Kettlebell Deadlift Guide: Muscles Worked, How-To, Variations And Benefits

We LOVE the barbell deadlift. In terms of bang for your buck, this popular compound exercise is hard to beat. It works with a vast number of muscles, and you can use it to build muscle, get strong, and even burn fat. It all depends on how you program it into your workouts.


However, while the barbell deadlift is one of the best exercises around, it’s not always possible or practical. For a start, you need a barbell and some bumper plates and, if you train at home, those might not be available. Also, the barbell deadlift can be a bit intimidating for new exercisers.


The good news is that you don’t have to use a barbell to get a good deadlift workout. In fact, all you need is a single kettlebell.


In this guide, we’re going to explain how to do kettlebell deadlifts, as well as show you some cool alternatives and modifications to keep your workouts fun and exciting. Best of all, you’ll learn how to do this exercise using perfect form, which is crucial for safe, productive training.


Muscles worked during kettlebell deadlifts


Kettlebell deadlifts are a compound exercise. That means they involve several joints and lots of muscles, all working together. Compound exercises are great for building strength and muscle mass, and often replicate every day or sporting activities. In this instance, deadlifts use the same movement pattern as bending down and picking something up from the floor, such as a shopping bag or a child.


The main muscles involved in kettlebell deadlifts are:


Gluteus maximus: This is the largest muscle in the human body. Known as the glutes for short, its primary function is hip extension. The glutes are located on the back of your hip.


Hamstrings: Three muscles make up your hamstrings – biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. The hamstrings, which are located on the back of your thigh, are responsible for knee flexion and hip extension.


Quadriceps: Located on the front of your thigh, there are four quadriceps muscles – rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. These muscles extend your knee joint. The Rectus femoris is also involved in hip flexion.


Erector spinae: This is the collective name for the muscles that make up your lower back. They are responsible for extending and laterally flexing your spine and also hold it rigid when you bend forward from your hips.


Mid-traps and rhomboids: Located across and between your shoulder blades, the rhomboids and mid traps work to keep your shoulders back during kettlebell deadlifts. They are important postural muscles.


Upper traps: Your upper traps are the muscles of your upper back. They are responsible for elevation of your shoulder girdle but, in kettlebell deadlifts, they work to prevent your shoulders from being pulled downward.


Core: The collective term for the muscles that make up your midsection, your core helps keep your lumbar spine rigid. It acts a lot like a weightlifting belt.


Forearms: Gripping and holding a kettlebell involves your forearm flexors. The muscles involved in gripping are flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, flexor carpi radialis, pronator teres, flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor pollicis longus, and pronator quadratus

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How to perform Kettlebell deadlifts:

man kettlebell gym training

To get the most from any exercise, you must perform it correctly. Doing an exercise the right way will make sure you get the best results from your workouts and also keep your risk of injury to a minimum. Here’s how to do kettlebell deadlifts the right way!


Step by Step Instructions for The Kettlebell Deadlift


  • Place your kettlebell on the floor between your feet. Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart, toes pointing straight ahead or turned very slightly outward.


  • Squat down and hold the top handle of your kettlebell with an overhand grip. Keeping your arms straight, lift your chest, lower your hips, and make sure your back is not rounded. Brace your abs to help keep your spine stable.


  • Without bending your arms, drive your feet into the floor and stand up. Make sure your hips do not rise faster than your shoulders. Push your hips forward and stand upright.


  • Push your hips backward, bend your knees, and lower the weight back to the floor. Reset your core and repeat.


An excellent way to work your posterior chain


Your posterior chain is the collective term for the muscles on the back of your body, from your heels all the way up to the base of your skull. A strong posterior chain is important for good posture as it’s these muscles that hold your body upright against the pull of gravity. In addition, a strong posterior chain is crucial for activities like running, jumping, kicking, and throwing. Whether you play sports or are just someone who cares about their appearance and health, a strong posterior chain is a must.


Posterior Chain Muscles:


  • Calves 
  • Hamstrings 
  • Glutes 
  • Multifidus 
  • External Obliques 
  • Erector spine muscles 
  • Trapezius 
  • Posterior deltoids

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Useful steppingstone to barbell deadlifts

girl ketlebell gym training

Kettlebell deadlifts use a very similar movement pattern to barbell deadlifts but, starting with the weight between your feet makes them easier to master. The weight is closer to your center of gravity, and that means it’s a much more forgiving exercise, putting a lot less stress on your lower back. You don’t have to progress from kettlebell to barbell deadlifts but, if you do, this exercise will make that transition easier.


Teaches you the safest way to lift heavy objects off the floor


Lots of people hurt their backs lifting things at home or at work. Kettlebell deadlifts teach you how to lift using your legs while keeping your lumbar spine slightly arched and rigid. This is the safest way to lift anything heavy from the floor. Use the same technique in and out of the gym to avoid lower back injuries.


A good grip exercise


Kettlebell handles are usually thicker than standard barbell and dumbbell handle. This makes them more challenging to hold. Kettlebell deadlifts are a good way to build your grip without doing any specific grip-strengthening exercises. 


Ideal for home exercisers

Kettlebell deadlifts require very little space and, apart from a kettlebell, no special equipment is needed. This means that they are ideal for home exercisers. In contrast, regular deadlifts take up a lot of space, and you’ll need a barbell and weights to do them. You may also need a lifting platform to protect your floor.


They burn a lot of calories

Because they involve so many muscle groups, kettlebell deadlifts use a lot of energy and that energy is usually measured in calories. If you want to burn fat or lose weight, the more calories you burn, the better. Building your workouts around compound exercises like kettlebell deadlifts will ensure that you burn as many calories as possible, which should help speed up fat and weight loss.


Keep your abs braced

Bracing your abs helps stabilize your lumbar spine and you’re also less likely to round your lower back. To brace your abs, tense them as if you were expecting to get punched in the stomach and then inhale down into your abdomen. If you’ve done it correctly, you should feel your entire midsection tighten up. Do this at the start of each rep of kettlebell deadlifts.


Keep your lower back slightly arched

Your spine is made of four curved sections of bones called vertebrae. During kettlebell deadlifts, your lumbar spine or lower back should be slightly arched, as it would be if you are standing naturally. There is no need to exaggerate this curve and hyperextend your spine, but you should definitely avoid rounding your lower back as doing so increases your risk of injury.


Keep your chest up

Leading on from the point above, keeping your chest up throughout each rep will help protect your back and keep your torso in the optimal position for safe and effective deadlifting. Pull your shoulders down and back and think “proud chest” to optimize your posture and technique.


Go barefoot 

Deadlifting in shoes with raised heels, such as running shoes, will push you forward onto your toes and increases the chances that you will lean too far forward and round your back. Going barefoot makes it easier to keep your heels down and your weight toward the back of your foot. Some gyms don’t allow barefoot training. Minimalist running shoes with flat soles get around this problem.


Raise the weight off the floor to reduce the range of motion 

Tight hamstrings may mean some lifters struggle to maintain a lumbar arch during kettlebell deadlifts. You can prevent this problem by starting each rep with your kettlebell resting on a raised surface, such as a workout step or a couple of stacked weight plates. Raise your kettlebell 6-12 inches, or to whatever height allows you to deadlift without rounding your lower back. In the meantime, work on your flexibility and gradually reduce the height of your platform.


Variations and alternatives for the kettlebell deadlifts
men kettlebell gym training


Looking for a different way to do this exercise? Or need an alternative? We’ve got you covered! Here are our favorite kettlebell deadlift variations and alternatives.

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Single-arm kettlebell deadlifts

Have you mastered regular kettlebell exercises? Here’s your next challenge! Using one arm will increase the grip demand of this exercise and also forces you to work harder to keep your shoulders and hips square, increasing core activation in the process.


How to do it:


  • Place your kettlebell on the floor between your feet, which should be between hip and shoulder-width apart. 


  • Squat down and hold the kettlebell with one hand. 


  • Extend your free arm out to the side of your body for balance. Drop your hips, lift your chest, and brace your abs. Look straight ahead.


  • Drive your feet into the floor, and without rounding your lower back or bending your arm, stand up straight.


  • Bend your knees, push your hips back, and lower the weight back to the floor. Do all your reps on one side before swapping hands.


Two kettlebell suitcase deadlift

If the kettlebell deadlift has a disadvantage, it is that most kettlebells are not all that heavy. Get around this problem by using two equal-weight kettlebells at the same time. More weight means a more challenging workout, which should lead to increased muscle growth and strength.


How to do it:


  • Place two kettlebells on the floor, roughly shoulder-width apart. Stand directly between them, so they are in line with your mid-foot.


  • Bend your knees, squat down, and grip the kettlebells. Your palms should be facing your legs. Brace your abs, straighten your arms, lift your chest, and drop your hips. Your lower back should be slightly arched.


  • Drive your feet into the floor and stand up. Do not bend your arms or around your lower back. Keep the weights by your sides.


  • Return the weights to the floor by pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Reset your core and repeat.


Single-arm suitcase deadlift

Contrary to what you might think, doing exercise #2 with just one kettlebell does not make it easier. Instead, it increases core activation and turns a straightforward exercise into a much more challenging one. Try it and see!


How to do it:


  • Place your kettlebell on the floor and stand sideways onto it. Your feet should be shoulder to hip-width apart. 


  • Push your hips back, bend your knees, and squat down so you can grip your kettlebell. Your palm should be facing your legs.


  •  Brace your abs, lift your chest, and slightly arch your lower back.


  • Without leaning to either side, drive your feet into the floor and stand up. Use your core muscles to keep your torso and shoulders perfectly upright.


  • Push your hips back, bend your legs, and lower your kettlebell back down to the floor. Reset your core and grip and repeat.


 Kettlebell swings

While kettlebell deadlifts and kettlebell swings may look very different, they are quite similar. Both involve a hip hinge, and you are going to lift your kettlebell without bending your arms. The main difference is speed; kettlebell swings are a much more explosive exercise.


How to do it:


  • Stand with your feet hip to shoulder-width apart and your kettlebell in two hands in front of your legs. 


  • Brace your core, push your hips back, bend your legs, and lower the weight to about knee height.


  • Drive your hips forward and use this momentum to swing your kettlebell forward and up to about shoulder height. Keep your shoulders pulled down and back.


  • Swing the weight back down and repeat. Do not bend your arms or allow your lower back to round.


Kettlebell Swing Benefits

What’s so great about the kettlebell swing?  Well, the number of benefits are surprising…


Everyone should incorporate the kettlebell into their exercise program because:


  • It’s a very efficient full-body exercise.  


The kettlebell swing hits almost everything in your body.  It’s a total body movement with just one exercise! Which means it’s very efficient use of your time.  


  • Works your cardio


Because of the full-body movement and interval training format, it raises your heart rate and breathing — giving you a very effective cardio workout.


  • Improves athleticism


The explosive movement works muscles and mimics movements you use to run, jump, and lift.  Because kettlebell swings effectively strengthen the “power area” of your body — it’s one of the best exercises for improving athleticism.  


  • Strengths dozens of muscles quickly


You’ll be hard-pressed to find another exercise that works so many areas of your body.  The kettlebell swing strengthens your core, glutes, hamstrings, quads, back, delts and arms.  


  • Improves balance and posture


Research shows that kettlebell swings improve balance and posture, even for elite athletes.  


When you use a kettlebell, you naturally learn what good posture feels like. To keep your balance, you need to keep your back straight and engage your core.  And forward bend comes from your hips, instead of slouching your back.


  • Enhances flexibility


Each time you swing the kettlebell and stand tall, you engage your glutes which relaxes the opposing hip flexor.  The repeated contraction of the glutes and relaxing of the hips eventually unlock tight hips… which is a common problem.  This is partly due to the modern conveniences of today… we sit too much! Which can lead to a lack of hip mobility.


The kettlebell swing is a great exercise to combat our modern-day issues of sitting too much.  Improving hip flexibility helps increase performance in other exercises, sports, and reduces back tension.


  • Convenience


Everyone wants convenience. We’re looking for something super convenient — you can do the kettlebell swing at the gym or at home.  It’s a small weight that doesn’t take up much space and can be easily stored. You can buy a kettlebell at Walmart or order online.


  • Burn calories and fat


An American Council on Exercise (ACE) study found that the average person can burn 400 calories in just 20 minutes with a kettlebell. That’s an amazing 20 calories a minute, or the equivalent of running a six-minute mile!


And this doesn’t even include the after-burn effect!


Researchers credit the brisk calorie burning to the fact that the kettlebell workout is a total-body movement that is also done very quickly due to the interval-training format.


It’s a quick workout, and you do get a big bang for your buck in a very short amount of time. The only other thing I could find that burns that many calories is cross-country skiing uphill at a fast pace.


  • Reduces back pain


A 2012 study found that kettlebell swings have healing benefits and can reduce back pain. Researchers discovered the movement of a kettlebell swing can reverse posterior strain on the discs in the lower back (namely L4 and L5). That same study stated that other posterior chain exercises, such as back raises and deadlifts, can actually make lower back problems worse.


It’s a Game Changer


The kettlebell swing does so much and that’s why it’s a staple exercise at Team Duwe Fitness.  It improves strength, cardio, flexibility, and balance… all at the same time. Developing great quality muscle and shred body fat fast.


Once you get yourself a kettlebell, it’s gonna be the game-changer you’re looking for!


Recommended Reps and Workout Format

To implement into your workout, we recommend 30-40 second work followed by 15 seconds rest.  Repeat for 5 to 10 rounds.


Do this 2-4 times a week and you’ll see significant gains in your body, endurance, and overall quality of life.


Choosing Right Kettlebell Weight

For beginners, we usually recommend 10 to 20 lbs for women and 25 to 35 lbs for men.  


Anything lower than 10 lbs, probably isn’t worth it.  Start with something that gives you a little challenge but isn’t too heavy — so you can learn how to use it properly.  


And then as you get stronger, you can slowly increase the weight.  Eventually, you can even go up to 100 pounds!


How to Perform the Kettlebell Swing

The swing is a complex movement, so instead of reading some text, we suggest you watch the movement in the video above.  With that said, here are a few pointers for you:


  • Look straight ahead.  Avoid looking down.


  • Feet in a comfortable position, slightly wider than shoulder-width.


  • Keep back straight, avoid slouching.


  • Lower the kettlebell between legs and pop hips forward.  It’s important to use your legs and hips to quickly raise the kettlebell.  It’s all in the hips!


  • The kettlebell should rise to chest level, so arms are parallel with the floor.


Try incorporating a kettlebell workout into your routine. With consistency, you’ll be beginning to look all starry-eyed at the outcomes that short and basic portable weight swing exercises can convey.


On the off chance that you need to help your physicality, portable weight swings will make you all the more effective and add stature to your bounce and shave seconds off your dashes.


On the off chance that you need to pack on muscle, swinging an overwhelming portable weight will manufacture a scary upper back and set of shoulders. What’s more, on the off chance that you need to shed muscle to fat ratio, swings will burn fat like margarine liquefying in an iron dish.


There truly is no drawback to including this activity into your stockpile – if you know how to do it accurately. Ensure you do this by figuring out how to maintain a strategic distance from this basic mistake.


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