A Brief Look at the Stiff-Leg Deadlifts Exercise

I've long been an advocate of hip extension exercises, and them being a proficient way of training the entire hamstrings cluster, as well as the lower back and glutes. An exercise called the Romanian Deadlift (RDL) is fashionable in gyms at the moment, but, being an old-school bodybuilder, I prefer to concentrate on a similar but far less fashionable exercise called the Stiff-Leg Deadlift (SLDL)...with a slight twist of pausing for longer at the mid-position of the exercise.

First, I must emphasise the word STIFF; your knees should have an ever-so-slight kink and remain stiff in this position (locked-in), not straight! I feel that the stiff position is kind on the knees and allows for better engagement of the hamstrings, compared to the straight-leg deadlift.

Weight-wise, there's confusion over variations of high-hips deadlifts (RDL, ADL, SLDL), with many working up to and around 75% of conventional deadlift load. This load is excessive for the Stiff-Leg Deadlift and will often lead to individuals kicking their bum out (to offset the load), straighten their knees, and plantar flex their toes in to the ground (in an attempt to balance). Often, they'll then feel this more in the calves and lower back. Maintaining a straight back and pulled back shoulders with a heavy weight is also taxing on the mid-traps. Personally, I like to drop the load significantly, say 20-30% of the load compared to the conventional deadlift, and concentrate on engagement of the hamstrings throughout the exercise...pausing briefly at the mid-position, similar to correctly performing a hamstrings stretch (NB: do not bounce!). 

As an alternative to using a barbell, I sometimes perform Stiff-Leg Deadlifts with a kettlebell or dumbbell/s out in front of me, which means dropping your shoulders out slightly, but, before the form police comment, my shoulders are still locked-in and my back braced; at this lighter weight, my primary taxation is with my hamstrings throughout the exercise...this is where I want to feel it! And, my form is good for my aim of this lift and in relation to the weight being lifted. 

Here's a video of how I generally perform Stiff-Leg Deadlifts, and some information on why I choose to do it this way: 


If an exercise doesn't feel quite right, I see no issue in being a little unorthodox and altering it to better suit you. Here's my slightly different take on Stiff-Leg Deadlifts. I find it better engages the hamstrings, allows for greater hamstring stretch and doesn't over-tax other muscles.Give it a go and let me know what you think?Remember, control the load with hamstrings and engage with them throughout, plus, use a relatively light weight.

Posted by Fan Page on Friday, 6 February 2015


Many things come in and out of fashion and weight training methods and exercises are no different. Admittedly, some things are best left in the past...the same will be said of some of today's methods and exercises. Anyway, I digress, the stiff-leg deadlift exercise is not a fashionable exercise, and certainly not the way that I choose to perform it. Many modern-day coaches and lifters may look upon a traditional Stiff-Leg Deadlift (or a Straight-Leg Deadlift) as poor form, due to the bar being further out in front (causing a mechanical disadvantage...NB: deliberately!) and the appearance of a rounded back. I disagree, it's a different exercise, and, what works for some, doesn't always work for others. As already mentioned, using far less weight, I am able to keep my back-braced and shoulders locked in position, while keeping tension on my hamstrings throughout the lift. Fashionable or not, it works for me and has done for a long time!

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