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.
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
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.
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!