Kettlebell Deadlift: Benefits, Muscles Worked, and More

Published by Debbie Luna
Last Updated: January 1, 2022

The kettlebell deadlift is a variation of the deadlift exercise wherein instead of lifting a barbell the exerciser will instead use either a single kettlebell or two evenly weighted ones gripped in both hands.

The kettlebell deadlift is primarily performed as a substitute for the standard barbell deadlift exercise, though it may also act as a supplemental compound exercise in instances where the athlete possesses certain injuries, has no access to other types of equipment or simply wishes to use an alternative exercise.

This particular compound deadlift exercise is known not only for its versatility in use but also for the significantly lower risk of injury to the exerciser, especially if proper form and a sensible amount of weight are used, thereby making the kettlebell deadlift a truly excellent exercise that may be incorporated into a variety of workout routines.

What are Kettlebell Deadlifts?

The kettlebell deadlift is a form of resistance exercise primarily performed for the purposes of athletic training or physical rehabilitation, depending on the characteristics of its performance and the exerciser themselves.

The kettlebell deadlift is considered a closed chain kinetic movement with a particular focus on the posterior chain of the body, also known as the groups of muscles placed along the back side of the exerciser, of which are primarily responsible for such movements and actions like balancing, bending over and crouching.

the kettlebell deadlift

The kettlebell deadlift builds muscular strength and athletic explosiveness with a certain intensity – though, as mentioned before, the particular benefits provided to the exerciser by the kettlebell deadlifts will depend on a variety of factors, and as such may be more effective for certain individuals than others.

This particular compound exercise must be performed carefully, with the appropriate form and a reasonable level of resistance being used by the exerciser, as a certain risk of injury may still be present, though lower than that of traditional deadlifts.

How are Kettlebell Deadlifts Performed?

To begin performing a kettlebell deadlift, the exerciser will place their feet at a comfortable yet stable distance apart with the kettlebell placed on the floor between their legs.

The exerciser will then draw their rear end backwards by bending at the hips while maintaining an absolutely straight back so as to reduce the incidence of injury. As they do so, their knees will bend, drawing their upper body towards the floor.

Regardless of whether two kettlebells or a single one is used, the exerciser must then grip the handle or handles with both hands, turning their wrists in whatever position is most comfortable for them.

how to kettlebell deadlift

Driving their heels into the ground while simultaneously generating force with their entire posterior chain, the exerciser will then raise their torso upwards while maintaining their grip on the handle or handles of the kettlebells.

This will have the effect of straightening the entire body of the exerciser, with the kettlebell or kettlebells resting somewhere around their thighs or hips, depending on the exerciser’s individual biomechanics.

This essentially completes a single repetition of the kettlebell deadlift, whereafter the individual may then return to the starting position so as to perform another repetition or simply drop the kettlebells in order to complete the set.

It is important to keep in mind that while straightening upwards, the exerciser’s back and neck should be perfectly straight and in line with each other, with their ankles remaining flat on the ground the entire time so as to reduce the chance of them losing their balance.

What Muscles are Used in the Kettlebell Deadlift?

Considering the fact that the kettlebell deadlift is considered a compound exercise wherein not just one but multiple muscle groups are activated and stimulated during the performance of the exercise, it should be no surprise that a multitude of different muscles are used in the kettlebell deadlift.

First and foremost among these muscle groups is the gluteus maximus, minimus and medius, all of which are located within the buttocks and are responsible for the first portion of the movement wherein the exerciser will lower themselves by the hips prior to drawing the kettlebell upwards.

Adjacent to these three gluteus muscles are the various longer muscles located along the rear of the femur, otherwise known as the hamstrings wherein they are responsible for a majority of the movement performed during the kettlebell deadlift exercise.

The majority of the muscle groups present in the back and atop the shoulders are all also considered prime movers, working with such muscles as the deltoids and forearms of which act as stabilizers so as to facilitate the safe performance of the exercise.

Additional accessory muscles and stabilizers can include the erector spinae, the obliques, and the various muscles generally grouped together as the abdominal stabilizers.

How Heavy Should a Kettlebell Deadlift Be?

The particular level of resistance meant to be involved in a kettlebell deadlift will depend on a variety of factors such as the training experience of the exerciser, whether they are being supervised by a coach or physical therapist, and even the intended goals of the exerciser themselves.

For individuals with relatively no experience performing resistance exercises or individuals that do not desire to induce significant training stimuli in their musculature, it is best to use a lower weight kettlebell, of which the specific amount will depend on said individual’s personal strength.

However, in exerciser’s with some level of experience and the intended goal of improving their body for the purposes of athletic competition and similar endeavors, it is entirely possible to load quite a bit of weight into this exercise, inducing a more significant level of muscular hypertrophy, caloric expenditure and neurological adaptation.

What Equipment Do Kettlebell Deadlifts Use?

As is clear from its name, kettlebell deadlifts primarily incorporate the use of a kettlebell weight, of which is usually seen in the form of a solid metal sphere with a handle attached to the upper portion of said sphere.

The kettlebell deadlift may be performed through the use of a double handed grip over a single kettlebell, or through the use of two separate but equally weighted kettlebells held in each hand simultaneously.

This will create the intended effect of training both sides of the body as the exercise is done, preventing the formation of imbalances and allowing a somewhat higher level of force be exerted as all the muscle structures of the body work in tandem.

Certain kettlebell deadlift variations may even add a sort of platform or raised area to which the exerciser will rest the kettlebell on so as to create a higher angle at which the exerciser may raise the kettlebell from, usually for the purposes of worsening previous injuries or for training specific muscle groups.

What Variations of the Kettlebell Deadlift Exist?

Quite a few variations of the kettlebell deadlift exist, each one with a specific purpose that alters the general training function and focus of the exercise.

These variations are primarily prescribed by coaches in order to work on a “problem” area or by physical therapists so as to induce a particular type of muscular activation or mechanical stress in certain parts of the body.

Considering the fact that the primary and most common form of kettlebell deadlift has been discussed extensively elsewhere in this article, there is no need to list it among the variations found herein.

Kettlebell Sumo Deadlift

Only a minor variation to the kettlebell deadlift and requiring no extra equipment be used, the term sumo deadlift refers to a form of the deadlift exercise wherein the exerciser will instead grip the weight between their legs with their knees pointed outwards in a wider stance than the traditional deadlift.

kettlebell sumo deadlift

In terms of kettlebell deadlifts, this will equate to the individual usually only requiring a single kettlebell be placed between their calves or beneath their pelvis, depending on the exerciser’s biomechanics and relative flexibility.

The kettlebell sumo deadlift is considered more suitable for individuals of less flexibility or relatively less experience in the particular lifting cues involved in the deadlift movement.

Decline Kettlebell Deadlift

Considered a more advanced form of the decline kettlebell deadlift owing to the increased flexibility requirement and a deeper understanding of the mechanics involved in performing a deadlift exercise, the decline kettlebell deadlift is primarily used in order to induce a more significant level of training stimuli in the exerciser.

The decline kettlebell deadlift is done by placing two gym boxes or similar raised surfaces beneath the feet of the exerciser with the kettlebell or kettlebells placed in front of them or between the raised surfaces so that the exerciser must bend lower in order to lift them off the ground.

A primary drawback to this particular kettlebell deadlift variation is the somewhat increased chance of injury in certain individuals with susceptibility to back injuries, of older age, of less flexibility or of insufficient training experience.

As such, it is best to only perform the decline kettlebell deadlift with lesser weight and under professional supervision until the exerciser is confident in their ability to perform it without injury.

Unilateral Kettlebell Deadlift

Otherwise known as the single handed kettlebell deadlift, the unilateral kettlebell deadlift is a variation of the kettlebell deadlift performed with the use of a single hand, though in much the same stance as the traditional kettlebell deadlift.

This may be done for a variety of reasons, such as shoulder injuries or as a self-limiting mechanism so as to avoid overloading the body’s musculature.

It is important to switch hands between sets of this exercise so as to avoid inducing muscular imbalances in the neglected side, however, and as such this particular exercise is not usually prescribed by physical therapists or athletic coaches outside of special circumstances.

Romanian Kettlebell Deadlift/ Straight Leg Kettlebell Deadlift

A variation of the kettlebell deadlift primarily used to induce a significantly higher level of mechanical tension on the lower back, gluteus muscles and hamstring muscles, the Romanian kettlebell deadlift is performed by bringing the exerciser’s legs closer together so as to leave very little space between them.

The exerciser will then place the weight in front of them and bend forward without bending their knees so as to utilize more of the posterior chain during the exercise.

By extension, this variation of the kettlebell deadlift clearly requires significantly better lower body flexibility than the more traditional kettlebell deadlift, placing it at a somewhat more advanced category than the aforementioned traditional kettlebell deadlift.

What are the Benefits of Performing the Kettlebell Deadlift?

While the kettlebell deadlift imparts certain positive effects to the exerciser such as improved bone density and cardiovascular fitness, these effects are not native solely to the kettlebell deadlift, and are instead found in practically any form of resistance exercise.

As such, we have elected to instead list the particular benefits of performing the kettlebell deadlift that are not normally found in other exercises, making the kettlebell deadlift an excellent candidate for the following problems.

Posture Benefits

Owing to its significant training effect on the posterior chain, the kettlebell deadlift and most of its variants are considered quite good for reinforcing the particular bodily structures responsible for the creation and holding of good posture.

Training Benefits

The kettlebell deadlift may be used as a substitutional or supplementary exercise in the wake of more mechanically complex or heavier exercises, allowing the athlete to perform them more easily as they work on certain aspects of their physical abilities involved in said exercises.

Anabolic Benefits

Due to its compound nature and the significant activation of a majority of the body’s muscle groups, the kettlebell deadlift is capable of inducing significant release of certain anabolic hormones and their subsequent anabolism mechanisms in the body.

This may be measured and noticed both during and after the exercise, and usually has many positive effects, such as the improvement of the individual’s general bodily function, a supposed improvement in lifespan, more efficient cell regeneration and various other benefits related to the exerciser’s health.

References

1. Meigh NJ, Keogh JWL, Schram B, Hing WA. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping review. BMC Sports Sci Med Rehabil. 2019;11:19. Published 2019 Sep 3. doi:10.1186/s13102-019-0130-z

2. Jay, K., Frisch, D., Hansen, K., Zebis, M. K., Andersen, C. H., Mortensen, O. S., & Andersen, L. L. (2011). Kettlebell training for musculoskeletal and cardiovascular health: a randomized controlled trial. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 37(3), 196–203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41151543

3. Martín-Fuentes I, Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM (2020) Electromyographic activity in deadlift exercise and its variants. A systematic review. PLOS ONE 15(2): e0229507. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0229507

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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