Mastering Stiff Leg Deadlift: Proper Form and Variations To Try

Stiff leg deadlift targets the lower body muscles. (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)
Stiff leg deadlift targets the lower body muscles. (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)

The stiff leg deadlift, also known as the straight legged deadlift, is a variation of the standard deadlift and an important exercise for developing lower body strength and endurance.

Not only does this exercise help strengthen and build muscles in your lower body, but it enhances your overall lifting power in other exercises as well. You can do this exercise with a barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell, depending on your fitness level, however, it is important to follow the right stiff leg deadlift form to ensure effectiveness.

While the standard deadlift and the stiff leg deadlift are quite similar, there are a few major differences in terms of their leg posture, range of motion, and starting position as well.


How to do the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift?

To do this exercise, you’ll first need a pair of dumbbells. If you are a beginner, choose a lightweight so that you can do the move correctly, following the right form.

Step-by-step instructions:

  • Take a standing position with your feet at a shoulder-width distance. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palms facing in towards you.
  • Engage your abs, pull your shoulder blades back and down, and keep your chest high.
  • Now, with a slight bend in your knees, bend down at your waist by pushing your hips back and bring the dumbbells near your feet until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Be sure to keep your core muscles tight and back straight at all times.
  • Engage your hamstrings and squeeze your glutes as you return to the initial standing position.
  • Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.

If you are new to the stiff leg deadlift exercise, it is best to choose a lightweight and complete fewer reps and sets. Initially, do this exercise for three sets and 10 reps, and once you become comfortable with weights and your form, go for heavier weights and more reps.

Choose a weight that suits your fitness level. (Photo via Pexels/Karolina Grabowska)
Choose a weight that suits your fitness level. (Photo via Pexels/Karolina Grabowska)

Muscles worked

The stiff leg deadlift exercise primarily works for your lower body muscles, including:

  • Hamstrings: This deadlift variation targets all four muscles of the hamstrings, which include the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. While doing this exercise, you should feel a gentle stretch in all these muscles.
  • Erector spinae: The straight legged deadlift targets the erector spinae muscles in the lower back, which comprise three muscles, namely – iliocostalis, spinalis, and longissimus. All these muscles support your spine and give flexibility while bending.
  • Glutes: Lastly, this exercise targets the glutes that comprise three different muscles – the gluteus maximus, minimus, and medius. The stiff leg deadlift particularly targets the gluteus maximus – the largest muscle in the glutes.

The secondary muscles involved and targeted during this deadlift variation are the abdominals, obliques, and core muscles. Additionally, your forearms, middle back, and trapezius also get engaged to manage the weight.


Variations to try

Here are some great stiff leg deadlift variations that you may include in your workout routine.


#1 Barbell stiff leg deadlift

The barbell straight leg deadlift is quite a challenging variation that shouldn’t be attempted by beginners.

To do this variation:

  • Position the barbell over the top of your shoes and stand with your feet at a hip-width distance. Push your hips back and bend your knees to hinge forward and reach down to grab the barbell using a double overhand grip.
  • With your spine neutral and core muscles engaged, drive through your feet by pushing the floor and stand back up.
  • Reverse the movement and return the barbell to the floor. Repeat the exercise.
The barbell straight legged deadlift is a challenging variation. (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)
The barbell straight legged deadlift is a challenging variation. (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)

#2 Kettlebell straight legged deadlift

This variation targets the posterior chain muscles and is suitable for beginners as well.

To do this variation:

  • Start with your feet at a hip-width and hold a kettlebell with both hands in front of you. With your abs engaged, hinge at your hips and bring the kettlebell down.
  • Now press through your feet and lift the kettlebell while keeping it as close to your body as possible.
  • Stand back up straight and then repeat the movement.

#2 Banded straight leg deadlift

Resistance bands can also be used to perform the straight legged deadlift exercise.

To do this variation:

  • Attach a resistance band to a doorframe or any elevated anchor. Hold the ends of the band with your hands above your head and keep your arms straight.
  • With your feet at hip-width distance and abs engaged, pull the resistance band down towards the floor as hard as you can.
  • Stand back up and repeat the exercise.
Resistance bands can also be used for straight legged deadlift exercise. (Photo via Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch)
Resistance bands can also be used for straight legged deadlift exercise. (Photo via Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch)

Practice safely and avoid injuries

If you have chronic pain in your lower body or back, consult your doctor before starting any exercise programs, especially ones that require lifting weights. Focus on your form to ensure effectiveness and choose weights according to your fitness level to keep the exercise safe.

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Edited by Ankush Das
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