The stiff-legged deadlift is in my opinion a forgotten but highly valuable deadlifting movement. While many physique athletes opt for performing Romanian deadlifts (RDL’s) instead – which to many look pretty much the same – when done correctly then stiff-legged deadlifts offer some unique benefits over other deadlifting variations.
Stiff-legged deadlifts are essentially a high-hipped deadlift off the floor. The focus on bending over and keeping your hips high instead of pushing them back (as with RDL’s) results in the bar traveling further out in front. The bar path places actually places you at a mechanical disadvantage resulting in less weight being lifted in comparison to RDL’s. While some ego-driven lifters will see this as a bad thing, with stiff-legged deadlifts you’re able to build your posterior chain (namely, glutes, hamstrings and low back) without requiring as much load on the bar.
Stiff-Legged versus Romanian Deadlifts?
How well an exercise activates certain muscles isn’t necessarily an indicator of how good that exercise is at building muscle. There are a lot of other factors involved and that contribute to mechanical tension – the primary driver of muscle growth. That being said, muscle activation research can give us a good idea of how well an exercise “targets” that area. If Exercise A activates a certain muscle more then Exercise B then we might say that Exercise A works that area harder and therefore might be better at growing that particular muscle.
A recent study showed greater muscle activation in gluteus maximus using stiff-legged deadlifts as compared to RDL’s. Biceps femoris activation (“outer” hamstrings) was also higher although not significantly, while RDL’s showed slightly greater semitendinosus (“middle” hamstring) activation (Coratella et al, 2022). The authors suggest that because a stiff-legged deadlift involves less action at the knees there is more focus placed on pure hip extension, hence the resulting increase in gluteus maximus activation.
The stiff-legged deadlift is by no means a “better” deadlift, but it does offer a useful option for those looking to build their posterior chain strength, as well as for physique athletes who are trying to build size in their glutes and “outer” hamstrings.
How to Stiff-Legged deadlift
Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cè E. An Electromyographic Analysis of Romanian, Step-Romanian, and Stiff-Leg Deadlift: Implication for Resistance Training. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022; 19(3):1903. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19031903
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