How To Do Stiff-Legged Deadlifts

Stiff Legged Deadlift Instructions

  1. Position your feet so they are a little closer than shoulder-width apart
  2. Maintain a small but locked bend in your knees. All the hinging comes from your hips
  3. The bar starts a little forward, approx. over the shoelaces.
  4. Arch your lower back and retract your shoulder blades before you lift
  5. Aim to feel a stretch in your hamstrings during the set-up
  6. The pressure should remain in the middle of the feet (don’t shift weight onto your heels)
  7. Squeeze your glutes/quads at the top and stand tall

Stiff-Legged Deadlift Video

Due to the extended knee position and hip hinge type movement, I always thought the stiff-legged deadlift (SLDL) would work the hamstrings and glutes more than a regular deadlift. After reviewing the current literature, I was partially wrong.

Lee et al. had subjects use 70% of their Romanian deadlift 5-rep max on the conventional deadlift and Romanian deadlift and performed 3 repetitions. The conventional deadlift showed greater activation of the glutes. The biceps femoris (one of the hamstring muscles) showed no difference in muscle activation between the two exercises. This study is important as the load was matched between exercises.

Bezerra et al. had subjects perform 3 repetitions using 70% of 1-rep max of their conventional deadlift and SLDL. So, weights differed between lifts and would be heavier in the conventional deadlift group. Results found the activation of the bicep femoris was no different between lifts.

These are the only 2 studies that compared a regular deadlift with the SLDL. It’s difficult to say if there are any differences in glute and hamstring activation between these 2 deadlift variations.

The first study was quite different in intensities. If you used 70% of your stiffed legged deadlift 1-rep max for your regular deadlift, the weights will be quite light. Yet, glute activation was still greater in the deadlift but showed no differences in hamstring activation. Since muscle activation tends to increase as load increases, if the deadlift group lifted 70% of their deadlift 1- rep max, hamstring activation might have been higher in the deadlift group.

The second study slightly contradicts the first study. The load was significantly higher in the deadlift group, yet bicep femoris activation was the same between the two deadlift types. Based on the available evidence, it’s difficult to say that the SLDL works the hamstrings and glutes more than a traditional deadlift. However, using the SLDL places less stress on the quadriceps and is probably less fatiguing than a normal deadlift due to the lighter loads. The stiffed legged deadlift could be used to add some volume to the hamstrings with less total body and quadricep fatigue than a normal deadlift. However, the back extensor muscles are activated highest in the stiffed legged deadlift compared to a regular deadlift.

References

Bezerra ES, Simão R, Fleck SJ, Paz G, Maia M, Costa PB, et al. Electromyographic activity of lower body muscles during the deadlift and stiff-legged deadlift. 2013; 13(3): 30–9.

Lee S, Schultz J, Timgren J, Staelgraeve K, Miller M, Liu Y. An electromyographic and kinetic comparison of conventional and Romanian deadlifts. J Exerc Sci Fit. 2018; 16(3): 87–93. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesf.2018.08.00