How To Perform A Straight Leg Deadlift
Leg day is never complete until you’ve done something to strengthen your hamstrings, and one of my favorite exercises for the back of the legs (hamstrings, butt, and lower back) is the straight leg deadlift.
I can’t count how many times someone has asked me: “what can I do to build and shape my butt?” The straight leg deadlift is one of the right answers to this question, so get after it in the gym or at home, and get the booty you came for! My female clients love this exercise; they always say: I can really feel like my butt is working!
Oh, and guys love this exercise too!
The move can be completed with a barbell (my favorite way to go here) or dumbbells. It’s a fairly straightforward free weight exercise that will sculpt a strong and lean looking rear view. If you need a change from endless lying leg curls, the straight leg deadlift is a great addition to your program. Watch the video above to see how I do it, and then read the remainder of this article directly below for precise instructions on how to perform this exercise.
The hamstringsAdd a Tooltip Text and glutesAdd a Tooltip Text are the prime muscle movers, but as with any big compound exercise, other muscle groups are involved, including the lower back and abs to brace the core, and your arms to grip the dumbbells or barbells.
The exercise can be performed in the gym, or at home, depending on the type of weighted objects you have in your home.
The exercise can be performed with free weights such as a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, a sandbag, or a heavy object like an empty laundry detergent jug filled with sand.
All individuals can perform this exercise—beginner through advanced, all levels.
Description of action:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells or a barbell and hold it in front of your thighs, hands shoulder-width apart, feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward and knees slightly bent. Your weight should be in your heels.
- Bend at your hips (I often cue people to “shift the hips back”) and slowly lower your torso until it’s almost parallel to the floor.
- Go only as far as you can go without rounding your back; and keep your head and spine aligned with one another (i.e., do not crane your neck to the side, or up). Some people with good flexibility can take the barbell down past their kneecaps and to the shins, while others can only lower the weight to the kneecaps.
- Return to standing, without jerking the body upright. And stand with purpose!
Throughout the exercise, keep your knees as straight as possible and the weights close to your body (I like to use the cue, “pretend like you’re shaving your knees and thighs.”)
I like to do this exercise for 3 setsAdd a Tooltip Text of 8 to 12 repetitionsAdd a Tooltip Text, resting a full minute in between sets.
- Start with a light weight, taking care to learn the technique properly before increasing the weight.
- Ensure that the lower back remains flat. That does not mean that the back must be parallel to the floor. Stop before the back starts to round. Everyone’s flexibility differs here, so don’t simply emulate other people’s capabilities.
- Ensure that when you shift your hips back, your weight is on your heels. If you push forward onto your toes, you may lose your balance.
- Try not to overthink the stance or foot positioning; stand naturally with your feet under your hips and not excessively wide.
- A very common error is allowing the weight to drift forward and away from the body. Remember to keep the weight as close as possible to your body; not doing so will put excessive pressure on the back.
- Lower and return the weight slowly and under full control; this exercise should not be rushed (nor should any, really!).
As a general rule. I like to be extra cautious with an exercise that involves spinal loading, and you should too. When in doubt, clear it with your doctor, or seek the guidance of a qualified coach or trainer.
Variations On The Straight Leg Deadlift:
- Switch between barbell and dumbbell usage; doing so brings the added benefit of improving grip strength too.
- Advanced trainees with terrific flexibility in the hamstrings can perform the exercise on a step or raised platform. Doing so allows them to go a little deeper.
- Advanced trainees can perform a single leg straight leg deadlift. It’s a rather significant variation from the exercise described here, and requires more skill and balance. I am mentioning it here for completeness only.
There’s a whole lot to remember while performing this exercise, but as with learning anything new, it does get easier and more natural over time.