The Straight Leg Deadlift...One of My Top 3!

The Straight Leg Deadlift...One of My Top 3!

Many Personal Trainers rank the deadlift as the ultimate all-rounder of strength exercises. Multiple joints, explosive power and optimal muscle hypertrophy. Bodybuilders, strongmen and athletes of all shapes and sizes use it to develop every muscle in the back and legs. So, if the deadlift is the ultimate, the straight/stiff legged deadlift, also (commonly refered to as the Romanian deadlift) is its little brother!

What is a Straight Leg Deadlift & How Do You Do it?

The straight leg deadlift is a variation of the standard deadlift. While this may be an obvious point, the muscles it targets, the benefits and purpose make it an almost entirely different exercise.

The lift typically uses a barbell, but I prefer to use a kettlebell as seen in the video. However, if you’re doing this at home and don’t have access to weights or a barbell, you can literal use any weight to make this as functional as possible.

Standing over the kettlebell use an overhand grip so that your palms are facing the floor. Straighten your torso and your stance should be shoulder width apart, but no wider. A narrower stance is acceptable. This lift is not to be confused with a sumo lift so your knees should be slightly bent and not locked. To lift you should bend at your waist with your back straightened and the kettlebell between your feet.

Keeping the Straignt Leg Deadlift Safe

Breathe in as you bend down and exhale as you rise again. You will feel this lift in your hamstrings and hips. In fact, this is a good indicator if your technique is accurate, as your lower back may be present in the movement but you definitely do not want your lower back to be doing any of the heavy liftng! This could result in serious injury. Take the weight in your hamstrings and engage your hips.

If you are struggling with the full range of movement, or are recovering from an injury, limit your range of movement until you build greater strength and stability through the hamstrings, glutes and erector spinae. Try using a step or a weight plate between your feet (under the kettlebell) to limit the depth and range of your lift.

Drive the lift from your heels rather than your toes. This will keep you upright and is a helpful way of shifting the weight to where you want it: your hamstrings and hips.

Common Mistakes

Many people will let the weight drift forward and away from their body as they struggle to lift. It should remain close to your body. If using a kettle bell, preferably between the feet, or if using a barbell, the bar should run up along the legs. There should be no hop and jerk movement at all, the movement should be slow and purposeful and you should keep your elbows locked out to keep them from flapping or leaving even a millimetre of doubt that the bar will shift beyond your control.

Straight Leg Deadlift vs. Normal Deadlift

The straight leg deadlift is like the standard deadlift but the major difference is the starting position with your legs basically starting in a straight (not locked) position. Because of this, the primary muscles worked by this exercise are different – we’ll get to that next.

Because of your starting position and straightened legs, we eliminate a muscle group and set of joints from assisting to get the weight off the ground and therefore isolating your target muscles i.e. hamstrings, glutes and spine. The deadlift, with your bent knees and thrusting action means that you can master greater weights than you can with the stiff leg version.

Straight Leg Deadlift Benefits

The major benefit of the straight leg deadlift is its effect on your posterior chain. By strengthening it you benefit not only your posture and lower back strength, but your explosive power, jumping, leg press and incline running capability.

This exercise equally strengthens and improves your hip flexion and extension, which you use in everything from standing from a sitting position, to exercises like the clean, snatch, jerk, squat and deadlift.

Like all lifts that essentially work against gravity from a standing position, the straight leg deadlift can also help to increase your bone density – particularly important for older people when bone density begins to depreciate!

Muscles Worked in a Straight Leg Deadlift

The muscles targeted in this exercise, include the:

  • Hamstrings
  • Erectors
  • Lats (snatch grip)
  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Because there is an element of keeping yourself stable beneath the weight, your core is also engaged.

Key Message

The straight leg deadlift is a technical streghtning exercise and must be approached with some caution. Start light, go slowly and use a professional to teach you correct form if in doubt!

Having said that, it is an excellent isolating exercise for your posterior chain, namely your hamstrings. It is ideal for improving your hip flexion and explosive power, while helping to develop your conventional deadlift, not to mention the great calorie burner. This exercise is for anyone looking to kill two birds with one stone!

Due to the technical nature and isolation of this exercise, you should perform the movement in a moderate rep range (8 - 12 reps) 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 client looking to maximize hamstring and glute performance and health.


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About the Author

Gene Alessi

Gene Alessi

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