The Stiff Leg Deadlift – Exercises, Benefits, and Muscles Worked

Strengthening the posterior chain is a necessity for strength, power, and sport athletes. The ability to integrate fluid knee and hip flexion and and extension is at the root of force production for most movements, such as; clean and jerk, snatch, deadlift, squats, sprints, jumping, tackling, etc.

The stiff leg deadlift is an isolation movement that specifically targets hip flexion and extension, and can be performed by all athletes to increase muscular strength, hypertrophy, and neuromuscular control of the muscles involved in powerful and explosive movements.

In this article we will discuss everything you will need to know about the stiff leg deadlift and how to program it into your current training programs.

The Stiff Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift is an effective accessory exercise to build strength and muscular development in the posterior chain for most fitness, power, and strength athletes. In a previous article I discussed the specific differences between the stiff leg deadlift and the Romanian deadlift, concluding that the lack of knee flexion at the onset and throughout the stiff leg deadlift increased the loading placed upon the lower back (erectors) and hamstrings.

Stiff Leg Deadlift Benefits

Here is a brief overview of the benefits coaches and athletes can expect from performing stiff leg deadlifts.

Stiff Leg Deadlift Muscles Worked

Below is a listing of the primary muscles targeted by the stiff leg deadlift (in no specific order). As discussed above, this is not the same as the Romanian deadlift (although is very similar). The key differentiation is that the stiff leg deadlift has less knee flexion at the onset and throughout the motion, increasing the need to flexibility and hamstring and lower back strength.

  • Hamstrings
  • Erectors
  • Lats (snatch grip)
  • Gluteus Maximus

Stiff Leg Deadlift Tutorial

Below is a video by Dorian Yates in which he covers how to properly set up and execute the stiff leg deadlift.

Note that the distinct difference between this and the Romanian deadlift is the degree of knee flexion at the onset and throughout the range of motion. During the stiff leg deadlift, the lifter minimizes nearly all knee flexion throughout the movement to specifically target the hamstrings and lower back muscles, with the movements drastically dependent upon the flexibility of the lifter.

Programming the Stiff Leg Deadlift

Programming the stiff leg deadlift can be done in a very similar fashion as the Romanian deadlift, with the knowledge that the hamstrings and lower back muscles are called into action slightly more during the stiff leg deadlift.

[Learn about two powerful deadlifting movements: sumo versus conventional deadlift here!]

Generally speaking, this movement can be performed to increase movement integrity and/or control with lighter loads, or with moderate loads for muscular strength and development. When programming, repetitions can be performed with 30-70% of an athlete’s back squat for 6-20 repetitions, based upon the goal and sport.
Some important considerations when programming this in populations with poor hamstring flexibility and/or control is to understand that the limited range of motion in the movement (due to poor flexibility) may impede the effectiveness of this hypertrophy based movement. If this is the case, the lifter may want to swap for Romanian style deadlifts which allow for greater knee flexion and allow for a fuller range of motion with less mobile athletes.

Final Words

The stiff leg deadlift is a viable training exercise to increase muscular hypertrophy, strength, and integrate sound hamstring range of motion for nearly every athlete. Due to the isolation of this exercise, most athletes and coaches should perform this movement in the moderate rep range with moderate loads to maximize hypertrophy before going into more advanced strength and/or speed technique. Both this and Romanian deadlifts can be great assistance exercise for nearly every athlete looking to maximize hamstring and glute performance and health.

Featured Image: @peter_ingleton on Instagram

Mike Dewar

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.

In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.

Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.

Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.

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