Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift 101 | Form, Benefits and Variations!

By
Mike Kenler
October 13, 2020

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift, also known as the dumbbell straight legged deadlift, is an essential exercise for building strength in your hamstrings and glutes. Not only will this exercise boost your lower body strength, but it will help you excel in other exercises as well. 

Muscles Worked by the Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

Primary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift works your hamstrings, glutes, and your lower back. 

This exercise engages the four muscles in the back of your leg that comprise the hamstring: the biceps femoris (a group of two muscles), semitendinosus, and the semimembranosus. During this exercise, you should feel a deep stretch in these muscles.

The gluteus is comprised of a group of three muscles: the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. While the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift targets this group as a whole, it especially works the gluteus maximus, which is the largest of the three muscles.

Lastly, the straight legged deadlift works the erector spinae muscles in your lower back. The erector spinae is a group of three muscles known as the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis. These muscles help support your spine and provide flexibility when bending in multiple directions. 


Secondary Muscle Groups:

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift activates other muscle groups as well. This exercise secondarily works your core muscles, as your abdominals and obliques contract to stabilize your body. In addition, your trapezius, forearms, and middle back activate to control the weight during the exercise motion.

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift Benefits

1. Increased Glute and Hamstring Muscle Mass

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift intensely activates muscle fibers in your glutes and hamstrings. As a result, your individual muscle cells will grow through a process called hypertrophy.

With greater muscle mass, not only will your lower half appear larger and more defined, but you will be able to improve your performance in other lifts such as the barbell squat and the deadlift.

2. Improved Mind-Muscle Connection

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift is an isolation exercise for your hamstrings. As a result, you can practice focusing on your hamstrings during the deadlift motion. This can help you actively lift weights and increase the tension on your hamstrings, which will only increase your gains. 

3. Improved Athletic Performance 

Lastly, adding the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift to your workout regimen can help you improve your athletic performance. Walking, running, jumping, and other athletic movements all depend upon hip strength, endurance, and form.

The dumbbell stiff leg deadlift is a great exercise to help build your power output and explosiveness in athletics. 

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How to Do the Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift

Equipment:

For this exercise, you will need a pair of dumbbells.

Setup:

1. Assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the dumbbells with your palms facing towards you. 

2. Engage your core, bring your shoulder blades together, and keep your chest held high.

Action:

1. With a slight bend in your knees, slowly bend over at the waist, bring your hips back, and bring the dumbbells over your feet until you feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings.  Keep your back straight and your core tight. 

2. Now, contract your hamstrings as you return to the standing position and squeeze your glutes. 

3. Maintain tightness in your core and repeat!

Recommendation:

If you are new to the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift, choose a light weight to begin and complete 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. If you are more comfortable with the form, grab a pair of heavier dumbbells and complete 6-8 reps for 3-4 sets. 

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift Mistakes

1. Rounding of the Back

Rounding the back is the most common mistake made during the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift. Whenever you make any athletic motion, it is important to stabilize your body before you move. Before bending over at the waist, pinch your shoulder blades together to keep your back straight and tighten your core to keep your abs engaged.

Also, be sure to keep your eyes looking upwards throughout the motion. This will greatly reduce your risk of injury during the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift. 

2. Bringing the Dumbbells Away from the Body

Many lifters allow the dumbbells to move away from the body during this dumbbell deadlift variation. This brings your weight onto your toes and adds unnecessary stress to your back. Instead, try to keep the dumbbells close to your shins to lift with proper form.

3. Rushing the Motion

Far too often, lifters tend to rush through the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift on the way down. While bending over too quickly can risk injury, it also prevents you from maximizing your gains. On the way down, you should focus on the deep stretch of your hamstrings.

This part of the exercise is absolutely crucial and rushing through it will hamper the development of your lower body.

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift Variations

1. Kettlebell Stiff Leg Deadlift

You can also perform the straight legged deadlift with a kettlebell. Instead of grabbing two lighter dumbbells, choose one heavier kettlebell and maintain the same form as the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift.


2. Banded Stiff Leg Deadlift

The stiff leg deadlift can also be performed using a resistance band. Attach a band to an elevated hook or doorframe and grab the handles above your head with your arms straight. Maintaining the same form, brace your abs extra hard as you pull the bands down towards your feet.



3. Alternating Bodyweight Stiff Leg Deadlift

The alternating dumbbell stiff leg deadlift can help you train each leg individually. Engage your core and your glutes as you bend forward and extend in the opposite direction with one leg. 

Then, return to the starting position and repeat with the other leg. This exercise demands a high level of balance. If you want a greater challenge, you can use dumbbells for added resistance after you master the form. 

Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift Alternatives

If you enjoyed the dumbbell stiff leg deadlift, check out these alternative leg and glute exercises to improve your lower body training:

1. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The barbell Romanian deadlift (RDL) differs slightly from the stiff leg deadlift. The barbell RDL tends to bring about greater hip flexion and slightly less hamstring activation than the stiff leg deadlift.

To perform the barbell Romanian deadlift, assume a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart and hold the barbell with an overhand grip. Engage your core, bring your shoulder blades together, and keep your chest held high.

With a slight bend in your knees, hinge at the waist with a straight back and lower the weights towards the ground. You should feel a deep stretch in your hamstrings as your hips move backwards. Now, reverse the motion as you return to the standing position and squeeze your glutes. Repeat!

2. Glute Ham Raise

The glute-ham raise is an alternative exercise that also works your glutes and hamstrings. Begin on the glute-ham machine in a vertical position. Contract your abs and glutes as you lower yourself parallel to the ground. Then, flex your hamstrings to raise back up to the vertical position. 

3. Bulgarian Split Squat

‍The Bulgarian split squat heavily targets your legs and your glutes. With one leg elevated, squat downwards with a straight back. Explode upwards through the legs to return to the starting position. 

Looking for More Leg Workouts?

Try this intense 5-minute dumbbell leg workout!

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Mike Kenler
Director of Writing | Certified in Plant Based Nutrition at T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies

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