I dont have access to a barbell, yet i still want to try and do deadlifts, so i was wondering if anybody knows how to explain to me the proper technique, or maybe even refer me to an article or video that may help. I have spent almost all day trying to get some info on this, but for the most part they all explain the right technique in regard to a barbell not a dumbbell.

4 Answers 4


Barbell deadlifts require different form than dumbbell deadlifts, because the bar has to pass in front of your knees as it rises. Dumbbell deadlifts allow the knees to stay farther forward, allowing the use of more leg muscle and less back muscle than the barbell. The dynamics are similar to lifting with a hex bar.

Dumbbell handles are usually closer to the ground than a barbell (~4" vs ~8"). This means that you would have to squat down farther for your hands to reach them. Unless you have very high hamstring flexibility, this will cause your pelvis to tilt forward at the bottom and curve the lower back. If the load is heavy (near or above your body weight) you should probably elevate them by placing on a stack of books or something.

The bottom line is that lifting dumbbells is simpler than lifting a barbell. Position your feet about shoulder width apart, place the dumbbells at the outsides of your feet (and possibly elevated 4" above ground level), squat down with your arms straight, grip the bars, stick out your butt and lift chest(and try to keep that lower back curve throughout the lift). Take and hold a deep breath to tense the core, and as the weights come off the ground the weight will hang from your arms and shoulders causing a tendency to hunch forward; you resist this -- keeping the chest up -- to avoid injury to the lower back. Stand up to full extension, pause, and reverse the motion till the weights are on the ground.

  • I initially stacked my hex dumbbells on top of another set of dumbbells to get them raised. Once I'd maxed out the weight I had available (2x50lbs), I worked my way back up again with the dumbbells on the floor as performing them raised helped my range of motion.
    – Robin Ashe
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 17:42

I'd suggest following the instructional technique for barbell deadlifts and just transfer that exact form to the dumbbell deadlifts.

You can practice the technique with a broomstick so that you can get the correct starting position (you won't be able to put it on the ground, you'll have to imagine the lift bottoms out with the broomstick approximately 8 inches from the ground, against your shins).

To learn the mechanics, here are two good articles:

Stand with feet slightly narrower than shoulder width apart, in a position you would jump from. Place the bar about 8 inches off the ground, directly above your midfoot (not middle of your forefoot, but middle of the entire foot). Move your shins so that they're against the bar in that position. Without moving the bar or your shins, bring your chest up, shoulders back, and back into extension. This is the starting position. Stand up by extending the knees until the bar passes them; then continue to stand up straight by extending at the hip, keeping the bar as close to your legs as possible the entire time. Return to the starting position by bending at the hip until the bar passes the knees, then at the knees until the bar is at the bottom, against your shins, directly over your midfoot. The bar should never move away from directly over your midfoot at any point during the lift.

This will take a bit of imagination to do with a broomstick, but it will help you learn what the form should feel like. That will let you transfer that feeling to the dumbbell version.

Then, you can try to replicate that with dumbbells. It will take even more imagination and control to do with the same form as with a barbell, but it can be the exact same motion. You can use some small boxes to make sure the starting position of the dumbbells matches the starting position that you'd get with a proper barbell with bumper plates.

Using dumbbells also allows an alternate form because your knees won't get in the way when you stand up. This would change the exercise to focus more on quads and less on the back.

  • 1
    The form for barbell is inefficient for dumbbells. This is not incorrect form, just different, due to the presence of a bar that must clear the knees.
    – J. Win.
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 1:13
  • Can't you just use the same form and have the imaginary axis of the dumbbells clear the knees just like a barbell would?
    – user3085
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 1:17
  • 1
    While it's probably possible to learn to lift dumbbells while keeping your knees behind the line an imaginary bar would travel, your last sentence implies that's the only proper way to do it.
    – J. Win.
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 17:35
  • Ah.. I'll edit that. Thanks. I did think that the asker wanted the benefits of an actual barbell deadlift, so that's why I was focusing on the barbell deadlift form being the only proper way to do it.
    – user3085
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 17:49

Try the Suitcase Deadlift. It is performed like a normal deadlift except you are holding only one dumbbell at your side. This exercise gives you the added benefit of training core anti-rotation. Holding only one dumbbell forces you to brace your core so your upper body won't tip and rotate.

Instructional link and video: http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/exercises-you-should-be-doing-suitcase-deadlift/


If you're using hex dumbbells, in addition to the method suggested by J. Winchester, you could put a single dumbbell on end between your legs with the bar in line with the middle of your feet, wrap your fingers underneath the top part and lift up the way you would with a kettlebell. This even allows you to do a kettlebell like swing, but of course make sure you've got a good grip so the dumbbell doesn't go flying, particularly if you're in front of a mirror.

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