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The Ultimate Guide to the Kettlebell Deadlift: Benefits, Variations and Movement Standards

Learn how the kettlebell deadlift can aid your fitness journey, how to perform the exercise correctly, and the ways you can vary this simple but effective exercise.

The kettlebell deadlift is a glute, core, back and lower-body exercise that requires an athlete to lift the kettlebell’s dead weight from the ground until the body reaches full extension.

It is an excellent exercise because it works a wide variety of muscles at once while also being highly functional.

There are many variations to the kettlebell deadlift (more on this below), all of which work a slight different set of muscles and come with their own unique benefits.

The Kettlebell Deadlift

The primary purpose of the deadlift is to build strength and power, stabilise the body and learn how to pick weight up from the ground safely, efficiently and effectively.

It is a highly functional movement and a staple in a great number of training programs.

The kettlebell deadlift is a variation of the conventional barbell deadlift, and for daily life, it is a highly specialised movement.

While deadlifting with a barbell will allow you to lift the heaviest amount of weight, performing a deadlift with a kettlebell, or kettlebells, permits athletes to place themselves in more realistic situations they might encounter in day-to-day life.

Make sure to always perform this exercise with proper form and progress slowly. If you’re only getting started, consider having a certified coach around to pinpoint any faults and ensure you’re lifting safely.

Movement Standards: How to Do a Kettlebell Deadlift

  1. Start standing just behind your kettlebell with your feet between it, placed about shoulder-width apart. Your back should be straight and your core tight.
  2. Hinge forward at the waist and push your but back, lowering your torso while keeping your upper body straight, and grab the kettlebell firmly with both hands. It is alright to bend your knees slightly at this stage.
  3. The backs of your hands and your elbows should be facing forward. Make sure you’re tight throughout the body, especially your core, glutes and lower back, and look forward.
  4. Lift the kettlebell up, squeezing your glutes to drive force, and stand up straight. Try to keep the kettlebell’s path as close to your body as possible to maximise efficiency.
  5. After you’ve locked your body in the standing position, lower the kettlebell back to the ground, ensuring your core and back are braced.

Benefits of The Kettlebell Deadlift

Given its benefits, it’s not surprising that the deadlift is a staple in many training programs, and its variation, the kettlebell deadlift, is no exception.

The benefits of including kettlebell deadlifts into your training include:

  • Improved functional movement: the weight distribution and shape of a kettlebell are closer to day-to-day objects you might have to pick up from the ground than any other piece of equipment you might find in a gym. The mechanics involved in the kettlebell deadlift are the same as the ones you’ll need to pick things up in life, so performing this exercise will reduce the risk of back injuries and improve your functional movement.
  • Increased strength, power and muscle: all of these aspects will be a result of a solid training and nutrition plan, but given that the kettlebell deadlift works many muscles at once, and that you’re able to load a deadlift heavier than any other lift, this is a great exercise to help you increase strength, power and muscle.
  • Solid building base: many other lifts require you to deadlift a weight off the ground first, so practising the deadlift in isolation can make you better at other lifts and grant you with a strong base for more complex movement.

Muscles Worked

The primary muscles worked during the kettlebell deadlift are:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps

In addition, your body will also recruit the following muscles to aid the lift:

  • Adductors
  • Lower back muscles
  • Oblique and core muscles
  • Lats and midback muscles
  • Forearm muscles and grip muscles, especially as the kettlebells get heavier.

Kettlebell Deadlift Variations

There are many variations to the kettlebell deadlift, all of which challenge your muscles differently and build stability and resiliency against injury in unique plains of motion.

Single Arm Kettlebell Deadlift

This is a very similar movement to the standard kettlebell deadlift, except it is performed with a single arm. Picking up the kettlebell with one hand increases the stress placed on one side of your torso and so increases your core activation.

To perform this exercise, bend from the hips by pushing your but backwards, engage your core and drive through your heels and hamstrings, and reach down to grip the kettlebell with a single hand.

The kettlebell should stay between the line of the feet during the duration of the lift. You can use your free hand to aid with balance by pushing it slightly backwards.

Once you stand up, make sure to push your shoulder back, trying to keep a comfortable but engaged position.

Single Leg Kettlebell Deadlift

This variation is a great exercise to practice stability, muscle-mind connection and strength.

As you’ll lean forward on one leg to pick up the kettlebell, you’ll need good balance and core strength to perform this exercise correctly and safely. Aim to create a “T” shape with your body.

The single leg kettlebell deadlift can be performed with either one or two kettlebells. The two kettlebell variation will really overload one leg, working your ankles, and is great for building strength. Keep in mind this is a slightly more advanced movement.

Sumo Kettlebell Deadlift

The sumo kettlebell deadlift is performed the same as the standard version of this exercise, except your stance will be wider.

This variation targets the inner thigh and groins muscles and puts more load on the quads, as the distance the kettlebell travels is smaller.

Double Kettlebell Deadlift

Words by Marcus Filly:

“✌️There are 2 main components to a great RDL:

  • “slight bend in the knees (active knees)
  • “hinging with a neutral spine

“🔑Here’s how to achieve these key qualities:

  • “focus on pushing your butt back and creating tension in the hamstrings and glutes
  • “maintain proper posture by activating the upper back muscles (rhomboids, lats, mid + low traps) to keep the shoulder blades from protracting forward and collapsing the upper spine
  • “keep the kettlebells close towards your body: this will prevent loading the lower back and allow you to keep steady balance over your center of mass”

Suitcase Kettlebell Deadlift

This variation can either be performed with one or two kettlebells. By lifting the kettlebell from the side rather than between your legs, you put more stress onto your core stabilisers.

The name derivates from the movement of picking up a suitcase from the ground, so you get an idea how functional this variation can be.

Banded Kettlebell Deadlift

Also known as a resistance band kettlebell deadlift, this variation adds resistance to the whole movement, forcing you to apply more power as you lift the weight from the ground while also keeping control and stability bringing the kettlebell down.

This exercise also engages the most muscles out of all variations.

Kettlebell Deadlift High Pull

If you’re looking for a full-body exercise this kettlebell deadlift variation is for you.

The kettlebell deadlift high pull engages your whole core and primarily targets your hips and abdominal muscles. It is a great exercise to combine endurance with strength training.

Deficit Kettlebell Deadlift

The deficit deadlift is done over an elevated surface, where the weight sits below the feet.

It is a great exercise to train the initial stage of the deadlift, where you pull the weight from the floor, and the added range of motion can be incredibly beneficial to strengthen the lower back.

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