Biceps – front of the upper arm
- Triceps – back of the upper arm
- Forearm flexors – lower arm muscles
How to do Dumbbell Deadlifts
Get the most from dumbbell deadlifts by performing them correctly and safely!
- Place your dumbbells on the floor about shoulder-width apart.
- Stand with your feet between them.
- The handles should be parallel.
- Bend down and hold the dumbbells with a neutral or hands-facing inward grip.
- Straighten your arms, pull your shoulders down and back, and brace your abs.
- Lift your chest, and drop your hips.
- This is your starting position.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand up straight.
- Make sure your hips don’t rise faster than your shoulders and that you don’t round your lower back.
- Bend your knees, push your hips back, and return the weights to the floor.
- Reset your core and grip, and repeat.
How to do a Dumbbell Deadlift – Brad Gouthro
Dumbbell Deadlift Pros and Cons
Not sure if dumbbell deadlifts are worth your time and energy?
Consider these pros and cons and then decide!
An accessible exercise
You don’t need a full-sized Olympic barbell and bumper plates to do this exercise.
This means it’s ideal for home exercisers.
When you do dumbbell deadlifts, the weights are by your sides and in line with your feet.
This puts less strain on your lower back than doing conventional deadlifts with a barbell.
A very functional exercise
The dumbbell deadlift closely replicates the action of bending down to pick up two heavy objects, such as grocery bags.
This can help make everyday activities a little easier and less tiring.
It can feel awkward
The dumbbells will invariably bump and drag against your legs during dumbbell deadlifts.
This can be unpleasant, especially when lifting heavy weights.
A low starting position
Dumbbell handles are usually closer to the ground than a barbell loaded with 45-pound bumper plates.
This starting position can be awkward for tall, less mobile lifters.
It could also increase lower back stress.
However, you can alleviate this problem by putting your dumbbells on steps or blocks.
You can’t go as heavy
The awkwardness and low starting position of dumbbell deadlifts means you probably won’t be able to use as much weight as you can for conventional deadlifts.
This could impede strength gains.
Not an official power lift
The competitive sport of powerlifting recognizes conventional or sumo barbell deadlifts.
There is no dumbbell deadlift event.
As such, this exercise is less useful for powerlifters.
Barbell Deadlift 101
The barbell deadlift is the most common version of this exercise.
It can be done with a narrow (conventional) or wide (sumo) stance, although conventional deadlifts are the most well-known and widely performed.
As conventional deadlifts are the most similar exercise to dumbbell deadlifts, that’s the version we’re going to focus on today.
Barbell deadlifts, like dumbbell deadlifts, are a full-body, compound exercise that develops a long list of muscles.
The main muscles trained during barbell deadlifts include:
- Gluteus maximus
- Erector spinae
- Latissimus dorsi
- Forearm flexors
So, yes, dumbbell and barbell deadlifts train all of the same muscles.
However, because of the position of the load relative to your base of support, those muscles work slightly differently.
For example, barbell deadlifts increase lower and upper back engagement, whereas dumbbell deadlifts don’t hit these muscles quite as hard.
How to do Barbell Deadlifts
The barbell deadlift is quite a technical exercise, so don’t rush it, and don’t go too heavy too soon.
Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering this awesome exercise!
- Place your barbell on the floor and stand behind it.
- Ideally, the bar should be about nine inches above the ground.
- Position your toes under the bar, so your shins are lightly touching it.
- Your feet should be between shoulder and hip-width apart.
- Bend down and hold the bar with an overhand or mixed grip, hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Straighten your arms, brace your core, pull your shoulders down and back, and lift your chest.
- Take the tension out of the bar without actually lifting the weight.
- Drive your feet into the floor and stand up.
- Press the bar back toward your legs as you ascend.
- Stand up straight but do not lean back.
- Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower the bar to the floor.
- Let it settle, reset your core and grip, and repeat.
Barbell Deadlifts – Rich “Hashi Mashi”
Barbell Deadlift Pros and Cons
Are barbell deadlifts the right exercise for you? Weigh up these pros and cons and then decide!
Lift heavy weights
The position of the bar and your more solid grip mean that you should be able to perform this exercise with heavier weights than with the dumbbell variation.
The barbell deadlift is your best choice if you want to get strong.
More back engagement
The dumbbell deadlift is more of a squat movement than the barbell variation.
Barbell deadlifts involve a more pronounced hip hinge, and you need to use your lats more to keep the weight close to your legs.
If you want a bigger, stronger back, the barbell deadlift is the best option.
One of the three Powerlifts
The barbell deadlift is a compulsory lift in powerlifting.
If you train or compete in powerlifting, the barbell deadlift is essential.
A lot of lower back stress
Even when performed correctly, the barbell deadlift puts a lot of strain on your lower back.
You have to lean forward to do them, and the weight is in front of your base of support, further increasing back stress.
While this will strengthen your lower back, it could also lead to injury.
Conventional deadlifts are best performed with an Olympic barbell and bumper plates.
While most commercial gyms have what you need, you may not have access to this equipment if you train at home.
Dumbbell deadlifts are arguably more accessible.
A technical lift
The barbell deadlift is not an easy exercise to learn and master.
There is a lot that can go wrong, and improper technique could result in serious injury.
Dumbbell deadlifts are much more forgiving.
Dumbbell Deadlift vs Barbell – Which is Best?
Now you know a little more about dumbbell and barbell deadlifts, it’s time to compare and contrast these exercises so you can decide which one is best for you.
Ease of learning
Dumbbell deadlifts are more natural and easier to learn than the barbell variation.
After all, who hasn’t stood between two grocery bags or suitcases, bent forward, and picked them up?
That’s a dumbbell deadlift in action!
Winner: Dumbbell deadlifts!
While both exercises can per performed safely, the position of the load means that barbell dumbbells put more stress on your lower back.
As such, there is a greater tendency to round the lumbar spine, which can lead to severe injury.
This is less of an issue with dumbbell deadlifts.
Winner: Dumbbell deadlifts!
For building strength
Barbell and dumbbell deadlifts can both make you stronger.
But because barbell deadlifts let you lift heavier weights than the dumbbell variation, they’re better for building maximal strength.
Winner: Barbell deadlifts!
For muscle building
Both exercises have the potential to increase muscle size.
However, where barbell deadlifts work your back and posterior chain more, dumbbell deadlifts are a little more anterior chain and quad-focused.
Pick the exercise that trains the muscles you want to develop the most.
Winner: It’s a draw!
Athletes, especially those involved in running and sprinting-type activities, need strong, powerful posterior chains to drive them forward.
The conventional barbell deadlift hits these muscle groups, so it’s arguably the best choice for them.
However, athletes who need a powerful vertical jump should do the dumbbell variation, as it’s more quad-centric and matches those demands more closely.
Winner: It’s a draw!
Dumbbell vs Barbell Deadlift – Closing Thoughts
Forget the squat – deadlifts are the real king of exercises.
However, there are lots of different types of deadlifts, so you need to choose the right one for your needs, abilities, and goals.
For some, that will be dumbbell deadlifts, while others will do better with barbell deadlifts.
You can also do Romanian deadlifts, trap bar deadlifts, or any of the other variations available.
Regardless of what you are training for, deadlifts will help you get there sooner!
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