The kettlebell deadlift is a superior exercise for building strength in the lower back and gluteal muscles. Kettlebell deadlifting also improves grip and trapezius strength.
In addition, another less known deadlift benefit is the development of the Posterior Chain. The Posterior Chain, if you are unfamiliar with the term refers to the muscles that run the length of the back of your body. These muscles include the hamstrings, glutes, spina erectors and some muscles of the core.
Strengthening this interconnected network of muscles can translate into improved physical performance in other fitness and sporting disciplines. This accounts for why deadlifting forms a fundamental part of the training of elite-level rowers.
Improves Posterior Chain strength
Increases whole-body strength and power
Enhances physical robustness
Encourages whole-body growth
Improves grip and forearm strength
The deadlift is a complete exercise
The kettlebell deadlift confers many physical benefits. As briefly outlined above, this single exercise improves Posterior Chain strength while also developing whole-body robustness.
In addition, the kettlebell deadlift is a highly adaptable exercise that can be easily modified to include a range of movements. You could think of the kettlebell deadlift as a tree trunk and the many modifications as branches that lead off from the central bough.
Perhaps one of the few limitations of the kettlebell deadlift is that it is both static and doesn’t develop the anterior muscles. These muscles include the quadriceps, abdominals, pectorals, deltoids, and biceps.
However, by including a squat at the top point of each kettlebell deadlift, you will engage the quads. Furthermore, if you include a high-pull (the kettlebell equivalent of a barbell upright row) or kettlebell swing, you will engage the upper body anterior muscles.
It’s this capacity for modification that makes the kettlebell deadlift a complete and highly diverse exercise.
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Deadlift muscles worked
Lower back (erector spinae)
Kettlebell Deadlift variations
Kettlebell Romanian deadlift
The subtle difference between a Romanian deadlift and a conventional deadlift is that with the Romanian variation you are to start in the standing position.
From the standing position, you are to lower the kettlebell or bar just below your knee before returning to the upright position. You do not touch or rest the weight on the floor between each rep.
Kettlebell sumo deadlift
When sumo deadlifting, you are to take an extra-wide stance – 1.5 shoulder-widths. The hand position is slightly different. If you are using a barbell the hands are very close together – almost touching. This slight shift in posture and position targets different areas of the glutes and quadriceps.
Kettlebell one legged deadlift
Firstly, why would you want to perform a one-legged deadlift? Well, by deadlifting on one leg your stance becomes unstable. This may sound like a negative and for beginner trainers it is.
However, for advanced trainers, destabilising your base can improve muscle control, balance, and coordination. Also, when we’re put off balance during an exercise, we have to utilise a wider range of muscles to stabilise the position.
The kettlebell one legged deadlift is performed more or less the same as the two-legged version. The slight difference being is that you use your other leg, the one not touching the floor, as a balancing aid.
How to start kettlebell deadlifting
If you’re new to kettlebell deadlifts you’ll first have to develop technical proficiency prior to integrating the exercise into your training regime. A comprehensive kettlebell deadlift tutorial can be found below.
Once you can kettlebell deadlift with confidence, you’ll no doubt want to include it in your training sessions. Who wouldn’t, considering how many benefits are up grabs? To begin including kettlebell deadlifts into your training sessions follow the 4-step process listed below.
Step 1: Start off with a light kettlebell. It’s recommendable to start with half the weight that you think you can lift.
Step 2: Include kettlebell deadlifts into one or two of your weekly training sessions.
Step 3: Aim for a minimum of 3 sets of 8-12 reps or a maximum of 5-sets of 10-15 reps. Overdoing it with a new exercise is a recipe for severe DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness) or a muscle pull or strain. It’s always best to start off with a lot less than you think you can do.
Step 4: When you begin to improve your kettlebell deadlifting performance gradually include more sets, reps and weight.
How to do a Kettlebell deadlift
Right, we’ve covered the befits of kettlebell deadlift and considered how the exercise can be integrated into our training regime. Now we’ll look at the technical application of this functional strength developer.
But before you begin your journey to kettlebell deadlift mastery, it is worth mentioning that this exercise is easier and safer than barbell deadlifts. Deadlifting a kettlebell is safer because you can centre your mass directly over the weight which enables you to maintain the correct postural form throughout the exercise.
The same cannot be said of barbell deadlifts. With barbell deadlifts, the bar remains outside of your centre of mass which pulls you forward during the lift. This places excessive strain on your lower back and, if you do not remain conscientious of your form, leads to ‘hinging’ at the hips.
Having selected a lightweight and thoroughly warmed-up, stand directly over the kettlebell adopting a slightly wider than should-width stance.
Keeping your back as straight as a two-by-four, bend at the knee, and grasp the kettlebell handle.
Before initiating the movement take out the slack in the arms by applying force against the resistance. A common mistake made by even advanced trainers is to snatch the weight off the floor. Lifting in this way not only looks unsightly but also increases the risk of injury. The kettlebell deadlift should be performed smoothly and under control.
As long as teaching point 3 has been satisfied – that is, there is no slack in your arms and you are applying force against the kettlebell – execute the deadlift by standing up out of the start squat position.
When deadlifting ensure to apply equal force through both legs. Also, concentrate more on forcing your hips forward as opposed to hinging at the lower back. Furthermore, keep your back straight, fix your eyes on a point to your front as this helps to improve posture alignment through the exercise.
Return to the start position by retracing your steps back through the 5 teaching points.
Kettlebell deadlift form Dos and Don’ts
Do select a kettlebell weight appropriate for your current level of strength.
Don’t overexert yourself and don’t exceed the maximum number of sets and reps (5 sets of between 10- to 15reps).
Do adopt a solid and stable stance before attempting the kettlebell deadlift. Centre your mass directly over the kettlebell. Set your feet a little over shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees, keep your back straight, and look forward.
Don’t hold your breath during the exercise. Maintain a methodical breathing pattern and if possible, try to synchronise – or time – your breathing with the lifting cycle.
Do rest between sets. Resting allows your energy stores to replenish after exertion. This will enable you to maximise each set while also reducing the rate at which your technique deteriorates.
Don’t rush the exercise. If you’re new to kettlebell deadlift take your time: consciously walk through each of the primary teaching points outlined above as you prepare to perform the exercise.
Do go get yourself a kettlebell and start deadlifting.
Deadlift Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Will deadlift build muscle?
Yes, if you deadlift often enough and apply the principles of overload, where you increase weight, reps and sets, you will likely experience hypertrophy. What is hypertrophy? It is ‘the enlargement of’ muscle tissue ‘from the increase in size of its cells,’ (Google, 2021)
Where does deadlift build?
Deadlifting builds muscle primarily in the glutes and lower back. But this compound exercise is believed to encourage whole-body muscle growth.
Should I use a belt or wrist straps when I deadlift?
Really that question depends on who you ask. Strength trainers and strongmen will likely advocate the use of training aids. The reason why is training aids, such as belts and wrist wraps, compensate for physical weakness which would otherwise prohibit maximal lifts.
However, the use of lifting aids leads to strength imbalances: the strongman has the glute and back strength to tear 200kg off the floor but his weak forearms and lack of grip strength require that he uses wraps.
Training and exercise purists, like myself, believe in developing balanced strength and fitness. Thus, if the purist hasn’t got the grip strength to hold the bar for the desired number of reps, she does not resort to lifting aids. Instead, she keeps training until her strength is balanced or she focuses on the weak area.
Who holds deadlift record?
Eddy Hall, winner of the 2017 World Strongman competition, set the absolute deadlifting record in 2016 when he became the first person in history to pull a colossal 500kg.
However, that record has recently been exceeded by Hafþór Björnsson who, in 2020, deadlifted 501kg.
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Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.