Home / Kettlebell Deadlift Form, Variations, Benefits and Workouts

Kettlebell Deadlift Form, Variations, Benefits and Workouts

By Greg Brookes
Single Arm Kettlebell Deadlift

The Kettlebell Deadlift offers the perfect introduction to Kettlebell lifting and is the foundational movement that many of the more famous moves like the Swing and the Clean are built upon.

Just the same as barbell deadlifts the standard kettlebell deadlift activates most of the muscles in the body and relies on the posterior chain consisting of the Glutes, Hamstrings and Back Extensors.

Video of the Single Handed Deadlift Exercise

The main reason for practicing this exercise before exercises like the Kettlebell Swing is because motor control, mobility and correct muscle activation must all work together in order to maximize effective movement and minimalize the risk of injury.

3 Kettlebell deadlift benefits

1 – Full body muscle activation

The conventional deadlift movement pattern uses a lot of different muscles. It is one of the best overall strength movements and fundamentally helps us lift heavy objects from the floor using the power of the legs, buttocks, back, and core muscles.

“You should be able to lift more weight naturally using the kb deadlift than any other exercise”

The kettlebell deadlift muscles worked include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes (Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus)
  • Adductors
  • Erector Spinae
  • Upper Back Muscles (Trapezius)
  • Lower back
  • Forearms (grip strength)
  • Core and abdominal muscles

There are many other stabiliser muscles worked with the kb deadlift but these are the big prime movers.

2 – Improves posture

As you lift from the floor you are pulling the weight up using the power of the Glutes and Hamstrings while keeping a neutral spine with the back in an isometric position with the strength of your core muscles.

In an age where we spend a lot of time sitting and leaning forward the KB Deadlift, just like the classic barbell deadlift, helps counteract this posture and pull everything backwards, opening up the chest and shoulders.

3 – Great for fat loss

There are very few other exercises that use as many large and energy-expensive muscles as the deadlift. The more muscle mass you can use when you exercise the more energy (or calories) are required to fuel that movement.

“When it comes to fat burning the kb deadlift should not be ignored”

Kettlebell deadlift form in 6 steps

  1. With feet shoulder width apart push the hips back maintaining a straight back
  2. Keep your weight back on your heels and chest up
  3. Allow the kettlebell to lower to the floor with a straight arm
  4. Pause at the bottom of the position
  5. Drive your hips forwards and stand tall
  6. Squeeze your buttocks tight and don’t lean backwards

The deadlift kettlebell focuses on movement from the hips while keeping a flat and isometrically (statically) maintained lower back.

One of the biggest problems with the kb deadlift along with other hip hinge movement pattern exercises, like the kettlebell swing, is that the movement often comes from the lower back rather than the hips.

Consistent lifting by hinging at the lower back will ultimately lead to serious back injuries. So it is important to learn to hinge at the hips and NOT at the lower back.

Video Tutorial of the Basic Hip Hinge Movement

In order to fully work the muscles at the back of the body ensure that your body weight is more centered over your heels rather than your toes.

Keep your chest up and lower back flat as you hinge over and pick up the kettlebell. The depth at which you can reach down to the floor will be determined by your Hamstring flexibility.

If you cannot reach the kettlebell handle without bending at the lower back then place the kettlebell on a small box

The knees should bend as you reach down to pick up the kettlebell but the hips should be forced backwards with the weight on the outside of the feet and onto the heels.

By concentrating on the distribution of weight over your feet you will feel the activation up and into your Glutes (buttocks).

Keep your shoulders down and back, the hand not doing the lifting can be tucked out of harm’s way behind the back. Don’t lift with your shoulders and keep your shoulders well away from your ears.

Keep a good grip on the kettlebell to help correctly activate your shoulder stabilizers.

As you pick the kettlebell up from the bottom position drive forwards with your hips using your hip extensors (buttocks and hamstrings).

Think about snapping the hips forward with power rather than slowly standing up, this will prepare you for the hip snap used during the kettlebell swing.

You can practice the Deadlift with kettlebells of various weights, ironically many people find using a heavier weight enables them to better feel the Glutes and Hamstrings working and forces better activation through the lower half of the body.

10 best kettlebell workouts

7 Kettlebell deadlift variations

1 – Kettlebell sumo deadlift

The beginner’s deadlift variation uses both hands on the kettlebell. It is a great exercise for learning the basic hip hinge movement and conditioning the legs, hips and glutes.

Focus on the proper form using a light weight at first. You can progress to a heavy weight once you have mastered the correct form.

2 – Boxed sumo deadlift with kettlebell

Once the Sumo Deadlift technique has been mastered you can increase the depth and range of motion and increase the demands on the legs and glutes by lifting deeper.

Use two boxes, one under each foot with a gap in between for the kettlebell to be lowered closer to the floor. Be careful that you do not compromise your back during this movement if you have tight hamstrings.

3 – Suitcase deadlift using a single kettlebell

Lifting the kettlebell from the side rather than between your legs puts additional demands on your core stabilisers. In effect, the Suitcase Deadlift is a dynamic side plank so excellent for working into the side of the body.

4 – Suitcase deadlift using two kettlebells

Using two kettlebells for the suitcase deadlift increases the demands on the legs and buttocks but also reduces the core stabilisation that you get with the one-handed variation. You can overcome this by holding different-sized kettlebells in each hand.

You can combine both the suitcase deadlift with the kettlebell deadlift row. First, you would perform the kettlebell row while leaning forwards with a flat back and then stand tall to complete the deadlift movement. So you row then deadlift, row then deadlift.

5 – Single handed deadlift

Kettlebell Single Arm Deadlift
Kettlebell Single Arm Deadlift

The single-handed deadlift is pulled from between the legs which naturally puts the torso into a slight rotation and increases cross-body core activation. If you start to snap your hips though at the top of this exercise it is also great preparation for the kettlebell swing.

6 – Single leg deadlift using one kettlebell

Kettlebell Single Leg Deadlift
Kettlebell Single-Leg Deadlift

If you want to learn to connect the top of the body to the bottom via the core muscles then the single-leg kettlebell Romanian deadlift exercise is for you.

You will need good balance and core strength in order to complete this exercise correctly. A weak side will be replicated in your Turkish Get Up too so spend time working on improving your weaker side.

Learn more: Guide to the single leg deadlift exercise

7 – Single leg deadlift using two kettlebells

Single Leg Deadlift with 2 Kettlebells for Strength
Single Leg Deadlift with 2 Kettlebells for Strength

For true strength training, you can perform the single-leg deadlift with two kettlebells but on one leg.  It is possible to really overload one leg with this exercise and is great for more athletic strength.

10 best kettlebell workouts

11 Kettlebell deadlift workouts

1. Sumo Deadlift Rep Workout

  • Sumo Deadlift x 10
  • Slingshot x 10 each way
  • Repeat 4 times

Benefits – a great beginner workout that teaches the basic deadlift movement pattern. The slingshot movement is added as active recovery so the kettlebell is not put down between circuits and the heart rate is kept up.

Variations – the slingshot can be substituted for halos, hip rotations, upper body rotations or just standard rest if the kettlebell deadlifts are very demanding.

Here’s an image of the kettlebell slingshot exercise:

kettlebell slingshot exercise
kettlebell slingshot exercise

2. Sumo Deadlift Timed Workout

  • Sumo Deadlift x 30 secs
  • Shoulder Taps x 30 secs
  • Repeat 4 times

Benefits – this workout adds in a little extra core conditioning. Again great for the beginner who is improving their core stabilisation and looking to get strong on their hands for push ups etc.

Variations – the shoulder taps can be replaced with Push Ups, Cross Body Mountain climbers or regular front planks.

Video of the Shoulder Taps Exercise:

3. Sumo Deadlift Squat Workout

  • Sumo Deadlift x 10
  • Bodyweight Squats x 10
  • Repeat 10 times reducing squats by 1 each round

Benefits – the demands on the lower body and especially the Quads are increased for this workout. The addition of the squats also means a greater cardio workout. Great for the beginner just learning the basic squat movement.

Variations – the Squats can have weight added so Goblet Squats or the Racked Kettlebell Squat. At this stage, the Sumo kettlebell deadlift can also be performed standing across two boxes so the kettlebell drops lower than the feet.

Here’s the Bodyweight Squat exercise:

Bodyweight Y Squats Exercise

4. Single Handed Deadlift Workout

  • Single Handed Deadlift Left x 10
  • Single Handed Deadlift Right x 10
  • Slow Mountain Climbers x 10
  • Repeat 3 times no rest

Benefits – time to increase the tempo and get a little rotation across the body. A good blend of core and cardio in this workout.

Variations – the core exercise (slow mountain climbers) can be changed for front planks, side planks or cross-body mountain climbers.

Here’s an image of the Slow Mountain Climbers exercise:

No Equipment Slow Mountain Climbers
No Equipment Slow Mountain Climbers

5. Single Handed Deadlift Cardio Workout

  • Single Handed Deadlift Left x 30 secs
  • Single Handed Deadlift Right x 30 secs
  • Fast Mountain Climbers x 30 secs
  • Repeat 3 times no rest

Benefits – a cardio-based workout that keeps the heart rate up throughout. The tempo of the kettlebell deadlifts should be slightly increased for this workout.

Variations – swap out the Fast Mountain Climbers for Squat Thrusts or even Burpees, if you are at that level.

Here’s an image of the Fast Mountain Climbers exercise:

fast mountain climbers
Bodyweight Fast Mountain Climbers Exercise

6. Single Handed Deadlift Core Workout

  • Single Handed Deadlift Left x 30 secs
  • Single Handed Deadlift Right x 30 secs
  • Side Plank x 30 secs each side
  • Repeat 3 times no rest

Benefits – this workout combines both cardio and core. The side plank hits the core in a totally different direction than the deadlift so a great combination.

Variations – if the side plank is too easy or too difficult then you can modify the time. The ultimate goal is 75 seconds!

Here’s an image of the Side Plank exercise:

Bodyweight Side Plank Exercise
Bodyweight Side Plank Exercise

7. Suitcase Deadlift Workout

  • Suitcase Deadlift Left x 10
  • Suitcase Deadlift Right x 10
  • Goblet Squat x 10
  • Repeat 3 times

Benefits – a great workout for stabilisation, the suitcase deadlift is like a dynamic side plank so excellent for the core. The goblet squat adds a little extra load onto the legs and buttocks.

Variations – if your squat is strong then you can progress to the static or dynamic lunge with or without a kettlebell.

Here’s an image of the Kettlebell Goblet Squat Exercise:

Kettlebell Goblet Squat Exercise
Kettlebell Goblet Squat Exercise

8. Suitcase Deadlift Cardio Workout

  • Suitcase Deadlift Left x 10
  • Suitcase Deadlift Right x 10
  • Squat Thrust x 10 each
  • Repeat 3 times

Benefits – both cardio and core are worked hard during this workout. The suitcase deadlift works on the core muscles at the side of the body and the squat thrust on the front. Add in the extra cardio and strength benefits and it’s a great workout all around.

Variations – switch the Squat thrusts for Burpees or Fast Mountain Climbers.

Video of Squat Thrusts Exercise:

9. Suitcase Deadlift Double Workout

  • Suitcase Deadlift Two Kettlebells x 10
  • T Push Ups x 10
  • Repeat 3 times

Benefits – using two kettlebells means that you can dramatically increase the demands on legs and buttocks. The T-Push Up adds some rotation to the workout routine that is lost from using two kettlebells.

Variations – try using different weights in the left and right hand, this will add further stabilisation demands and improve core strength.

Here’s an image of the T Push Up exercise:

Bodyweight T Push Ups Exercise
Bodyweight T Push Ups Exercise

10. Single Leg Deadlift Workout

  • Single Leg Deadlift Left – 30 secs
  • Single Leg Deadlift Right – 30 secs
  • Push Ups – 30 secs
  • Repeat 3 times

Benefits – strengthens the sling system that runs from the shoulder to the opposite hip via the core muscles. This workout will highlight core weaknesses, if so more time should be spent on the weaker side.

Variations – once mastered you can progress the depth of the exercise by standing on a low box allowing the kettlebell to fall lower than the foot

11. Single Leg Deadlift Double Workout

  • Single Leg Deadlift Left Two Kettlebells x 6
  • Single Leg Deadlift Right Two Kettlebells x 6
  • Sit and Press x 10
  • Repeat 3 times

Benefits – allows you to really load the one leg by effectively doubling the load.

Variations – add further stabilisation challenges by holding different-sized kettlebells in the right and left hand.

Here’s an image of the Kettlebell Sit and Press exercise:

Kettlebell Sit and Press Exercise
Kettlebell Sit and Press Exercise

Have you tried any of these workouts? Let me know more below…

10 best kettlebell workouts


What does the kettlebell deadlift work?

The kettlebell deadlift is a fundamental movement pattern that relies on the muscles of the legs, buttocks and back. Often referred to as a posterior chain exercise because its works the muscles of the back line.

Are kettlebell deadlifts effective?

The kettlebell deadlift is possibly one of the most effective full-body exercises available. Not only does the exercise recruit hundreds of muscles but it also improves posture and challenges your cardio.

Are deadlifts better than squats?

The deadlift and the squat use different movement patterns. The deadlift works more into the back of the body whereas the squat has more emphasis on the front and the quads. Both are equally effective at full-body conditioning.

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    1. Jamison Yergler Avatar
      Jamison Yergler

      What size KB’s do you recommend? I see you use only 1 -2 different weights. Would it be advantageous to grab a bigger one for Deadlifts (like 60lbs or more) versus doing more reps with a lighter weight?

      What are your thoughts on that? thanks!

      1. Greg Brookes Avatar

        Yes you can certainly lift much heavier with the deadlift movement pattern but then you may be stuck when using that kettlebell with other exercises. I have a complete article on buying and selecting kettlebells here.

    2. Lisa York Cox Avatar
      Lisa York Cox

      These workouts look fun, interesting and challenging. I can’t wait to start using them in my daily workout routine. Thank you!