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Home > Exercises > Stiff Leg Deadlift

Stiff Leg Deadlift

Equipment

  1. None required
  2. Dumbbells (optional)

Setupdeadlift setup

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder width apart, toes pointing straight ahead.
  2. Tilt your pelvis forward by gently contracting your lower back muscles.
  3. Relax your shoulders and allow your arms to hang by your sides (with or without dumbbells).
  4. Lock your knees.

Execution

  1. Initiate the movement by allowing your butt to slide backwards away from your torso.
  2. Holding the contraction of your lower back so as to keep your lower back from arching forward as you move, keeping your knees locked and looking straight ahead throughout the movement, gently lower your trunk, allowing your arms to dangle in front of you as you descend.
  3. deadlift executionFor men, who probably have tight hamstrings and thus are incapable of lowing their trunk all the way to horizontal, lower your trunk until you feel a tight stretch in your hamstrings (at probably around a 45 degree incline).  For women, lower your trunk until it’s just about horizontal.
  4. Once you reach horizontal or have descended as far as your hamstrings tightness will allow, return your trunk to upright. Repeat as desired (e.g., 2 sets of 20 reps).  Do not perform more frequently than every other day.

Tips

  1. Practice without any dumbbells at first.  As you get stronger, begin using dumbbells and gradually increase the weight thereof as the weeks go by.
  2. Do not look down, look straight ahead.
  3. Experiment with varying the orientation of your hands.  Palm up (externally rotated forearms), palm inward (neutral), and palm down (internally rotated forearms).  These different orientations activate different musculature in your upper back and shoulders.
  4. Do not pull on your arms at all, just allow them to dangle (with or without dumbbells).  This is not a rowing exercise, nor is it a shrugging exercise.
  5. Do not allow your trunk to descend below horizontal (leave that ROM to people without back problems).
  6. Do not “bounce” at the bottom of the lift.  You could potentially pull a hamstring muscle if you do.


Muscles Used

  1. Back: erector spinae, quadratus lumborum, multifidi
  2. Hamstrings
  3. Gluteas maximus (butt)
  4. Pelvic floor: levator ani, coccygeus

Background

I know, I know, “stiff leg deadlift” sounds like an exercise reserved for bodybuilders - definitely not the province of someone with back pain.  Nothing could be further from the truth, the stiff leg deadlift is highly therapeutic for individuals with back pain who are “flexion intolerant,” meaning their backs do not like sitting down (i.e., sitting exacerbates their back pain).  Say what now?  For a discussion of the different categories of back pain sufferers and how back extension exercises like the stiff leg deadlift can benefit back pain sufferers, see the plank exercise article
excessive lordosis

The stiff leg deadlift is also highly therapeutic for someone with a “flat” lower back, a lower back that has lost its natural lordosis (e.g., as a result of a seated lifestyle, as detailed in the article, Desk Jockey: What Sitting all Day is Doing to Your Back).  The stiff leg deadlift, by strengthening the muscles behind the lumbar vertebrae, you will gradually ease your lower spine back into its natural position over weeks and months of performing this exercise.  As such, the stiff leg deadlift will improve your posture, lower the likelihood of your suffering a back injury during your daily tasks (e.g., gardening, moving groceries), make sitting more comfortable, flatten the profile of your stomach, and stabilize your pelvis.

I like the stiff leg deadlift as an exercise for back pain sufferers more so than the regular deadlift because with the stiff leg deadlift more variables are controlled; removing knee and hip movements from the equation simplifies the exercise technique, making the stiff leg deadlift more accessible to novice exercisers.

I have a couple of herniated discs in my thoracic spine and have never found the stiff leg deadlift to aggravate them.  In my personal opinion, having herniated discs in any part of your spine is not a reason not to exercise the spine with load-bearing exercises like the stiff leg deadlift.  Know however, that I am not a medical professional and this opinion is controversial.  For an extensive discussion of the safety of the stiff leg deadlift, see the Dangerous Exercise Essay on Exrx.net.  One safety tip I will offer for those with herniated lumbar discs: perform exercises in the afternoon or evening because by that point in the day your intervertebral discs have had a chance to lose some of their fluid.

pelvic floor musclesThe stiff leg deadlift is a wonderful exercise for pelvic floor health and pelvic health in general because the strengthening of the hamstrings and erector spinae serves to anchor the pelvis in its optimal position.  These two muscles are the primary muscles used when performing the stiff leg deadlift and actually exert opposite forces on the pelvis; the erector spinae anteriorly tilt the pelvis whereas the hamstrings posteriorly tilt the pelvis.  Naturally, if one or both of these muscle groups are weak, the pelvis is subject to anterior or posterior pelvic tilt and faulty biomechanics.  By performing the stiff leg deadlift, if either of these muscle groups is weak, that muscle group alone will suffer from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) a day or two after performing the stiff leg deadlift (provided you performed the stiff leg deadlift with enough weight and/or repetitions the day you performed the exercise). This aspect of the stiff leg deadlift makes the stiff leg deadlift an equilibrium-inducing exercise vis-à-vis the pelvis.

The stiff leg deadlift is also an example of an exercise that doubles as a stretch.  Men especially have tight hamstrings, and, in my experience, the stiff leg deadlift is the single most effective way to lengthen the range of motion (ROM) of the hamstrings, even more so than hamstring stretching.

Those with excessive lordosis or whose backs are extension intolerant (i.e., their backs get sorer when they stand up or do activities that require constant back extension (e.g., cooking) and feel better when they sit), should avoid the stiff leg deadlift.  The stiff leg deadlift will exacerbate the back pain of such individuals.

Further Reading: Related Floota.com Articles

  1. Hamstring Stretch
  2. Superman Exercise (a non-weight-bearing back exercise)

References

  1. Barbell Straight Leg Deadlift at Exrx.net
  2. Straight-Leg Deadlift at biggerfasterstronger.com
  3. Straight Leg Deadlift Workout at greatweightlifting.com

Last Updated: 6/9/2011
Originally Posted: 6/9/2011