The Deadlift Nobody Does But Everybody Needs

Stiff Leg vs. Romanian Deadlifts

Most lifters do Romanian deadlifts, but almost nobody does the stiff-leg version. Hereโ€™s why they should.

The stiff-leg deadlift is underrated. While many lifters gravitate towards the Romanian deadlift (RDL), which may appear similar at first glance, the stiff-leg deadlift has several distinct advantages over other deadlift variations.

Whatโ€™s the Difference?

The stiff-leg deadlift involves a pull from the floor with a high hip position throughout the movement. This differs from the RDL, which involves pushing the hips back.

The bar path in the stiff-leg deadlift travels further out in front, placing you at a mechanical disadvantage and potentially lifting less weight than the RDL. While some may view this as a negative, the stiff-leg deadlift allows for targeted development of the posterior chain โ€“ specifically the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back โ€“ without requiring as much load on the bar.

The Difference in Muscle Activation

From a muscle activation standpoint, letโ€™s compare the stiff-leg deadlift to the Romanian deadlift. Itโ€™s worth noting that activating certain muscles doesnโ€™t necessarily indicate the superiority of an exercise for muscle growth. However, studying muscle activation provides valuable insights into how effectively an exercise targets a specific area.

A recent study found that the stiff-leg deadlift produced greater activation of the gluteus maximus compared to the RDL. Additionally, biceps femoris activation (the โ€œouterโ€ hamstrings) was higher, albeit not significantly, in the stiff-leg deadlift. Conversely, the RDL showed slightly greater activation of the semitendinosus (โ€œmiddleโ€ hamstring) (Coratella et al., 2022). The decreased knee action in the stiff-leg deadlift places more emphasis on pure hip extension, leading to increased glute max activation.

Does That Mean Itโ€™s Better?

Not exactly. Donโ€™t think of the stiff-leg deadlift as a superior exercise overall. Itโ€™s simply a valuable option if you want to build posterior chain strength or if youโ€™re aiming to add size to the glutes and outer hamstrings. Itโ€™s a variation to rotate into your training when needed.

Key Technique Tips

How Should I Program These?

First, stick at them! Do them for weeks or even months until they reach a plateau. Once youโ€™ve milked them for all theyโ€™re worth, swap them with another one of your favorite deadlifts or hip hinges. Then, once youโ€™ve got the most out of those, either return to stiff-leg or go with something else.

The longer youโ€™ve trained and stuck to consistent programming, the more youโ€™ll narrow down your exercise selection to just a small handful of favorites in each movement department. For example, I might rotate a stiff-leg deadlift, a trap-bar deadlift, and an RDL in continuous cycles for years on end. Your list will be different from mine. Try stiff-leg deadlifts to see if they make the cut.




  1. Coratella G, Tornatore G, Longo S, Esposito F, Cรจ 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.

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