Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

The deadlift has long been regarded as one of the best exercises to build functional strength and power. In simple terms, you pick up a weight and put it back down again. If you’re looking for a pure functional movement pattern, the deadlift ticks all the boxes.

The traditional deadlift is great. However, slight movement differences provide alternative ways to hit different muscle groups. The barbell stiff leg deadlift requires you to keep your knees in the same position throughout. Because of this, it places more emphasis on your posterior chain; the muscles located at the back of your body.

Let’s take a look at it in more detail below!

How To Do

  1. Set a barbell up with the desired weight in a suitable area. Ensure the safety clips are firmly in place.
  2. Grasp the barbell with a double overhand grip. Your hands should be spaced shoulder-width apart.
  3. Bring the barbell close to your shins. Perform a normal deadlift to bring the barbell up to your hips. Keep a neutral spine position with your chest up and knees slightly bent. 
  4. Once your knees are fully extended, this will be your correct starting position.
  5. Take a deep breath in and engage your core. Form a very slight bend in your knees and push your hips back slightly.
  6. Whilst keeping the same back and knee positions, perform a hip hinge by allowing your torso to come forward. The barbell should move down to the floor using a straight motion.
  7. Throughout the movement, keep your shoulders pulled back and retract your scapula. 
  8. Once the barbell touches the floor, briefly pause at the bottom position. 
  9. As you bring the barbell up, drive your hips forward. Breathe out as the barbell comes past your knees.
  10. Repeat the same steps for the desired number of repetitions.

Tips From Expert

  • During both phases of the movement, ensure you use a slow, controlled pace. The barbell stiff leg deadlift is not a movement that you should just rep out with no thought. 
  • Move slowly with intent, ensuring you keep a neutral back to minimize the load on your lower back.
  • Focus on your developing a good mind-muscle connection throughout. Aim to contract your hamstrings and glute muscles during both phases of the movement. Imagine tensing the muscle groups, focusing on them specifically.
  • Ensure you load your hamstrings throughout the movement. As you go down, focus on keeping the same back and knee position. Try to maintain a tight body position while thinking about using just your hamstrings.

Optimal Sets and Reps

When programming the barbell stiff leg deadlift into your exercise routine, use the table below as a general guide. The correct number of sets and reps will depend on your training goals.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 4–6
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12–20
Power Training 3–5 1–3

How to Put in Your Workout Split

The barbell stiff leg deadlift is a compound lower-body exercise that targets your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae. As a versatile exercise that focuses on performing a functional hip hinge, it can be programmed in multiple ways.

  • Upper/Lower Split — As a lower-body exercise, program the barbell stiff leg deadlift on your lower training day. Ensure it's towards the start of your session.
  • Leg — As the stiff leg deadlift mainly works on your lower body, it can be programmed on any dedicated leg day. Program it at the start before isolation-type exercises such as leg extension and calf raises.
  • Full-Body — As part of a full-body workout, combine the stiff leg deadlift with an isolation exercise that works opposite muscle groups. A good example would be a narrow stance leg press or hack squat. Make sure you pair these together.

The correct loading recommendations and repetition ranges will largely depend on your training focus. In the guide below, your 1RM refers to the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition. This can be carried out with the help of a personal trainer if needed.

Strength Training:

  • High-intensity.
  • 80%–100% of your 1RM.

Hypertrophy Training:

  • Moderate to high-intensity.
  • 60%–80% of your 1RM.

Endurance Training:

  • Light to moderate intensity.
  • 40–60% of your 1RM.

Power Training:

  • High-intensity.
  • 80%–100% of your 1RM.

For strength and power training, ensure two to three minutes of rest between sets.

For hypertrophy and endurance-based training, 45 to 90 seconds is sufficient. 

When programming your training, it always helps to write down the exercises you’re doing before your session. During the session, record the number of sets and reps successfully performed. This way, you’ll have something to compare to each week.

Primary Muscle Groups

Hamstrings

Muscles located at the back of your upper leg, below your glutes and above your calves. Consists of three muscles.

Hamstrings

Your hamstrings consist of three main muscle groups that sit at the back of your upper legs. These are your semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. Together, these perform two primary functions; knee flexion and hip extension.

When performing the barbell stiff leg deadlift, your knees generally stay in the same place. Because of this, there is no knee flexion involved in the stiff leg variation. The primary function of your hamstrings is to extend your hips as you bring the barbell up.

As the primary mover, the barbell stiff leg deadlift is great for developing muscle and strength in your hamstrings.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Gluteus

Large, superficial muscles located at your buttocks just below your lower back area.

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Gluteus 

Your glutes consist of three muscles that make up your buttocks area. Each of them sits at the back of your upper legs above your hamstrings. These are your gluteus minimus, gluteus medius, and gluteus maximus. Their main function is to extend your hips and assist in rotational hip movements.

As a strong hip extender, your glutes assist your hamstrings when bringing the barbell up. As they play a supporting role, we’ve classified them as a secondary mover.

If you’re looking for more glute activation, focus on squeezing them as you bring the barbell up.

Erector Spinae

Your erector spinae are made up of several smaller muscles that run down the entire length of your back. They are classed as part of your trunk muscles and work together to extend and flex your back.

As we’ve mentioned above, it's vital to maintain a neutral back position when performing barbell stiff leg deadlifts. Your erector spinae work alongside your other trunk muscles to ensure you maintain the correct lifting position.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

High Knees

Cobra Stretch

Seated Forward Bend

Bodyweight Single-leg Deadlifts

Butt Kickers

Jump Rope

Standing Forward Bend

Dynamic Hamstring Stretch

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Hurdler Stretch

Who Should Do?

Strength And Power Athletes

As a strength and power athlete, your main training focus should be using progressive overload for compound, functional movement patterns. This means that your exercises should use a large number of muscle groups and be performed at a high intensity. Alongside this, they should also help to develop other movements outside of the gym.

The barbell stiff leg deadlift requires a large number of muscle groups to perform correctly. 

It also helps to develop your hip hinge. This is a movement used in many daily activities such as bending over and walking. This makes it a perfect foundational exercise for these types of athletes.

Bodybuilders

To successfully build muscle, your training should focus on two main things; training volume and training intensity. Compound movements are great for two things. They are easy to increase the intensity as you engage more muscles. They also provide decent volume for several muscle groups at once. 

As a bodybuilder, the barbell stiff leg deadlift should be one of your foundational training exercises. If you’re wanting to build a strong posterior chain, this ticks all the boxes.

Who Should Not Do?

Those With Lower Back Issues

When performed correctly, the deadlift and its variations can help to strengthen your lower back and improve injury symptoms. However, as someone who already has lower back issues, your focus should be on a specific rehabilitation program first. Speak to a physiotherapist or other professional who can assess your readiness to deadlift. 

The barbell stiff leg deadlift uses a fixed knee position and a large hip hinge. This means that it requires a big amount of lower back strength. Any form deviations will place unneeded stress on your lower back and possibly make injuries worse. Deadlifts can be included as part of a rehabilitation plan, but only when appropriate. 

Total Beginners

As a total beginner, your aim should be to develop a solid training base from which to work. During this phase of training, you should focus on using the correct form in the main foundational movements. 

Look to perfect the traditional deadlift first before moving on to more complicated variations. Once you’ve done this, variations can be added to your program with the help of a personal trainer.

Benefits Of The Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

Strengthened Posterior Chain

The posterior chain refers to the muscles located on the backside of your body. These run from your neck all the way down to your ankles. Your hamstrings, glutes, and erector spinae make up three big components.

Everything we do in daily life involves our posterior chain to some extent. Daily movements such as walking, bending down, and changing direction use it. With a large amount of posterior chain activation, the barbell stiff leg deadlift is a perfect exercise to strengthen it.

Functional Injury Prevention

The barbell stiff leg deadlift primarily uses a hip hinge. This is where you bend forward at your hip joints while maintaining a neutral spine position.

A proper hip hinge is a vital part of developing functional movement patterns. It helps to increase the mobility and performance of other movements that involve it. A good functional example would be the squat.

The barbell straight-leg deadlift often uses less weight compared to the traditional deadlift with a larger range of motion. Therefore, it’s an excellent exercise to develop a proper hip hinge. 

Regular performance can give you a better awareness of your body position during everyday tasks. It also helps to reduce stress on your lumbar spine by strengthening the muscles around it. Improvements in pain, mobility, and strength can be seen with regular posterior chain exercises such as the barbell stiff leg deadlift.

Better Grip Strength

When we think about the barbell stiff leg deadlift, we mainly associate it with our lower body. However, to perform it correctly, we need to use a large amount of grip strength to hold onto the bar. If the bar slips, the movement is finished.

In a traditional deadlift, poor grip strength can often be a limiting factor. Even if your posterior chain is strong enough, a lack of grip means you need to drop the weight. 

Because of the lighter load used, the barbell stiff leg deadlift is a great way to train your grip strength. Better grip strength can benefit performance in other pulling movements and be a key indicator of health

Improved Athletic Performance

Movements such as sprinting, jumping, and lifting each require strong hip muscles for efficient performance. By developing the hip hinge, the stiff leg barbell deadlift is perfect for improving sport-specific performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a barbell stiff leg deadlift and RDL?

When performing a stiff leg deadlift, you start with the barbell on the floor. During each repetition, the barbell is returned to the same position. In a Romanian deadlift, the barbell doesn’t touch the floor throughout.

What is the most common mistake for a stiff leg deadlift?

The most common mistakes mainly relate to your body position during the set-up and lift. Incorrect foot placement, rounding your shoulders, and not engaging your core are some common ones. Follow the guidance above for help.

Should you go heavy on a stiff-leg deadlift?

The correct weight to use when performing the stiff leg deadlift depends on your training goals. Use the programming guide above before deciding. If you can keep the correct form, the suggested ranges are appropriate.

Resources

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