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How to Do the Suitcase Deadlift - Form, Muscles Worked and Variations

by RitFit Sports 06 Mar 2023 0 Comments

Very few exercises focus on the strength of muscles on the side of your body; a suitcase deadlift is one of those. This compound workout helps with core stability and lateral flexion, while also building up major muscle groups.

Performing it is not as easy as it sounds, but once you have all the necessary information regarding it, you can get started in no time. This article will discuss the proper technique for doing the suitcase deadlift, the muscles used, the benefits, and some common faults to avoid.

What is a Suitcase Deadlift?

What is a Suitcase Deadlift

As the names suggest, this exercise demands the person to move their body as if they are lifting a suitcase off the ground. The movement would be similar but instead of a suitcase, you will be lifting weight. Weight can be in the form of a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, or several other gym equipments.

It is a full-body exercise that engages both your upper and lower body muscles, building your core strength. This workout is highly useful as it helps you perform your everyday tasks more efficiently. This could involve anything as simple as picking up the bag.


Suitcase Deadlift Form and Techniques

How to Do the Suitcase Deadlift (Step by Step)

This deadlift is a strength exercise that concentrates on the legs, glutes, back, and core. Even if you are a beginner, these steps will help you perform it the right way.

  • Step 1: Begin by standing while your feet are shoulder-width apart. Place a weight (a dumbbell, kettlebell, or any other weighted object) on the floor to your side.
  • Step 2: Bend your knees slightly and stop at the hips. Now reach down and grab the weight with one hand. Keep your back straight and chest up. Ensure that your body is not leaning towards the weight as this will compromise its effectiveness.
  • Step 3: Lift the weights without bending your knees. Use your hip muscles and upper body to execute this workout. Keep the weight close to your body as you lift it, and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement.
  • Step 4: Lower the weight back down to the floor by reversing the movement and repeat for desired reps, then switch to the other hand.

Suitcase Deadlift Common Mistakes to Avoid

Mistakes in the suitcase variation of the deadlift

Not Bracing Your Core

Keeping the core intact is a crucial part of this exercise. Since most of the pressure builds up on the core, it is important to brace it firmly and ensure the body doesn’t lean in any direction.

Starting Heavy

Although it can be tempting to start with the heaviest weights one can lift, this is not a good idea. If you start heavy, you will not only ruin your posture but also put yourself in danger.

Putting Unnecessary Pressure On Knees

The knees aren't the focus of this exercise. Rather, the movement of bending to go down mainly comes from the hip hinge rather than the knee bend. Also, keep in mind the knees should not bend outwards

Suitcase Deadlift Muscles Worked

Deadlifts involve major muscle groups to increase functional strength and improve mobility. The primary muscles used during the suitcase variation are:

Core Muscles

Suitcase Deadlift muscles worked core muscles

The spine, abdominal viscera, and hip are all surrounded by a set of trunk and hip muscles known as the core. Proper weight distribution across the upper body depends on strong core muscles. Since this exercise demands the lifter to keep the core intact and firm, the added pressure on the core tissues builds strength, power, and stability in the body.


Suitcase Deadlift muscles worked glutes

The largest muscle in the body is called the gluteus maximus, which is your butt. Deadlift's primary focus is on hip extension, making it a popular exercise when it comes to training glutes.

Upper and Lower Back

Suitcase Deadlift muscles worked back muscles

The back muscles are a group of strong, paired muscles at the back of the trunk. A key component of deadlifts is maintaining a straight back. The widespread use of the lower and upper back muscles for power training is not surprising.

Benefits of the Suitcase Deadlift

  • Stronger core: As already discussed, your obliques will be required to work the extra mile for body balancing. The idea is that by moving your body's center mass, you may train your oblique while lifting the weight with one hand. 
  • Improved balance and stability: People frequently have strength imbalances, and this exercise can help correct them and keep your body stable.
  • Build a firm grip: Not having a good grip can be a major setback when it comes to strength training. Deadlifts, in particular the suitcase variant, help significantly with improving the grip and allowing lifters to hold weights longer.
  • Improved hip hinge: hip hinge is part of several workouts and perfecting is the key to effective exercising. It can be challenging, especially when it comes to maintaining a neutral torso. However, incorporating suitcase variation can help you improve it.
  • Increased muscle mass: Putting pressure on your arms, this workout is effective in helping people build muscle mass. A lot of people who aim for a bulky look are inclined toward deadlifts.

Suitcase Deadlift Variations

Single Arm Suitcase Deadlift

Single arm deadlift focuses on one side of your body at a time. Stand with your feet slightly wider than the hips. Hinge your hips to go down and pick the weights. Keep your knees straight and core intact. Go up to the standing position. Reverse the movement to go down and start the second rep.

Kettlebell Suitcase Deadlift

Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. The kettlebell will be on the side so that when the suitcase movement is executed the grip comes perfectly. Make sure your body is balanced and is not leaning toward any one direction. 

Dumbbell Suitcase Deadlift

The posture of this variant is similar to the conventional one. The difference is of the equipment as instead of the kettlebell, in this, you will have a dumbbell to lift. You can either the kettlebell or a dumbbell depending upon your personal preference as the muscles worked is quite similar in both.


Barbell Suitcase Deadlift

This variant is more advanced than the ones mentioned above. The reason is that lifting a barbell with a single hand is challenging and is not something beginners should be doing. The standing position and movement are similar, but the weight is relatively higher, and balancing a barbell is much more difficult. That’s why this variant should only be incorporated into the workout routine after consulting with the trainer or after you have built upon the basics of strength training.


Double Suitcase Deadlift

This deadlift variant involves lifting weights from both sides, thus making it a much more impactful exercise when it comes to maintaining stability and working core tissues. The major focus should be on picking up the weights correctly rather than worrying about how to put them back.

Elevated Suitcase Deadlift

As the name implies, this variant involves an elevated surface, meaning that the trainer does not have to pick the weights from the ground, rather it needs to be lifted from an elevated surface. This elevated surface is above the ground but below the knee. It can be anything such as a stool, bench, etc.


Suitcase Deadlift Alternatives

Trap Bar Deadlift

Suitcase Deadlift Alternatives trap bar deadlift

A trap bar deadlift is performed with a hex weight bar along with a set of bumper plates. You can position yourself perfectly because you're in the middle of the load. Moreover, you may lift more weight because your wrists are in a neutral posture. This workout builds glutes, hamstrings, quads, and back, with less stress on squatting.


Dumbbell Side Bend

A Dumbbell side bend is a great alternation that also trains the oblique muscles of the abdomen. The weights used are lower compared to a regular deadlift. To perform it, stand in a regular deadlift position with feet shoulder wide. Hold the dumbbell with one hand and slightly bend downwards to the side you are holding the weight.


Suitcase Deadlift FAQs

Who Should Do The Suitcase Deadlift?

It won’t be wrong to say that anyone can start doing suitcase lifts as part of their strength training program. Regardless of whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or advanced lifter, this workout is suitable for you if you want to build side muscles and make everyday lifting easier.

Furthermore, it is a suitable workout for strength trainers, fitness enthusiasts, and the general population as well.

  • Strength trainers perform this unilateral workout to strengthen their core and make weight lifting easier
  • Fitness enthusiasts benefit from improved balance, stronger grip, and increased muscle mass through this exercise.
  • The general population also engages in this exercise to make their everyday tasks easier such as lifting weighted objects.

How Often Should I Do Suitcase Deadlifts?

Since it is a strength workout, performing it two to three times every week is appropriate. It must be done with other power-building exercises such as push press and other variants of the deadlift.

How Many Reps And Sets Should I Do For Suitcase Deadlift?

The number of reps and sets totally depends on your gym goals and how experienced you are in strength training.

  • Those who want to gain muscles should try to perform from four to seven reps.
  • People who want to build body strength should do five to eight reps.

Increasing the reps will not benefit you if you are unable to perform the exercise properly, so do not try to rush it. In fact, it can lead to the breakdown of form and potential injury.

You can perform two to four sets depending on how extensive you want the training program to be.

  • Beginners should do two to three sets.
  • Experienced people should do two to four sets.

Keeping a balance between the sets and reps is essential since they are interrelated. If you ever feel that the workout is getting too simple and you are capable of more, go for it.

How Can I Program Suitcase Deadlift Into My Training Program?

The key to performing any workout effectively is to start slow and steady. Oftentimes, people incorporate this after they have started doing regular deadlifts. This makes the exercise easier as they are already trained for the proper posture and movements. 

Regardless of whether you are a beginner or experienced, start with either a dumbbell or kettlebell. Starting with a barbell is not a good idea as it is relatively difficult to perform. You may shift to the barbell once you have gotten hold of the side deadlift.

What Is The Difference Between a Suitcase Deadlift and a Conventional Deadlift?

The key difference between a suitcase and a conventional deadlift is that the former wants you to hold weights on the side while the latter wants you to hold the weights in front. As far as the focus muscles are concerned, conventional deadlifts focus less on side muscles. This is not the case with the suitcase variant, which effectively exerts pressure on the side muscles.

What Should I Do If I Feel Pain in My Lower Back While Doing The Suitcase Deadlift?

Lower back pain while working out can be a consequence of bad posture and using the wrong technique. Stop performing the activity as soon as you experience pain because continuing to do so could result in serious injury.

The best action plan is to try the move without weights. See a doctor if the pain is severe and immediate.


The suitcase variation of the deadlift is a useful exercise that strengthens the core, glutes, and legs in addition to other major muscle groups. This exercise can be incorporated into your strength training routine to improve body performance and fitness. So, take a weight and set out on your path to becoming a stronger, healthier version of yourself!

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