The three kings of mass are bench, squats and deadlifts If you’re looking for a surefire way to build full body muscle, you can’t overlook the big three. In fact, if you want to build any sort of physique, these need to be at the center of your workouts. That goes double for deadlifts. They build power like no other, and give you a full body beatdown.
Unfortunately, as the late Uncle Ben (probably) said, “With great power comes great risk of injury.” While most of that risk comes from bad form and meatheads getting overzealous with the weights, even properly executed moves can hurt pre-existing conditions.
Regardless of your reasoning, if you can’t do deadlifts, building a strong back can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Before we tackle how, let’s answer some of the questions that you might have when deciding whether or not to do deadlifts.
Are Deadlifts Dangerous?
ALL WEIGHTLIFTING IS DANGEROUS. You could kill yourself doing arm curls. You can throw out your back on an elliptical. However, a properly executed deadlift isn’t any more dangerous that a poorly executed overhead press. If you nail down the form before adding weight, you’re fine. If you have a healthy spine, you SHOULD be doing them.
Can You Build Mass Without Deadlifts?
Yes! Just as no exercise is going to build mass without fuel (excess calories and protein), no exercise, or exclusion of an exercise, is going to prevent you from building mass if you have the fuel. You can break down the different components and build mass in them separately.
Can I Build a Solid Back Without Deadlifts?
100%. Luckily, deadlifts does a lot more for power, mass, and function than it does for aesthetics. That’s why most powerlifters don’t look like fitness models.
Building a Back With No Deadlifts
If you’re looking for form over function, you’re in luck. Most of the wide, powerful backs you see come from lat work, not lower back. While deadlifts are one of the best ways to overload your lats, it’s easy to train without them.
However, Your first priority should still be replacing the lower back work. Countless injuries happen from weak lower backs, so just find something to keep it in shape. Some low risk alternatives are kettlebell swings and hyper extensions.
Second priority is upping your lat game. Since you aren’t getting the overload from deadlifts, you’re missing out on some crucial thickness building. The key to that is heavy rows. Barbell, seated, and T rows should be your go-tos.
To build the wide back you’re probably craving, go for widegrip lat pulldowns. That’s not your only option, but it’s the best one.
No Deadlifts Back Routine
Here’s a sample we’ve written up. Find what works for you and your gym. If you don’t have access to a piece of equipment, replace it with something that replicates the angle (high, low, or mid row) and grip (wide, narrow, or medium).
Barbell Rows – 4 sets of 6
Note: To start, rest the bar on something elevated. If you lift it from the floor, you’re literally doing a deadlift.
Wide Grip Lat Pulldowns – 3 sets of 8
Narrow Grip Seated Rows – 3 sets of 8
Hyper Extensions – 3 sets of 15
Shrugs – 3 sets of 10
Note: Shrugs are often done with shoulders, however a hard lat workout is going to involve a lot of trap work anyway.
Supermen – 3 sets of 10, 5 second holds.
Bonus: Kettlebell Swings – 3 sets of 15
Replacing Deadlifts With Rack Pulls
Depending on your reason for cutting deadlifts, you can replace them with rack pulls. If you have back issues, they will take a lot of strain of your back, but NOT all of it. Talk to your doctor before working them in.
If you do choose to put in rack pulls, they’re essentially elevated deadlifts.
Raise the bar to just below the knees, load your hamstrings like you would for a standard deadlift, then drive your hips forward to lock out.
These will not replicate every benefit, but it will hit hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and even a little bit of lats.
You’re not doomed to the scrawny life if you can’t do deadlifts. Every exercise can be replaced. Follow this routine for a big boy back.