The deadlift with straight legs is an exercise typically used, in the gym and in bodybuilding programs, for training the legs and in particular the hamstrings. In reality, the muscles involved during correct execution are numerous and also include the buttocks.
What Are Straight Leg Deadlifts?
The deadlift with straight legs is defined as an exercise for the posterior kinetic chain, with which all the “posterior” muscles are considered, simplifying, dorsal, gluteus, and hamstring mainly. The movement is a hip extension, technically defined as a “ hip hinge ”motor pattern.
It can be understood from the name that it falls into the category of deadlifts, of which there are several variants. However, the straight leg deadlifts, unlike the deadlift, involve more hamstrings, glutes, and deep back muscles due to several factors, including:
- The movement was mostly borne by the hip and less if any of the knee;
- Presence of an eccentric phase that allows greater elongation of the buttocks and hamstrings ;
- Back muscles are forced to maintain their contraction during the entire duration of the series without ever a phase of actual rest, as it is not foreseen the fact of placing the load on the ground at the end of every single repetition.
Deadlifts With Straight Legs: Correct Execution
The exercise is performed standing up, with a flexion-extension of the hip (leaning forward) and rising in the same way as you went down. In straight-legged deadlifts, the shear forces on the spine increase: the compressive forces change as you bend forward into shear forces, which are much more dangerous to your spine.
To limit all this you simply have to maintain the physiological curves of the spine, such as when standing:
- Do not hyperextend the neck, but keep the cervical curve,
- don’t hunch over ,
- do not miss lumbar lordosis.
If the spine remains natural, it maintains the right tension of the paravertebral (multifidus, very long back, iliocostalis, etc.), preserving and reducing risk factors.
From the name of the exercise it is easy to understand that, theoretically, the correct execution would be the one with the legs extended. However, this poses a number of problems, including:
- Inability to maintain physiological curves during movement for some particularly “rigid” subjects at the level of the posterior chain, reducing the range of motion and consequently the stimulus provided to the muscles.
- Greater difficulty on a technical level, both with medium-high loads, as well as with low loads, but brought to failure.
There is not much difference in terms of both sensations and results in performing the movement by slightly bending the knees on the descent. Theoretically, this could see the quadriceps more involved during the climb, but being minimal, the degree of knee flexion is negligible.
The advice is therefore to slightly bend the legs during the movement just enough to be able to arrive with the torso parallel (or almost) to the ground while maintaining the physiological curves of the spine.
In summary, the highlights for successful execution are:
- Start standing with the barbell in your hands, touching your thighs.
- Descent: Bow forward, thinking you are touching something behind you with your buttocks as you bend your legs slightly and go down with your face, chest, and shoulders.
- The load on the foot shifts slightly towards the heel as you go down.
- When you get close to the kneecaps, try to keep the barbell in contact with the shins or as close to them as possible.
- Go down until you can maintain the lumbar curve by feeling the hamstrings stretch.
- Go up again following the same route as the descent until you find yourself in the starting position.
- Try to contract your glutes well when you are high (without losing the lumbar curve).
Muscles Involved In Straight Leg Deadlifts
In this exercise the entire posterior chain is involved, i.e. all the posterior muscles of the body, from the calves to the paravertebral, rhomboid, and trapezius muscles. The two most stressed muscles that actively extend the back are:
- Hamstrings: that is the hamstring muscles ( hamstring, semitendinosus, semimembranous )
- Buttocks (specifically the gluteus maximus).
There is a rivalry between these two muscles for those who work the most in hip extension. In general, hamstring strength is greater with straight legs and less with bent legs as during hip thrust. So we can say that during the deadlift with straight legs, the hamstrings prevail over the gluteus. However, to make it work well it is important to maintain a good lumbar lordosis, in this way you make sure that it works in the stretch and that it can generate the correct strength.
Beneficial Deadlifts With Straight Legs
The straight leg deadlift is a great exercise to strengthen the entire rear chain. Initially, the back could be the weak link and cause the series to be stopped first, with the glutes and hamstrings still relatively “fresh”; this problem, by repeating the gesture and thus strengthening the muscles involved, will gradually fade away. You can remedy this by finishing the session work by inserting more “sectoral” exercises for these districts, such as hip trust and leg curl.
It is a very versatile exercise, which can be used both at high loads (in a range of repetitions ranging from 5 to 10) and with moderate loads (12-15 repetitions).
Do not neglect the motor learning factor, as, if correctly performed, it allows the subject to master the movement of “hip hinge”, which is present in a more or less accentuated way in other movements as well.
Straight-legged Deadlifts With The Barbell
The executive steps in this variant are the same as seen previously. A tip is to use clamps for grip if it is a limiting factor that leads to stopping due to the fact that the barbell “slips” from your hands. Your hands should be held in such a way that when you are down they are next to your shins.
It is a very efficient variant, which allows you to comfortably use relatively interesting loads in which you can progress in various ways, the advice is to switch from the barbell before the dumbbells, as it is more easily controlled.
If you use bumpers as discs and are short in stature, you could use classic size discs directly or you can put a lift under your feet to maintain a good range of motion.
Another tip is to start with the barbell resting on the rack, so as to start standing and not have to bend down to lift the barbell off the ground at the first repetition: a device that may seem trivial, but with heavy loads, it saves you a lot of energy.
Straight-legged Deadlifts With Dumbbells
Also in this case the “executive guide” refers to the one with the barbell: the handlebars have the advantage of not having to be loaded every time. The dumbbells are well suited in general to a rep indicative range from 8 to 15 repetitions.
They are a recommended variant for subjects who master well the one with the barbell, due to the fact that the hands hold two tools disconnected from each other. This may be more difficult for a novice-beginner subject who has not yet internalized the technique 100%.
Variants Of Straight Leg Deadlifts
Kettlebell straight leg deadlifts
The same considerations expressed regarding the handlebars apply as regards comfort. There are heavy kettlebells, but they are very bulky most of the time, if you use 2 (one in each hand) they can be more uncomfortable than dumbbells.
If the load you use is not very high and the size of the kettlebells is not an obstacle, they are a good variant that you can use in an indicative rep range from 8 to 15 repetitions.
As for the novice-beginner question, these tools can easily be used individually holding the kettlebell with both hands, avoiding the problem of having the limbs released instead of the handlebars. This also allows these subjects to work on it comfortably and with interesting loads.
Sumo straight-legged deadlifts
The variation that you could use if you use a kettlebell with a ” normal” foot position (maximum shoulder width) would be uncomfortable. However, if you push your feet too far apart, you would place your glutes and hamstrings in a non-optimal position to generate strength, so it is advisable to perform with a width of the feet equal to the shoulders or a little less.
Deadlift with straight legs
The multipower, by constraining the movement, forgive ” imbalances “, in particular under fatigue, which in the free body would make you lose balance and stability under load. We must not demonize every exercise or variant that is not free weights but contextualize it.
In general, there can be 3 contexts in which you could insert this variant:
- Work at medium-high repetitions (12-15): for example, when you arrive at the end of the workout after having done two exercises such as heavy semi-straight leg deadlift (6-8 repetitions) and leg curl (12-10 repetitions), enter the work to the multipower “finisher” in which you only think about perceiving the muscle district to the maximum.
- You work with intensity techniques: for example stripping (in which when you reach failure, you scale the load by 10-15% and continue arriving further to failure). In this case, the multipower could be “ convenient ” to unload and load.
- The initial approach to hip hinge movement in novice-beginner subjects: could help the fearful subject to perceive the sensations with a load during this motor pattern (hip hinge) and then move on to the barbell. The advice is not to carry out this variant as the main one, but as an aid for the purposes listed.
Single leg straight leg deadlift
If you have little load available, as well as you want to work more on balance and stability, this variant could adapt well to this context. The problem, as in all exercises in which there is a strong component of ” instability “, is that you will hardly be able to use heavy loads: the muscles of the posterior kinetic chain are strong and also require medium-high loads to be stimulated in a way optimal (6-10 repetitions).
It is in any case possible to use a support such as a stick or any foothold to rest one of the hands during the execution and be more stable. The advice is to use this variant preferably in the aforementioned contexts, possibly focusing on variants in which equilibrium is not a predominant component.
Deadlifts with straight legs on rise (or step)
Using a riser could prove useful in individuals of short stature in which the use of large discs, if the barbell variant is performed, as well as the use of large and heavy kettlebells, limit the movement downhill.
In this case, the aid of a step or any type of lift, which is stable and comfortable, could prove to be optimal for carrying out the exercise without limitations.
Deadlifts with stretched legs with elastic
The use of elastic in variants with barbells and dumbbells can be interesting to use to make “effective” points of the lift where otherwise you would have less work: for example, we could increase the difficulty in closing the movement by using elastic around the hips and tied back. This will increase the difficulty of hip extension with an increase in the work of the buttocks and hamstrings.
You could use the rubber band by tying it around the bar and tying another end under you so that as you continue the ascent, as well as during the first phase of the descent, you will have an additional overload.
In weak subjects, it could be training to perform the exercise totally with elastic, but it is advisable to use variants in which the load can significantly increase over time.
Deadlift with legs straight to the low cable
Interesting variant if you have a pulley positioned slightly ahead of the feet, which simulates the movement with free weights. This allows a good tension in elongation and during the concentric phase of ascent, however, if the pulley is behind you, the dynamics of the exercise change as you have a load that “pulls” backward and not downwards.
Deadlifts With Straight Legs And Bodybuilding
In bodybuilding, the goal is generally to increase your muscle mass (depending on the stage of preparation you are in). The deadlift with straight legs is used for hamstring and glute training and placed in the split with different logic.
Straight-legged Deadlift Training
What loads and intensities to use?
Depending on the variant chosen, you can use a really wide spectrum of intensity, approximately from 6 to 15 repetitions. The load also adapts according to the chosen run time.
How many series to do?
The series in the single workout vary according to the total weekly volume and that you choose to perform on the exercise and, indicatively, at least 2 series in the single workout, up to a maximum of 5 can be a good range of work within a session of training.
Training frequency: how many times to train it per week?
Also in this case, the frequency is also partly dependent on the weekly volume that you go to perform on the muscle district. We can provide general indications based on three possible situations :
- Beginner subject: he must learn the executive technique of the movement, so it makes sense that he repeats the motor pattern several times, a good guideline is 2 times a week, to become good at executing it.
- Intermediate-advanced subject: inserts the deadlift with straight legs as the main movement of hip extension, he could repeat the movement himself on two weekly sessions, a heavier one in a medium-low rep range (5-8) and a “lighter” one in a medium-high rep range (10-12).
- Secondary exercise: in this situation, in subjects with moderate training experience such as those of the second point, the deadlift with straight legs is inserted as a final exercise and/or in a single weekly session.
Straight leg deadlifts and back pain
If you suffer from acute back pain you must avoid exercise, while in other cases (hernias and protrusions) it is to be evaluated on the individual subject (many can do it anyway). In the case of subjects who experience ” discomfort ” in the back after exercise, this is often due to 3 factors.
Insufficient training status: in this case, it is smart to go gradually over time in terms of both intensity in the exercise, understood as load and perceived intensity, and in terms of% of the total volume that you choose to share on this exercise.
Incorrect technique: in this situation, working on it and filming yourself is very useful, as is evaluating to contact a personal trainer or coach who is able to help you learn the correct movement by making adjustments based on your structure.
Rep range chosen: if you decide to perform series at high volume, with a high number of repetitions (15-20 repetitions) and high effort (technical or concentric failure) it could happen that the back yields earlier than the primary target muscles, in this case, If you may want to reevaluate your rep range used, as for example to enter the work of pre-strain on the buttocks and hamstrings.
Difference Between Straight Leg Deadlifts And Romanian Deadlifts
The Romanian deadlift has a shorter range of motion than the straight-legged deadlift, in fact in the first you get to mid-shin, in the second you go down as long as you can maintain the physiological curves of the spine, reaching over half of the shins in operation. the mobility of the subject.
The deadlift with straight legs compared to the Romanian puts greater emphasis on the buttocks and hamstrings due to the greater range of movement, in particular, it places greater stress in stretching on these areas, as well as at the paravertebral level.
In straight-legged deadlifts the load used is generally less, therefore they are slightly less taxing in terms of recovery on the nervous system and connective tissues.
Alternatives To Straight Leg Deadlifts
A possible alternative to straight-legged deadlifts could be the hyperextension of 45 °, which changes the resistance curve and the most ” difficult ” point of the movement, with less stress in stretching than the standing variant.
It is specified that in this variant the movement pattern becomes an extension of the hip with straight legs, but since the range of motion is smaller, it is less difficult for the subject to maintain the physiological curves. They can be an alternative in which, however, it is generally possible to load less, but still functional to reinforce the rear chain.
The detached legs are stretched to have a valid exercise for the posterior kinetic chain, which can be inserted in the card according to different logics and rules to be evaluated according to the subject and context under consideration.
The exercise has been described as a semi-straight leg hip extension pattern (therefore with the knee slightly flexed), in reality, this exercise, if interpreted literally, would be performed with straight legs, but most of the time this means sacrificing weight. and incorrect technique (not everyone has the necessary mobility to do this).
The advice is to adapt the selection of exercises as well as the movements to your individual structure, which results in adjustments in terms of the range of motion, the position of the feet, and all those factors that make you able to perform the exercise safely. and with the best relationship between stimulus and fatigue.