Exercise Profile
  • Target Muscle Group
  • Exercise TypeStrength
  • Equipment RequiredBarbell
  • MechanicsCompound
  • Force TypeHinge (Bilateral)
  • Experience LevelIntermediate
  • Secondary Muscles
    Abs, Adductors, Calves, Glutes, Lats, Lower Back, Quads, Traps, Upper Back
Target Muscle Group


Hamstrings Muscle Anatomy Diagram

Stiff Leg Deadlift Overview

The stiff leg deadlift is a variation of the deadlift and an exercise used primarily to target the muscles of the hamstrings.

The stiff leg deadlift has long been thought of as the “leg” deadlift variation, despite all hip hinge movements primarily targeting the hamstrings. A smart option, to increase training frequency and work on the movement pattern, would be to perform stiff legs on your leg day and another deadlift variation on your back or pull days.

The hip hinge is a crucial movement pattern, so it is important to find a variation that is comfortable for you to perform (if able), and work on it.

The stiff leg deadlift is best utilized during your leg workouts and/or full body workouts.

Stiff Leg Deadlift Instructions

  1. Position the bar over the top of your shoelaces and assume a hip width stance.
  2. Push your hips back and hinge forward until your torso is nearly parallel with the floor.
  3. Reach down and grasp the bar using a shoulder width, double overhand grip.
  4. Ensure your spine is neutral, shin is vertical, and your hips are roughly the same height as your shoulders.
  5. Drive through the whole foot and focus on pushing the floor away.
  6. Ensure the bar tracks in a straight line as you extend the knees and hips.
  7. Once you have locked out the hips, reverse the movement by pushing the hips back and hinging forward.
  8. Return the bar to the floor, reset, and repeat for the desired number of repetitions.

Stiff Leg Deadlift Tips

  1. This style of deadlift will look VERY similar to a conventional deadlift only the lifter will start with higher hips and a vertical shin angle. The hips and shoulders will likely be at just about the same height.
  2. Do not allow the bar to drift away from your body during the lift.
  3. You can start these out a rack (similar to an RDL or the American deadlift) or you can start these off the floor.
  4. Keep soft knees and ensure the movement occurs primarily at your hips. There shouldn’t be any movement within your spine - don’t focus on arching your back.
  5. Neck position is highly individual - Some prefer a neutral neck position (i.e. keeping the chin tucked throughout the lift) while others do well with looking slightly up. Here’s some factors to consider:
    • If you’re someone who is more globally extended (i.e. athletic background), then you will likely be able to keep a neutral position more effectively by packing the chin.
    • On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you tend to be more flexion dominant (especially in your thoracic spine - upper back) then it would behoove you to look up slightly as this will drive more extension.
    • Experiment with each and see which one works best for your individual anatomy and biomechanics.
  6. Do not worry about retracting your shoulder blades, this is unnecessary and doesn’t carry over to your deadlift.
  7. Make sure you wrap your thumbs around the bar and don’t utilize a false grip. Squeeze the bar as tight as possible like you’re trying to leave an imprint of your fingerprints on the bar.
  8. When you hip hinge, you should naturally notice a weight shift to your heels. However, don’t shift your weight so aggressively that your heels come up.
  9. To follow up on my previous point, if you focus on keeping the weight entirely on the heels, you won’t be able to effectively recruit your quads at the beginning of the lift and thus you’ll be slow off the flow. So, to combat this, you should focus on driving through the whole foot - you want 3 points of contact: big toe, little toe, and heel.
  10. Ensure the elbows stay locked out. Don’t actively flex the triceps but make sure that your elbows doesn’t break neutral.
Posted on: Sun, 09/10/2023 - 04:05

This looks like a fantastic program. I was wondering if I could utilise the leg extention/hamstring curl add-on I have for my bench. Would I be safe to add those exercises onto the end of legs day? Many thanks

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 09/25/2023 - 20:21

Sure, Ben! Go for it.

Posted on: Sun, 04/09/2023 - 17:55

I have bad arthritis in hips after years of military training and powerlifting. And have started bodybuilding due to the lighter weight and with a goal of gaining some muscle size. what can I do instead of dead lifts both standard and stiff legs as used in this program. I'd be very grateful for your input

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 04/18/2023 - 12:53

What's good, Lee? Thanks for the question.

You can focus on seated and lying leg curls for the hamstrings. Hinge movements are also good for hamstrings, but with your hip issues, that may not be the best for you. Leg curls and lunges are your best bets.

Posted on: Sun, 07/17/2022 - 00:13

Watched numerous form videos , tried to practice with mirror and recorded myself practiced and still I’m rounding my back halfway down already. Will proper form/flexibility come with time is it just my physics or should I seek an instructor to help me?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Tue, 07/26/2022 - 19:25

It comes with time, Pav. Just stick with it. It will come as long as you stay consistent with the effort. Stretch after you train as well.

Posted on: Sun, 02/20/2022 - 00:55

So can I do a normal deadlift in place of these? They seem very similar.

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 02/23/2022 - 19:57

You can. This version requires your legs to be more straight, but the regular version certainly hits the hamstrings effectively.

Fofa Atwa
Posted on: Thu, 08/06/2020 - 07:33

Correct me if I’m wrong but when doing that your back is supposed to be flat like a table to prevent back injuries from happening

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Thu, 08/06/2020 - 09:28

Hey Fofa

You're allowed a very slight bend at the bottom, but the idea is to keep your back as straight as possibly. Keep your shoulders back and your lower back contracted.

Posted on: Wed, 06/19/2019 - 11:54

Is their an alternative way of doing this?

Posted on: Mon, 03/16/2015 - 01:27

Guys ... This exercise contains powerful hip extension, which includes glutious maximus muscle, hamstrings work only supportive , they r fired powerfully only in knee flexion. i.e. leg curls

Posted on: Thu, 11/20/2014 - 17:10

Well you guys naming it the Stiff Legged Deadlift (AKA RDL) only adds to the confusion. From what I have seen in the past these are actually 2 different exercises with a significant difference. I thought the SDL was truly that: you kept your legs straight and allowed your back to round as you descended which put more focus on the hamstrings but had the danger of the rounded back. The RDL is as you show in the video; your knees bend slightly but the key is to keep your back flat so that when you are fully descended your back is like a table. The range of motion on the RDL may be very short depending on flexibility.

Posted on: Fri, 09/26/2014 - 09:17

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Jordon welch
Posted on: Tue, 08/20/2013 - 15:41

I cant walk, incredibul bulk check

Posted on: Tue, 08/20/2013 - 15:13

I cant walk

Posted on: Mon, 08/19/2013 - 15:21

Romanian Deadlifts and Stiff Leg Deadlifts are different exercises...

Posted on: Sat, 07/27/2013 - 23:31


Can you, i specify the different between the dead lift and stiff leg dead lift? Because I notice the video that is almost the same.

Posted on: Thu, 07/25/2013 - 16:59

New to this site, just getting oriented. What is the deal with every comment getting so many thumbsdown? Is that just part of this community?

Posted on: Tue, 07/02/2013 - 20:47


I've got a newbie question, is there any exercise I can substitute in instead of the SDL?
The reason why I'm asking this is because I'm very inflexible and therefore I cannot uphold the correct shape when executing the SDL. And instead of going through weeks of stretching and flexibility training, I'd prefer to use an alternative exercise.

Thank you,

Posted on: Sat, 06/15/2013 - 11:53

Is there an alternative to this? I haven't hitting the form done and felt it in my back. Don't want to risk injury. So other than hamstring curls, what are the alternatives?

Posted on: Tue, 04/02/2013 - 20:27

If you, keep your head up and don't allow your back to bend , as well as, allow the bar to flow away from your body. You will hurt yourself, period. Just passed the middle of the shins you should drop your head a degree, roll your lower back and let the bar flow away from your body. On your, way up the bar will come back tight against you, your head will automatically come up and you will forced to engage your hams and back while not putting you in harms way. Doing it how they suggest will hurt you, badly.

Posted on: Mon, 03/25/2013 - 04:59

Why do so many people vote comments down on this website?

Posted on: Fri, 04/05/2013 - 10:36

lol, was wondering the same before I came across your comment.

Posted on: Tue, 05/14/2013 - 20:19

lol me three

Posted on: Mon, 03/18/2013 - 11:55

Is there a dumbbell version of this exercise?

Posted on: Wed, 04/22/2015 - 17:24

Pat, you can certainly use dumbells. I prefer using dumbells in a gym because they are more readily available than the 1 or 2 barbells

Posted on: Mon, 01/07/2013 - 10:46

im gonna try these today:)

Dr. Hamdy el Gazzar
Posted on: Sat, 12/15/2012 - 06:37

The rule if you increase the weight you should not increase the repetition and vice verse, you must take period to maintain any progression in intensity before you transfer to the second increasing.

Posted on: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 01:41

Ant, most likely both. Read the instructions above, can't make it any clearer.

Debo, Increase as you feel comfortable. Progression is the goal right? 6,8,10, 14 just sounds ineffective to me, quite curious as to your reasoning.

Posted on: Sun, 11/11/2012 - 18:42

If i do this work out do I keep the same weight for each rep or should it increase. If i bench 6, 8, 10 ,14 is it on the same weight or increase?

Posted on: Mon, 11/04/2013 - 23:01

It depends if your trying to build. I've always found it better to start at lower weight higher reps. Let's say 12,10,8,6. Increasing weight as you go

Posted on: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 08:21

With excersise like this one and the deadlift for your lower back I feel like most of the work is done by the right side of my body.

How could I exclude this?

Posted on: Tue, 10/30/2012 - 15:30

When I do this exercise at the gym, my lower back is killing me. I have to sit down for a short period to make it feel better. Do I have bad form? Too much weight? Thanks.

Posted on: Fri, 01/24/2014 - 09:49

Likely both.

Too much weight creates bad form. About 6 months ago I injured my back going for a personal best at 315 lbs. Monday I did this lift for the first time since the injury at 95 lbs. My Hamstrings are sore but my back feels great. Get the form perfect at low weight and work up slowly. The risk of injury is serious with this lift.

Posted on: Fri, 10/05/2012 - 15:12

Romanian dead lift and stiff leg deadlift are two different exercises ;)
Both similar, but still different, in technique and muscle target. I mean the primary muscles worked is both exercises are the glutes, hamstrings and low back, but RDL only works the spinal erector muscles statically (there is no movement in lower back) and in the SDL the erector spinae are trained more dynamically (because of rounding of lower back in bottom position).

Posted on: Sat, 09/29/2012 - 01:41

Excellent form, perfect instructions. Great site!

Posted on: Mon, 09/17/2012 - 21:06

straight leg deadlift?

Fiji Boy
Posted on: Wed, 08/15/2012 - 17:29

Most people will just look at the video and not bother reading the instructions which I know is just as important. For these leg exercises I think, with all due respect, it would be better if you wore something that shows your legs. :) we would see more clearly whats happening with leg positions and stance and stuff. I've been looking around on the net for site on bodybuilding and came across this one which I think is pretty good. Keep up the good work guys!

Posted on: Fri, 06/22/2012 - 07:35

First time trying dead lifts,I felt like it wuz working mainly on my glutes, lower back, and traps. Barely felt it on my hamstrings at all is there sumthn I'm missin?

Posted on: Thu, 06/22/2017 - 22:53

don't bend your knees !

Posted on: Wed, 04/11/2012 - 17:37

that exercise looks more like a RDL for the lower back.
just saying

Posted on: Sat, 04/14/2012 - 17:32

You try like it shown , after reading all the tips and you will see the diffrence :)

Posted on: Mon, 06/25/2012 - 15:11

This guy is part of website devoted to bodybuilding and looks pretty jacked. He probably knows what he is talking about, just saying.

Posted on: Tue, 02/17/2015 - 15:40

It is an RDL.

Posted on: Mon, 04/09/2012 - 07:42

I like your site but must inprove you can't just show us the video you must show us the pics please then it will be beter for us thanx good day