Get Stonger Hamstrings with Stiff Legged Deadlifts

The stiff-legged deadlift is arguably one of the best lifts to develop and strengthen the hamstrings. While exercises like squats, split squats, and lunges also work the hamstrings, the quads tend to take on the brunt of the load. Leg curls and other "machine" hamstring exercises are good too, but they can't simulate the necessity for core activation and stabilization that you will find with the stiff-legged deadlift.

The hamstrings play a major role in lower back stabilization, jumping, and forward propulsion. Developing the hamstrings will not only improve pulling movements like deadlifts, it also can help reduce lower back pain, prevent knee problems, and improve your running, jumping, lateral movements, and squatting.

The stiff-legged deadlift targets three major muscle groups: Hamstrings, Glutes, and Lower Back. All three muscle groups work together and benefit from both the concentric (lifting of the bar) and eccentric (lowering of the bar) portions of the lift. The lats, core, and calves also spend a solid amount of time under tension.

Setup: Start with your feet about hip-width apart. Keeping your back straight, grab the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Legs should be mostly straight with the knees slightly broken. This lift can also be performed with knees locked out, but it's much more difficult to maintain a neutral spine (straight back). If you cannot maintain a neutral spine, the muscles in your back will take over the work that your hamstrings are supposed to be doing. In the worst case scenario, this can result in a back injury. Athletes who have difficulty maintaining a neutral spine for the stiff-legged deadlift can either reduce the range of motion by lifting from blocks, or else perform it's sister lift, the Romanian Deadlift.

Concentric: Keeping your legs mostly straight and maintaining a neutral spine, lift the bar by contracting your hamstrings and glutes, shifting your weight back slightly to keep the bar very close to the body. The last thing you want is to let the bar drift forward and pull you out of position. Maintain upper body tension throughout the lift with a slight external rotation of the shoulders and tightening up the lats (also cued as "breaking apart the bar").

Eccentric: Lower the bar down the same way you came up, maintaining a straight back, upper body tension on the bar, and stiff legs. You will likely feel a good stretch in your hamstrings as you reach the end range of motion.

Things to note:

1. Grip. Typically, I favor using a double overhand grip as long as possible. Go ahead and use the hook grip to help keep the bar close to the body. Switch to a mixed grip only when you find your grip strength starts to fail, tension in lats starts to fail, or when you find you have trouble keeping the bar close to the body.

2. This lift can be performed touch and go, or by resetting your legs and back at the ground between reps. I typically favor the latter, coming to a dead stop at the ground each time. Touch and go reps can sacrifice position and movement mechanics, especially at heavier loads. However, athletes who struggle with creating tension in the setup may have best success with touch and go reps.

If you have any questions about your lifts, our gym training program, or just want to chat, email me at I'd love to hear from you!

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