Straight (Stiff) Leg Deadlift: Benefits, Muscles Used, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 30, 2022

Deadlifts are a dynamic exercise in which dead weight is picked up from the ground without the use of momentum. A decent deadlift needs appropriate biomechanics, enough strength, and power. Additionally, the exercise is considered a compound workout as it requires the usage of multiple muscle groups to accomplish the lift. One variation of this exercise is the straight leg deadlift.

Straight leg deadlifts, also termed stiff leg deadlifts, do not allow the knees to bend unlike in the traditional variant. Because of the positioning of the legs in this type of deadlift, more work from the lower back, hamstrings, gluteal muscles, and calves is required. Furthermore, one’s flexibility plays a significant role in this workout.

Strength enhancement is the main benefit of performing a straight leg deadlift. However, it also proves helpful in enhancing core stability and preventing functional injuries.

What is a Straight Leg Deadlift?

The straight leg deadlift, also known as the stiff-leg deadlift, is a deadlift variation that focuses on keeping the knees in a fixed position throughout the movement. The stiff-leg deadlift is a compound exercise where the knees are held firmly in place so that they do not bend as the weights are brought closer to the torso.

straight leg deadlift

Due to the fact that this movement stretches the hamstrings more, the execution of this exercise is an excellent method for increasing the amount of work that the hamstrings perform. Even though the movement focuses more on the hip hinge, the hamstring is the muscle that is responsible for the majority of the hip extension.

How to Perform a Straight Leg Deadlift

To begin, take a stance with the feet hip-width apart and position the bar so that it lies across the tops of the shoes. Position the torso so that it is nearly perpendicular to the floor. To do this, hinge forward and push the hips back. Reach down and grab the bar with two overhand grips placed shoulder-width apart.

Ensure that the spine is in a neutral position, that the shins are in a vertical position, and that the hips are approximately at the same height as the shoulders. Raise the load by driving through the legs and pushing on the floor to create forward momentum in the hips.

Maintain the bar in a straight line even while the knees and hips are being stretched. Upon reaching the maximum extension of the hips, perform the opposite movement by pushing the hips back and hinging forward. Place the bar back on the ground, and repeat the procedure until the set is complete.

Muscles Worked in a Straight Leg Deadlift

As a compound exercise, straight leg deadlifts work multiple muscle groups to complete the activity. A well-executed deadlift necessitates a rigorous extension of the vertebral spine during the entire exercise.

barbell straight leg deadlift muscles

The lifter takes a hinged posture in the initial stance by flexing their hips and shoulders to take hold of the bar. They then demand complete extension from each of those joints while using a variety of muscles throughout the action.

Back Extensors

The muscles that enable the spine to shift from a horizontal to an upright posture are known as the back extensors. The spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis muscle group, collectively known as the erector spinae, serve as the main back extensors in this situation.

These muscles are used right away during the deadlift, preventing the spine from curving. During the exercise, these muscles contract isometrically to bring the spine to its natural length.

Core Muscles

The core muscles made up of the rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis, and internal and external oblique muscles, work to stabilize the spine and prevent hyperextension when the back extensors pull the spine up as the weight is applied.

Hip and Leg Extensors

The hip and knee extensors are the main muscles involved in deadlifting. These muscles tighten up, which gives the legs enough force to stand up and support the weight of the bar.

The quadriceps femoris, which is made up of the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris, is responsible for keeping the knee extended. Unlike in a traditional deadlift, these muscles contract isometrically in a straight leg deadlift to keep the knees locked throughout the movement.

The primary muscles worked in straight leg deadlifts are the hamstrings (biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus). Together with the adductor magnus, the hamstring muscles work in conjunction with the gluteus maximus to help accomplish hip extension.

Arms and Shoulders

As the lifter advances in the lift, the latissimus dorsi pulls the upper arm, extending the shoulder and keeping the bar as close to the body as possible. This motion straightens the arms by working against gravity's downward pull on the bar.

When doing deadlifts, the stability of the shoulder girdle is crucial. The trapezius, a postural muscle that stops scapular depression, is a big part of what makes the shoulder complex strong, and stable. The trapezius muscle aids in maintaining the shoulders in a neutral posture while the weight is held in an upright position.

When the shoulder is locked out, the rhomboids help the trapezius muscles keep it neutral. It causes the scapula to retract, which stops the shoulders from hunching forward.

Grip

The deadlift is not just an exercise that focuses on building large muscular groups but it is also an activity that works on improving grip strength. To maintain a firm grasp on the bar, the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of the hand, both of which contribute to grip strength, contract in an isometric manner.

Benefits of the Straight Leg Deadlift

The straight leg deadlift may not look very different from the traditional deadlift in terms of form; however, there are benefits to be gained from this exercise.

Improves Muscle Strength

Deadlifts, whatever the type, all increase muscle strength. The straight leg deadlift variation, in particular, strengthens the lower back, glutes, calves, and hamstrings. Because the knees are kept mostly straight with only a slight bend, the quads are disengaged to a greater degree in contrast to that in a traditional deadlift. Hence, strength is increased in the abovementioned muscles due to the amount of work that they need to do.

Enhances Core Strength and Stability

The core also works when performing the straight leg deadlift. As with other exercises that require the function of the core and enhance core strength, this exercise is also able to improve stability.

Improves Performance in Sports and Other Workouts

Because the lower back, calves, glutes, and hamstrings are strengthened by the straight leg deadlift, better execution of the other variations of the deadlift may be observed. Furthermore, this may also contribute to better athletic performance in sporting activities that require running and jumping.

Decreases Risk for Functional Injury

An excellent strategy to ensure muscle health and mobility is to work on perfecting the hip hinge and to engage in resistance training in general. Resistance exercises that test the boundaries of what the body is capable of not only help build stronger muscles but also help build stronger bones and joints.

The straight leg deadlift variation, in particular, helps avoid knee injuries because of the development of strength in the hamstrings and the low impact this workout places on the knee joint. Although a weak quad is the most common cause of knee injuries, weak hamstrings may also cause this condition.

The biceps femoris region of the hamstring is often the site of the vast majority of hamstring injuries. Lifting weights using the straight leg deadlift is an excellent approach to building strength in this region of the hamstring.

Final Thoughts

Among the many variations of the deadlift, the straight leg deadlift is one variant that targets the hamstrings while disengaging the quads. Hence, this workout is especially useful for athletes who might want to improve their running and jumping ability.

The strengthening of the hamstrings also contributes to the reduction of the risk of knee injuries brought about by weakness of this muscle. However, it is important to consider consulting a professional before attempting the straight leg deadlift when one wants to address hamstring weakness.

References

1. Hsu SL, Oda H, Shirahata S, Watanabe M, Sasaki M. Effects of core strength training on core stability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(8):1014-1018. doi:10.1589/jpts.30.1014

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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