Deadlifting with dumbbells or kettlebells is pointless unless you are doing one-legged variations. Not correct.
Have you ever tried a one-armed variant instead of a one-legged one? Two legs on the floor but only one bell in one hand held by the side of your body. This is the suitcase deadlift, and in many ways it trains the same qualities as a one-legged RDL.
The difference is that you can load this exercise much heavier and have a lot more fun with it. I’ve included many of the details of your approach in this article if you need to dig deeper or have specific issues than you should read my online movement principles course.
The benefits of the suitcase deadlift
Why do we do one-legged exercises? It’s easy to build one-legged strength. But that’s not all. They also help improve our stability, and not just because they build one-sided strength. It’s about developing the ability to trigger the core muscles that keep our hips from rotating or shifting in coordinated effort.
Our body finds stability and strength for one side of the other. Our slants on the left turn on to keep us from bending sideways when we hold something heavy on the right side of our body.
We create a force against the floor from our right foot to flex our left lat pulldown.
These cross patterns should be automatic and we should have control and strength on each side to stabilize the other, but that is not always the case.
The suitcase deadlift makes it intuitive to hone this quality.
It feels wrong to tip or spin sideways when lifting a heavy weight off the floor with just one hand. You instinctively and actively fight against it.
Should you do it
This may seem like a remedy, or beginners should practice some before doing heavy deadlifts with barbells. Still, it is just as necessary that elite powerlifters be far removed from the competition during general training blocks.
We will always have a tendency to use one side of our body more than the other in motion.
And while part of it is part of being human, too much is part of a problem that can hurt you.
You can practice a sport that uses almost exclusively one side of your body. Or, you could be a busy professional who does some repetitive tasks over and over again.
It doesn’t matter what it is. Repeat the same movements over and over on one side and you will have to deal with some excruciating injury, pain, and discomfort.
Exercises like deadlifting a suitcase can keep you healthy or help repair the damage already done.
Which muscles are involved?
The movement itself works the hamstrings, quads, glutes, and even the back muscles while helping you grab and hold the bell.
However, the real benefit of adding these elements to your workout is that they improve the control and strength of the core against rotation.
The deep muscles of the trunk that stabilize the spine, pelvis, and hips, such as the transverse abdomen, psoas major, and even the pelvic floor muscles, to name a few, can be really stressed and worked harder with this exercise than with any exercise that you have the same weights in both hands.
How to do a suitcase deadlift
Place a dumbbell or kettlebell next to one of your ankles.
Hang down and squat, much like doing a barbell deadlift. You need to squat lower and more upright than a traditional deadlift with a loaded barbell because the bell is not that high off the floor and is placed on the side.
Inhale deeply, filling your entire abdominal cavity and expanding not only your abdomen but the sides of your torso and lower back with air.
Hold on tight and remember to drive your feet and ankles through the floor while standing. Make sure that your hips do not shoot up in front of your chest and shoulders.
- As you stand, focus on relaxing your shoulders and sagging, but using the weight to keep the side of your trunk from diving or sloping lower than the opposite side.
- You want your hips to stay straight all the time.
- Fight the urge to bend your torso to the side of the weight while standing.
- Focus on engaging your core so that your hips stay straight and you are not allowed to twist or bend to the side at all.
- Exhale strongly at the top, then tense back and crouch in the same manner to touch the floor with the bell before standing up again
One of the greatest ways to turn things upside down would be to use a barbell instead of a dumbbell or kettlebell.
- Many people think of using a barbell when doing deadlifts with suitcases, but it must be viewed as advancement to using a bell.
- With a barbell, not only do you need to fire your trunk to stabilize yourself and not twist and turn, but you also need to stabilize the bar so that it does not tip back or forth in your hand.
- This takes a lot of focus on engaging your shoulders, back, and forearms to stabilize the barbell itself. If you can’t fix your hips and pelvis in place first, the use of a barbell will defeat the purpose of the exercise.
First, find stability in your body with bells. Then you can also use dumbbells.
Too far too early
In order to train core stability and get your legs going, you need to challenge yourself with a heavyweight.
But you have to get involved.
Too heavy a dumbbell on the first day and you stabilize your muscles will likely tire too quickly and make you twist or turn.
And when that happens, nothing protects your back from injury.
Regardless of what weight you’re using – dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell – swimming reps can make this exercise much more difficult.
Begin the exercise as normal, but if you crouch down after the first rep, instead of placing the weight on the floor or even tapping it on the floor, lower it down until it is only half an inch above lying on the ground. Take a short break and get up again.
Using the weight to move your entire set just above the floor without touching it, you’ll feel tired and painful like you haven’t since your over-eager high school teacher in elementary school. Challenge.