No matter how clever or creative your workout routines get in the gym, real life finds plenty of wickedly creative ways to challenge your strength. Perfect example? Carrying a bulky, heavy object with one hand.
And while manhandling an 80-pound duffel through Heathrow International will never be quite as much fun as hitting the gym, the suitcase deadlift is a perfect way of making sure you can manage it without too much awkwardness.
What is the suitcase deadlift?
This intense oblique exercise not only strengthens those important side waist muscles, it also improves pretty much all your big lifts. You can do it with a single dumbbell, kettlebell, or even barbell (but practice that last one with an unloaded bar first—you’d be surprised how hard even 45 pounds is to maneuver and control, at least in the beginning).
To start, grasp a handheld weight in one hand and hold it by your side; or, if you’re using a bar, rack it at mid-shin height, stand at a right angle (sideways) to it, and grip it at its center, with one hand at the bottom. Hinge your hips back in space as you would for a regular deadlift; with control, bring your hips forward to stand up, lifting the weight with you and keeping your shoulders completely square. Hinge back again to repeat.
What’s so great about the suitcase deadlift?
Due to the unbalanced load, your core kicks into overdrive, with the oblique and gluteus medius muscles bearing the brunt of the work to keep the body from torqueing. These muscles are often weak—and regularly overlooked—anyway, so boosting their strength will improve all your lower-body moves as well as any standing upper-body ones (like the overhead press).
How can you use it?
Warm up for this lower-body workout by doing several light- to moderate-weight sets of up to 5 reps (each side, of course). Or add this move to an oblique-targeting set with suitcase carries, waiter carries, and/or single-leg deadlifts—5 to 8 reps per set is plenty to ensure you maintain good form.