Barbell Straight Leg Deadlift (Stiff-Leg Deadlift)
The stiff-leg deadlift is a compound exercise for the hamstrings, buttocks, lumbar region, and back. This is the most basic movement to build the hamstrings. This exercise stretches the hamstrings intensely, which is why it causes serious muscle soreness. The stiff-legged deadlift is one of the best exercises you can do for your hamstrings. The only problem is, it can also be one the hardest exercises to perform properly.
Because this exercise uses several muscle groups, you can use more resistance than you can with exercises that isolate the hamstrings. As you probably already know, more resistance means more potential for building mass. As a result, the stiff-leg deadlift is one of the best mass-building exercise for the hamstrings. Use light weight at first and add weight cautiously. You won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight as with conventional dadlifts, because your legs aren’t providing assistance.
As you can see from the image below, the stiff leg deadlift is the upper part of the conventional deadlift and doesn’t utilize quadriceps to bend the knees. A straight leg deadlift looks a lot like someone bowing with a very straight back. You may have difficulty at first keeping your legs straight. In that case, do not hesitate to bend them a little (but the knees are always kept stiff during the movement). The lower back is slightly arched forward and this posture is maintained throughout the movement.
Exercise Instruction: Proper Technique
STARTING POSITION (SETUP): Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Point toes directly forward or slightly out. Hold a barbell with a shoulder width overhand grip in front of your thighs. Keep your knees slightly bent (but stiff) and your shoulders back. Your head should be in a neutral position. Keep your back flat and arched.
MOVEMENT (ACTION): Flex at the hips (bend from the waist) by moving your buttocks backward. Keep your lower back arched, your shoulders back and the chest expanded. Lower the bar slowly toward your shins (stop when the bar is about halfway down the shins) until your hamstrings reach full stretch without rounding your spine. Keep your head up and your eyes looking forward to avoid straining your neck. Pull the bar back up using the strength of your hamstrings and your glutes while keeping your legs semi-straight and your low back arched.
Additional Tips & Key Points
- Keep your arms straight throughout the exercise and maintain a very slight bend in your knees.
- Arch your low back to stabilize the torso and allow the hamstrings to do the work. If the back loses the arch, the stress shifts from the hamstrings to the low back. Never round your spine.
- Knees may be slightly bent but should be kept stiff during the entire movement in order to isolate the hamstrings. In other words, you have to maintain that degree of slight flexion. A common error is varying the degree of knee flexion during the middle and bottom parts of the exercise. You can also perform this exercise keeping your legs fully straight (knees locked).
- The bar should travel straight up and down, close to the body. Do not allow the bar to move out and away from you. This means that your arms cannot be vertical throughout the exercise when seen from the side. Keeping the bar next to your legs means that, during the bottom phase, your hands must be behind an imaginary vertical line dropped from your shoulders.
- No jerking, twisting, bouncing, or rapid acceleration.
- The barbell should be lowered to a point below your knees or just above the angles (depending on your flexibility).
- Keep your head up as you pull the bar to avoid rounding your back. Never look down.
- Ideally, you should not raise your torso all the way up so that it is perpendicular to the floor. By not coming all the way up, you maintain continuous tension in your hamstrings.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift Variations
- If you have good hip mobility, try standing on an elevated platform. This will allow the barbell to travel beyond the level of your feet and make your muscles work harder. However, the extra distance may cause back pain, so be careful. We do not recommend this variation.
- Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deadlift. Using dumbbells does not significantly affect muscle involvement and may be more comfortable to use while learning the exercise.
Muscles Engaged in Stiff-Leg Deadlift
- Primary muscles: hamstrings, gluteals
- Secondary muscles: spinal erectors, quadriceps