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Unpack Your Strength With the Suitcase Deadlift

Have you ever carried something in one hand that made you question your grip strength (among other things)? Maybe it was a jug of water, a grocery bag, or even a suitcase? If only a simple and functional exercise could help you improve this action we find ourselves doing pretty frequently. Well, that’s exactly what a suitcase deadlift is for!

But alas, a suitcase deadlift is more than just a one-sided deadlift. The benefits are aplenty and the drill itself is quite fun. Full disclosure: you may finish this article looking for something heavy to carry… 

What is a Suitcase Deadlift?

This exercise is exactly what it sounds like. The action itself is like you are lifting a suitcase off the ground, which we typically do with one hand. 

Not only does this work your lower and upper body, but it also helps build your core strength. 

Steps for a Suitcase Deadlift:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Put the weight (kettlebell, dumbbell, or barbell) next to you on the floor.
  3. Slightly bend your knees and grab the weight with one hand. 
  4. Keep your chest up and back straight. 
  5. Lift the weight with your hips and upper body.
  6. Keep the weight close to your body as you lift.
  7. Lower the weight slowly back to the starting position.
  8. Repeat as desired. Switch sides.

As you keep your core tight and make progress using this exercise, you’ll reap the benefits which we’ll get into more detail shortly… hint: it’s more than just building muscle!


Suitcase Deadlift Form and Technique

Yes, major muscle groups are being activated in this exercise. But, to take full advantage while lowering your risk for injury, take note of the following…

Pro-form tips:

  1. Keep your spine neutral
  2. Engage your core
  3. Focus on hinging at the hips for movement rather than bending at the knees
  4. Keep your knees facing forward
  5. Don’t lean towards the side
  6. Don’t twist at the torso

Suitcase Deadlift: Benefits and Muscles Worked

Targeting several muscle groups, this compound exercise is a great functional exercise. Not only can it help maintain strength but it can also prevent injury as a bonus of developing these muscles.

Muscles worked during a deadlift:

Grip and Forearms: This exercise will develop your forearm strength and grip endurance.

Core Muscles: Muscles such as the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis and obliques are significant players who stabilize the spine during various movements. Developing your core can help improve your posture and ultimately prevent injury. 

Lower Back: Running along your spine, these muscles help with stabilization and spinal extension. Developing these muscles will help with posture and can prevent injury.

Glutes: The lifting power should come from your hips (rather than your knees or arms). Since your glutes are your primary hip extensors, they are very involved in this drill. 

Hamstrings: Situated at the back of your thigh, hamstrings help with hip extension as you lift and knee stabilization during the exercise. 

Quadriceps: Your quads support the lifting motion and help with knee extension as well. 

As you lift and balance a one-sided weight, you will surely develop your core strength. Having a strong core can also decrease your chances of lower back pain. 

As noted in a study in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, doing deadlifts can positively affect any rehab for low back pain, “Exercise programs that include deadlifts can yield improvements in both pain and function for those living with low back pain but are not found to be more beneficial than low load motor control exercises.” [1] 

Because you will develop a balanced core, it can likely prevent any compensation from surrounding muscles and prevent injury. 

Suitcase Deadlift: Got Kettlebells? 

If you don’t have kettlebells at home, you can easily do this with any weight as long as you have a handle to grip. 

Yes, you can do this with a barbell or dumbbell. The unilateral movement is what’s key here.

Additionally, you won’t want to go too hard if you’re just starting out. Using an excessively heavy weight may cause you to twist your torso or lift with your back. You can reap the benefits as long as you master the proper form.

Suitcase Deadlift FAQ

Are suitcase deadlifts effective?

As noted earlier, suitcase deadlifts are effective if you use the proper form. This compound exercise can work you as a regular deadlift would and possibly with more oblique activation. If you add this to your routine, you’ll see how it can target multiple muscle groups, strengthening both the upper and lower body. 

What muscles does a kettlebell suitcase deadlift work?

The kettlebell suitcase deadlift works multiple muscle groups and the benefits are multiple. You’ll be engaging your: forearms, core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. You could conclude that this exercise is extremely beneficial because of how many muscles it works out in one move! 

What are suitcases in crossfit?

Suitcases in crossfit are the same as a suitcase deadlift. Crossfit likes to make use of kettlebells so oftentimes this is the weight of choice. It may be helpful to be aware that a kettlebell shape may prevent you from keeping the weight close to your body, which should be the ultimate goal as you lift it. Drive your weight through your heels as you lift, push your hips back, and keep your spine neutral. 

What is a dumbbell suitcase deadlift?

That is exactly what this page is about! In a suitcase deadlift, you can easily use a kettlebell, dumbbell, and even a barbell. As long as you line your side up center with the weight, you can essentially do this exercise with whatever you can get a grip on!

Suitcase Deadlift: Key Takeaways

If you have a dumbbell or kettlebell at home, you can make use of this effective exercise and add it to your workout routine. Since it’s a compound exercise and activates your core, you can throw this in any day you like. 

Just like with any weight-lifting exercise, remember to do what you’re capable of - don’t go too hard too fast. If your goal is to build muscle, maintain independence as you age, and prevent injury - you’ll want to practice correct form. 

Before you know it, you’ll be able to carry your (overpacked) suitcase much longer when you head out on your next trip! 

Now that you've read about the suitcase deadlift, check out our page on kettlebell RDL!


[1] Fischer, S., Calley, D., Hollman, J. Effect of an exercise program that includes deadlift on low back pain. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation, 2021. 

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