Bodyweight Alternatives to Deadlifts

Weightlifting isn’t for everyone.

It requires a gym membership, a tolerance for repetition, and most importantly no serious, or even minor, injuries.

That’s right – even the smallest of injuries can easily be aggravated by lifting weights. In fact, weightlifting itself can also cause injuries if not done correctly. Exercises such as the deadlift, for example, can result in severe injuries and compromise your ability to exercise if not done with proper form.

However, when done correctly, the deadlift can be a great exercise that engages all of your core, legs, gluteus, and parts of your upper body. There’s a reason why it’s such a popular exercise in the fitness community.

That’s why many people turn to calisthenics. It’s a much safer alternative to weightlifting that can emulate, and even improve upon weightlifting exercises. It also doesn’t require a gym membership, which allows you to invest in additional educational resources or complementary stretching or workout gear.

With that in mind, today, we’ll be looking at bodyweight deadlift alternatives.

It’s important to note that there is no perfect substitute. As previously mentioned, the deadlift is one of the most complete exercises in weightlifting. Finding a calisthenics replacement is no easy task, but we think we got pretty close.

Upside Down Deadlifts

A common calisthenics approach to train towards a particular exercise is to train the “negative” of that exercise.

This consists of taking an exercise and doing it in reverse order.

For the deadlift, the way to reverse the order of the exercise is to do it on a pull-up bar, upside down.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Grab the pull-up bar at shoulder distance
  • Kick the legs up, keeping your legs straight, until you’re at 90 degrees to floor. Head down, feet up
  • Lower your back, keeping your legs straight, until your back is parallel to the floor. Your legs should form a 90 degrees angle with your core
  • Engage the core to lift the legs again until your whole body is straight

You can see this better in the video below:

This is an excellent approach to substituting the deadlift as it takes all the strain out of the knees, which the most frequent victims of deadlift related injuries.

Despite not being as injury prone, the upside-down deadlift still requires proper form to be efficient.

With that in mind, here are 3 crucial points to pay attention to when doing upside down deadlifts:

  1. Make sure you are engaging the scapula by pulling your shoulders back and ‘squeezing your back muscles’. Your chest shouldn’t sink or arch. Try to keep the shoulders aligned with your chest as much as possible
  2. Keep the core engaged. As with regular deadlifts, upside down deadlifts rely on the core to lift and lower your body. Focusing on your chest and arms will make the exercise ten times harder
  3. Keep your legs straight. Calisthenics differs from weightlifting as it requires both strength and flexibility. Keeping your legs straight will result in a more even distribution of weight and a higher engagement of the core

Progressing to Upside Down Deadlifts

If the above exercise seems daunting, don’t worry; there are easier variations of the upside-down deadlifts that can be done by pretty much anyone.

That’s the beauty of calisthenics; its progression-based approach allows all types of athletes of all kinds of shapes to practice it.

Variation #1: Upside Down Hold (Gymnastics Rings or Pull-up Bar)

The very first step to achieving the upside-down deadlift is to be able to hold in the upside-down pull up bar position.

No movement required. Simply grab the bar, kick your legs up and straighten your body. Hold for as long as you can. Once you can stay in this position for at least 15 seconds, you’re ready to progress.

You might find it easier to work on this hold on the gymnastic rings. As these are not static, they enlist more muscle groups, easing the load on the core and chest muscles. Some people also find the gymnastics rings grip more comfortable.

Variation #2: Upside Down “Mini” Deadlift

Once you are comfortable in the upside-down position, it’s time to add some movement.

Start by lowering the legs until the knees hit the bar. Once you can do at least 6 reps of this exercise, go lower. Repeat until you can do a full upside-down deadlift.

Once again, you might find it easier to do this exercise with the gymnastic rings, as they ease the load on your chest and core when moving your legs.

Variation #3: Hanging Leg Raises

Another great way to work on the upside-down deadlift is to practice your toes to bar leg raises.

This quintessential calisthenics exercise consists of grabbing the pull-up bar, or gymnastic rings, at shoulder height and kicking your legs up, keeping them straight, until they reach the bar. You’ll also want to limit the movement of the hips.

It’s pretty much the same as an upside-down deadlift, with the difference that your legs will go all the way down and touch the floor, allowing you to rest between reps.

This is not an easy exercise. It requires great hamstring flexibility and core strength, but once you can do at least 6 reps of this exercise, you’ll be more than ready to do upside-down deadlifts.

To make this exercise easier, tuck your knees to your chest. Complement this with hamstring stretches, and you’ll be doing upside down deadlifts in no time.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has given you some ideas to replace the deadlift.

The exercises we’ve outlined in this article are particularly useful if you’re suffering from a knee injury, as they put virtually zero stress in the knees.

They also don’t put much pressure on the back, though they still work the core.

There is one limitation to these exercises though. Despite the fact that they slightly engage the gluteus, they won’t do much for your legs and lower body.

If you’re looking for a complete solution, you can try combining your sets of upside-down deadlifts with some classic calisthenics legs exercises such as squats and lunges.

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