Deadlifts tone your tush while also targeting your hamstring and back muscles. The benefits of this classic derriere-developer go well beyond a shapely backside, however. Strengthening your posterior musculature can help with many everyday tasks, from lifting a suitcase to picking up your child. Deadlifts are most commonly performed with a barbell, but you can easily substitute dumbbells for both regular deadlifts and the straight-legged variation.
To begin a straight-legged dumbbell deadlift, stand holding a dumbbell in each hand alongside your thighs, with your elbows extended. Place your feet about hip-width apart. Without bending your knees, hinge at your hips to lower the dumbbells toward the floor. Keep your chest lifted and your spine extended. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, come back to the starting position, standing upright. Don't allow your back to round at any point in the movement.
The regular deadlift with dumbbells starts with the dumbbells on the floor, just in front of your feet. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight and your chest lifted, bend your knees and move your hips back to grasp the dumbbells with straight elbows. Stand up holding the weights, so that they come to rest alongside your thighs. Return to the starting position, lowering the dumbbells to the floor. Keep your spine extended and your chest lifted the entire time.
Hamstrings and Lower Back
The obvious difference between these two exercises is that in the straight-leg version the knees stay straight, while in the regular deadlift, they bend. Keeping your knees straight stretches your hamstrings more. If your hamstrings are tight, they can pull on your pelvis in the straight-legged variation, causing your lower back to round. Bending your knees reduces the stretch in your hamstrings, allowing you to come down farther with a straight spine.
Rounding your back is a definite deadlift no-no. When your back rounds, the soft centers of the disks between your vertebrae are pushed backward. Letting that happen while you're holding heavy weights in your hands could lead to a painful disk herniation. Since it's difficult to keep a straight spine in the straight-leg deadlift variation, the regular deadlift is more low back-friendly. You should be especially cautious with straight-leg deadlifts if your hamstrings are tight.
- ExRx.net: Dumbbell Straight-Back Straight-Leg Deadlift
- ACE GetFit Exercise Library: Dumbbell Deadlift
- Women's Strength Training Anatomy; Frederic Delavier
Joe Miller started writing professionally in 1991. He specializes in writing about health and fitness and has written for "Fit Yoga" magazine and the New York Times City Room blog. He holds a master's degree in applied physiology from Columbia University, Teacher's College.