Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift (also known as dumbbell stiff-leg deadlift) is a great compound exercise and excellent leg developer especially for those with limited access to training equipment. You’ll need only one pair of dumbbells and some free space to execute the movement. Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift develops strength, endurance, and mobility of the trunk, lower extremities, and grip strength. It also develops the muscles you need for powerful, explosive movements, speed changes, and directional changes.
The only difference between this exercise and barbell straight-leg deadlift is that you use one dumbbell held in both hands, or two, one in each hand. The variant in which you bring the dumbbell sideways toward the other foot (rotating the torso) is not recommended.
STARTING POSITION: Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and hold them in front of your thighs, arms hanging straight down. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent, and toes pointing forward (A).
ACTION (MOVEMENT): Without changing the bend in your knees, bend at your hips and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor so that you feel your hamstring muscles stretch. (B). Keep your back straight and your chin up. Pause, then raise your torso back to the starting position by contracting your hamstrings and gluteus muscles.
Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift tips & key points
- Avoid rounding your back. This increases the risk of injury.
- Concentrate on using your hips as a hinge.
- You can either keep your legs fully straight (knees locked) or you can allow a little flexion (slight bent) in your knees (recommended). However, the key is to retain them in this position throughout the downward and upward movement of the exercise. A common error is varying the degree of knee flexion during the middle and bottom parts of the exercise.
- Do not lower the bar too far.
- Keep all ten toes on the ground all the time.
- Focus on using your hamstrings to return to the upright position.
- Never drop your head and look down as you lift. This makes your torso lean forward too much and places stress on your lower back.
- Begin with a very light pair of dumbbells when learning this exercise.
- If your hamstrings are tight, you can allow a slight bend at the knees, but no more than about 20 degrees.
- Keep the weight as close as possible to your body, and lift the weight up to waist height.
- Lower the dumbbells to a point below your knees (but not to the floor).
- 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.
- If you have any back pain or weakness, do not attempt this exercise. Machine lying leg curls are your first choice in that case.
In addition to building hamstrings, this exercise will beef out your butt.
This exercise is different from the Romanian deadlift, which uses more movement at the hips than at the lower back and involves the hamstrings and glutes as the primary movers.
Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift variations
- Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift on a raised platform. Very well-trained lifters may stand on a raised platform to perform this exercise through a greater range of motion. Note that this requires an extremely large degree of flexibility in the hamstrings, glutes, and low back; therefore most people should not use a raised platform. Nearly all lifters should stand on the floor and safely lower the bar only to knee or middle-shin level.
- Single-leg straight-leg deadlift. A single kettlebell or dumbbell is held in the hand opposite the foot on the floor. Ketttebells are preferred because they are easy to hold and create a consistent downward force. Lean forward from the hip while lifting the free leg to the rear in line with the torso. Think about moving as one long piece from head to toe. Keep the chest up and the lower back flat. Attempt to place the kettlebell or dumbbell on the ground just inside the grounded foot. Think about getting as long as possible through the back leg.
- Lying leg curl
- Barbell straight-leg deadlift
- Standing leg curl
- Seated leg curl
- Barbell or dumbbell lunge
- Cable leg curl
Closing thoughts about dumbbell straight-leg deadlift
Using dumbbells does not significantly affect muscle involvement and may be more comfortable to use while learning the exercise (compared to barbell straight-leg deadlift).
Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift requires some degree of technical skill and flexibility so is unsuitable for beginners and anyone with lower back problems. When performed correctly, it can work the hamstrings even more effectively than the leg curl.