The deadlift is an exercise that has many variations. One of these variations is the stiff leg deadlift. The stiff leg deadlift technique is easy to perform yet hard to perfect. Many strained hamstring and lower back injuries have occurred due to improper form and technique, but when done correctly, the stiff leg deadlift is one of the best exercises for developing the entire posterior chain.

Why Stiff Leg Deadlift?

Muscle Activation. The stiff leg deadlift requires activation of all the muscles in the posterior chain. The posterior chain is made up of the muscles of the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and upper back. Proper stiff leg deadlift technique requires the muscles of the posterior chain to work together and activate in proper sequence. Activating these muscles will help them to grow bigger and stronger when programmed properly into your training routine. This is important for bodybuilders and powerlifters as well as regular people.

Powerlifting Application. The muscle activation sequence in a stiff leg deadlift is similar to that of a competition conventional deadlift, so developing these muscles will carry over to the competition lift. The only difference between the two is the knee flexion in the conventional deadlift causes the back angle to be more upright. Also, the conventional deadlift requires quadriceps activation, where the stiff leg does not. Foot placement, grip, core stabilization and upper back tightness are all the same for the two lifts. The muscles used are all the same, so this is a great accessory movement to help supplement the conventional deadlift. For sumo pullers, the stiff leg deadlift uses the same muscle of the posterior chain, and also mimics the lockout.

Injury Prevention. Lower back and hamstring strain injuries are notoriously common among athletes and regular people. Low back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010. These injuries are usually caused by weak muscles of the posterior chain. Stiff leg deadlifts can strengthen these muscles and prevent injury. There is a fitness principle called the Use or Lose Principle which states that muscles build strength (hypertrophy) with use and lose strength (atrophy) with lack of use. This would explain why people who don’t exercise would have weak lower back muscles due to atrophy, which causes lower back pain. Back pain is also usually caused by poor form, which is the result of weak muscles. When done correctly, stiff leg deadlifts can help prevent these injuries.

How to Stiff Leg Deadlift?

Set Up. Start with your feet about shoulder width apart with your weight on the lateral and posterior sides of your feet. The toes should be pointed out slightly and the bar should be slightly farther away from the shins than a conventional deadlift. Bending at the waist, grip the bar slightly wider than leg width. Straighten your back, creating a neutral spine by breathing into your belly and stabilizing your core. Retract your scapula and contract your lats, creating upper back tightness, as you would in a conventional or sumo deadlift. At this point your legs should be straight although not completely locked out, back straight, arms straight and hips flexed.

Starting Position - front

Starting Position – Front View

starting position

Starting Position – Side View

Breaking the Floor. Move the hips back laterally, causing you to pull the slack out of the bar and creating tension in the hamstrings. Begin the ascent by extending the hips, using the hamstrings. During this motion it is important to keep your back straight and a neutral spine.

Lockout. Once the bar is right past your knees, think about activating the glutes and bringing the hips toward the bar. You should finish in an erect position with the shoulders in line with the hips
and ankles.

Finish. At this point, you have locked out the lift, so now you have a couple of options. If muscular strength is your main goal, the concentric portion of the lift is most important. So after you lock it out, set it down in a quick yet controlled manner, or just drop it. If muscular hypertrophy is your main goal, the eccentric portion of the lift can be beneficial. In this case, bring the bar to the floor in a slow, controlled manner, keeping all muscles contracted and engaged.

Lockout Front View

Lockout – Front View

side view lockout

Lockout – Side View

Programming Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stiff leg deadlifts can be programmed into your training in a variety of different ways. The most common would be to do them after conventional or sumo deadlifts. This is ideal for strength athletes who want to add more volume to their programming. Performing stiff leg deadlifts after a squat workout is helpful for increasing frequency and weekly volume. This would also be good for people who have a higher focus on hypertrophy. Stiff leg deadlifts don’t necessarily have to be an accessory movement however. It can be done as a main movement independent of any competition lift. If strength is the focus, a good set and rep range is 2-6 sets of less than or equal to 6 reps. If hypertrophy is the focus, a good set and rep range is 3-6 sets of 6-12 reps. If power is the focus, a good set and rep range is 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps. Finally, if endurance is the goal, a good range is 2-3 sets of 12 or more reps.

Now you have all the tools you need to go out and build a posterior chain of greatness! See you on the deadlift platform!

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13 comments on “Stiff Leg Deadlift Technique
  1. Florence Ki says:

    Hi, this is indeed great. I’ve never seen an article so detail in every movement of the workout. My son has always wanted to do something to build his muscle. Luckily we found your site and now he’s learning from you. This saves me money to engage a personal trainer for him. Thank you very much.

  2. Dave Sweney says:

    Thanks for the detailed post on how to properly do stiff leg deadlifts. The proper technique you show is helpful to a guy like me, who does work out, but never really explored much whether or not I do the exercises correctly.

    The pictures also help reinforce the points, and without these, I do not think I would have gotten as much out of your information, so thanks for these too.

    What is your opinion on a newbie starting out using this exercise and technique? Is there some advice you can give to ensure that they get the benefits while nmot injuring themselves, over and above what you have provided here?

    I ask this because I get questions sometimes in the gym from friends and acquaintences, but I really do not feel qualified to provide an answer. I WILL send them to your site now that I have found it!

    • Eric Radcliffe says:

      Hey Dave,

      My advice would be to start with a weight that is challenging, but something you can do for 8-12 reps while always maintaining proper form. One of the most important things is to keep your back straight, as rounding the back is one of the most common causes of lower back injuries. And also, think about using the hamstrings and glutes to lift the weight rather than the lower back, this will help keep you from rounding your back. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  3. John says:

    Excellent post on the stiff leg deadlift technique.
    I began lifting weights about three months ago, just in my own back yard, and wanted to get into some sort of shape before I pay for the additional costs of a gym membership, and this is the exact article I have been searching the internet for.
    In fact, this whole website looks like it is full of great information for someone like myself to get my lifting technique in shape without having a personal instructor.
    I will be visiting this site again and again!!

  4. Sam says:

    Definitely an informative article. Instructions are concise and easy to follow, and the photographs clarified everything. Should have done deadlifts back in the day. Maybe I wouldn’t have lower back pain now! Speaking of that, I learned something new. I didn’t know that lower back pain is often the result of weak muscles. Back in the day, the point wasn’t stressed much. I knew that doing heavy workouts carelessly could be injurious, but my workout buddies and I prided ourselves for being able to beat the odds or suffer quietly. Real smooth huh? Great advice and instructions! I’ll be back.

  5. Sundar says:

    I never tried this exercise so far and after reading this article i am interested in trying this stiffleg deadlift technique. I started my exercise routine couple of weeks back with a view to maintain fitness. But looking at the images i feel it is going to be really difficult for me to perform initially.

    • Lucas Maki says:

      Hi there!

      Like anything in life, the stiff leg will take some practice to perform correctly. But once you get the mechanics down it will be well worth it! Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have about the lifts. Good luck!

  6. Robert says:

    I enjoyed reading you article, you covered the importance of stance and posture. I have seen too many people get hurt with both just poorly done.

    Unfortunately people will not ask for help or they just think you can come into a gym and throw weights around without getting hurt.

    I am a vocal person and I tend to tell people when they are using equipment wrong, but in a way that I can help them. I usually ask them if they need a spotter or start some kind of dialogue with them. I would never want to embarrass someone let alone make them feel belittled.

    I’m sure you run into this type of situation at the gym as well, I’m curious how you approach others in the gym?


    • Lucas Maki says:

      Hey Robert! To be honest, I never really try to help others in the gym unless they ask me first. I don’t like to interrupt people while they are training. It makes me feel invasive, and sometimes people can be stubborn and not accept help. Unless someone looks like they are about to seriously hurt themselves, I will usually keep to myself. Having said that, if someone asks me a question or needs help with something, I have no problem giving them a hand. When this happens, I do my best to not make them feel dumb or belittled, like you said. I think as long as you do this, you will be okay. Thanks for the comment!


  7. Daniel says:

    This is very interesting. I learnt a lot whilst reading this. The pictures greatly helped I think they were a fantastic touch! You write so professionally and clearly have a lot of knowledge on what you write about, which makes it a joy to read. Everything is laid out so well, it just makes it a good experience to be on your site

  8. Boss Body UK says:

    this is a very beneficial post to both gym fanatics, as well as first time gym goers. it is very important for people to make sure they are getting the right form when performing a dead lift, even if you are a bit off form this could spell disaster with devastating injury such as slipped disk. this even taught me something new and i know my way around a gym. great article!!!

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