Deadlifts Unmasked: Are They Worth It and What are the Alternatives?

Deadlifts Unmasked: Are They Worth It and What are the Alternatives?


Often proclaimed the "king of exercises," the deadlift form holds a key place in strength and conditioning regimens. Noted for its total body benefits, it's lauded for its ability to work out the posterior chain, the muscles running down your back. But one cannot help but question, is deadlifting bad for you? And are deadlifts worth it for building a powerful, functional back? This article scrutinizes the deadlift's benefits, discusses its effects on back health, and explores effective alternatives to deadlifts.

Deadlift alternatives

Unraveling the Deadlift: What Do Deadlifts Work Out?

Deadlifts are associated with many benefits, including improved overall strength and enhanced posture. When executed with good deadlift form, this exercise engages various muscle groups. However, upon closer inspection, the impact of this exercise on the body, specifically the posterior chain, may not be as advantageous as widely believed.

The Biomechanics of Deadlifts

A thorough look at the mechanics of deadlifts uncovers some considerable downsides. While the deadlift involves the posterior chain muscles, how these muscles work during the lift could be better. Essentially, as you lift and your body straightens up, the force on these muscles changes. At the start of the lift, the muscles are stretched or "pulled," but as you straighten up, they are squeezed or "pushed." This shift in force leads to less work for the posterior chain muscles as the lift continues, potentially reducing the overall benefits of the exercise.
Moreover, many individuals tend to shift their hips forward, hyperextend their lumbar spine, and flex their thoracic spine at the end of the lift. This posture, commonly observed during deadlifts, can amplify the risk of back pain from deadlifts, potentially leading to severe injuries over time.


Are Deadlifts Worth It? Insights from Research

Scientific research is increasingly questioning the effectiveness of deadlifts, particularly for training the posterior chain. Studies have found that the exercise primarily stimulates the quadriceps and lumbar erector muscles rather than the hamstrings and glutes, contradicting popular notions about what deadlifts work out. Furthermore, deadlifts seem to offer minimal relief for low back pain and may not be beneficial for individuals with poor lumbar extension capabilities.


Deadlift Alternatives: A New Approach to Posterior Chain Training

Given the limitations of deadlifts, you might ask, "Can you build a strong back without deadlifting?" The answer is a resounding yes. While squats might be an obvious alternative, they don't offer an ideal replacement for deadlifts since the two exercises target different muscle groups with varying levels of intensity and engagement. Rather than seeking a single exercise as an alternative to deadlifts, consider a varied workout routine that maintains engagement of the posterior chain, reinforces a neutral standing posture, and minimizes spinal compression forces. Instead of focusing on a single deadlift alternative, pursuing a diverse workout routine that continues to engage the posterior chain, advocates a neutral standing posture, and minimizes spinal compression forces is beneficial.

Deadlift alternatives

A noteworthy example of such a routine is the Step and Row technique taught in the Functional Patterns 10-Week Online Course:

  1. Develops the lats and glute connection: This technique promotes muscle coordination, leading to better functional movement patterns.
  2. Strength development while improving hip mobility: It offers a balanced approach that enhances overall physical capabilities.
  3. Improved walking and running: You can significantly enhance your gait and running performance by focusing on fundamental movement patterns.
  4. A more athletic physique: Combining strength development and improved mobility can contribute to a more athletic build.
  5. An upright standing posture: Regular practice of this technique can improve posture and reduce back pain risk.
  6. Pain-free movement: By emphasizing correct form and alignment, this method reduces the risk of injury and promotes pain-free movement.


At Functional Patterns, we understand the importance of squats as a fundamental exercise. Our Functional Training System covers squatting extensively, including exercises like the Pendulum Squat. However, we ensure to build on foundational principles, such as your standing posture, in the 10-week course to guarantee that by the time you get to squatting, you will avoid facing the same problems commonly associated with traditional barbell squatting. We aim to show you a safer, more effective way to squat with weights.

We view squatting as a derivative of walking and running, part of the "FP Big Four" - the foundational blueprint that your body follows. Functional Patterns takes this roadmap and distills it into its most fundamental elements, so you can exercise and move pain-free, while efficiently working out the targeted muscle groups. In this light, deadlifts aren't necessarily the only way to achieve a strong back and an athletic physique. You can safely and effectively explore alternatives to deadlifts, leading to better overall functional strength and mobility.

Deadlift alternatives

Deadlifts and Posture: An Experimental Challenge

To gauge the influence of your workout regimen on your posture, consider this experiment: take three full-body photos of yourself from the front, side, and back, while standing relaxed. Do this twice – once before beginning your routine and once six months after consistently performing your chosen regimen – be it deadlifts or any deadlift alternative.

This visual record can provide valuable insights into how your routine affects your body. We've seen that many individuals who follow a traditional weightlifting regimen, including deadlifts, may notice a forward lean in their posture over time. This is because exercises like deadlifts can overdevelop the front body muscles, creating a muscular imbalance.

This imbalance can pull the shoulders forward and cause a hunched posture, contributing to back pain and other issues. Moreover, the compression forces experienced during deadlifts can cause increased lumbar curvature, leading to an anterior pelvic tilt – a common postural problem resulting in lower back pain.

On the other hand, those who opt for the alternatives to deadlifts – for example, those following Functional Patterns programs – often notice improvements in their upright standing posture. Our exercises aim to balance muscle development, promoting a neutral spine and reducing the risk of postural issues.

With this experiment, you can see these changes in your own body over time. It's a simple yet effective way to understand the impact of your fitness choices and make the necessary adjustments.

Deadlift alternatives

Suppose your goal is to develop functional strength, maintain a youthful body, and ensure the well-being of your posterior chain. In that case, it might be worth exploring deadlift alternatives that promote a neutral spine and balanced muscular system.

The key takeaways from this examination of deadlifts are:

  • Deadlifts, while effective at engaging various muscle groups, may not provide the best workout for your posterior chain. This is due to the shift from tensile to compressive force during the lift, resulting in lessened engagement of these muscles.
  • The common form adopted during deadlifts can increase the risk of back pain and potentially lead to severe injuries over time.
  • Although a fundamental exercise, squats do not serve as a direct alternative to deadlifts.
  • A diverse workout routine that includes alternatives to deadlifts could lead to better overall strength and mobility.



Functional Patterns offers a series of alternatives to deadlifts that can help you achieve your fitness goals while minimizing the potential for injury. Our 10-Week Online Course, the Functional Training System, and the Parabar Workout Course are designed to help you build strength, improve posture, and enhance functional movement, all while maintaining a focus on pain-free movement.

These programs introduce you to effective exercises like the Step and Row technique and the Pendulum Squat, which are designed to develop strength and mobility in key areas. They also provide guidance on good form and posture, reducing the risk of back pain from exercise.

By shifting the focus away from traditional exercises like deadlifts and embracing a more diverse and functional approach, you can enjoy the benefits of strength training while minimizing the risk of injury. After all, the ultimate aim of any fitness regimen should be to improve your quality of life, and living free of pain is a critical part of that goal.


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