Doing stiff leg deadlifts can offer benefits but some people want to do other movements. Discover exercise alternatives with similar effects.
Stiff leg deadlifts, also known as straight leg deadlifts, mainly work muscles like your lower back, erector spinae, glutes, hamstrings, forearms, and trapezius.
In turn, that means that stiff leg deadlifts can help you build muscle mass, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy stiff leg deadlifts, you want to target more or fewer muscles, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these stiff leg deadlift substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Romanian deadlifts
Romanian deadlifts may look similar to stiff leg deadlifts but they are slightly different. To do Romanian deadlifts you still need some type of external weights, preferably a barbell.
You could also use other free weights like dumbbells and possibly even heavy duty resistance bands
One downside of these last options is that they may not be heavy enough for individuals more experienced with resistance training.
Take the following steps to do a Romanian deadlift:
- Set up a rack with a barbell at a height just below where your barbell is if you stand up straight with the barbell in your hands. Add the desired number of weight plates.
- Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room for the exercise. Stand up with your feet at more or less shoulder width and your knees slightly bent.
- Slightly tilt your upper body forward as far as you can without bending your back or knees or until the bar is right below knee height. The weight plates should not hit the ground.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2.
Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for Romanian deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all.
As mentioned before, the Romanian deadlift is very similar to stiff leg deadlifts in terms of the movement.
The main differences are that the weight stays in the air during Romanian deadlifts and that your knees are generally bent more.
This makes it so you have to implement more controlled motions than stiff leg deadlifts and that you need less flexibility to do the exercise.
One downside of Romanian deadlifts is that your muscles typically go through a slightly smaller range of motion compared to stiff leg deadlifts. This is generally less effective in terms of muscle growth and strength progress.
2. Back extensions
It is generally recommended to use a good back extension machine or roman chair at your gym for this next stiff leg deadlift alternative.
Take the following steps to do a back extension with the dedicated machine:
- Take place in the back extension machine. Keep a straight back for now. Make sure you are locked in place safely.
- Slowly bend down as far as you can while keeping your back straight. The bending movement comes from your hips, not your lower back.
- Move up your upper body in a controlled motion until your body is in a straight line.
There are many equipment options to make back extensions weighted and in turn more challenging for your muscles. Some examples include a weight plate, dumbbell, barbell, etc.
Back extensions can be a great alternative way to work muscles like your lower back, erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings.
One potential downside of this exercise is that you need a back extension machine which isn’t always available.
3. Good morning
The good morning exercise is usually done with a barbell but you can also other free weights, resistance bands, and gym machines like the cable machine or smith machine.
Even at home, you could use a weighted backpack to make the bodyweight version more challenging. Take the following steps to do a good morning with a barbell:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand under the barbell, push your shoulders up so that the barbell rests on your higher back, and hold it there with your hands.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Tilt your upper body forward as far as is comfortable with a good posture (but not farther than a horizontal line). At the same time bend your knees a small amount.
- Return to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
The good morning may look similar to the popular back squat exercise but you go a lot less through your knees.
This makes it so you focus more on the lower back, glute, hamstring, and erector spinae training and less on leg muscles like your calves and quadriceps.
In turn, the good morning is a stiff leg deadlift alternative that targets similar leg muscles. At the same time, a lack of flexibility is less of a problem.
Some potential downsides or upsides depending on your training goals and personal situation is that the good morning exercise will work your grip and trapezius muscles a lot less than stiff leg deadlifts.
4. Hamstring curls
Hamstring curls can be done with either a cable machine with an ankle strap or resistance bands, preferably with an anchor close to the ground.
In theory, you could also do a bodyweight version but this will likely not be challenging enough. Take the following steps to do a hamstring curl with resistance bands and an anchor:
- Safely anchor your resistance band close to the ground. Lie on your stomach in front of the anchor with your feet toward it. Put the free end of the resistance band behind one or both of your ankles.
- Slowly fold your legs at the knees until the point where the resistance is stretched the most. This will likely be at about where your lower legs make a 45-degree angle to the ground.
- Stretch your legs again in a controlled motion.
If the resistance band is not challenging enough to do two legs at a time you can do one leg first. Then the other to avoid muscle imbalances.
You could also do a hamstring curl while standing up but this can interfere with the main goal of the exercise.
One of the main target muscles of the stiff leg deadlift is the hamstrings. It is also possible to isolate these muscles with the hamstring curl exercise. For other muscles, this is not a great exercise choice.
5. Hip thrusts
The next stiff leg deadlift alternative is another exercise that tries to isolate certain muscles. For this option, the goal is to isolate the glute muscles.
Hip thrusts are similar to glute bridges but instead of doing them on the ground, you will need a bench or any other stable object of the right height.
Take the following steps to do a hip thrust:
- Sit right in front of the bench or other object you will use with your back slightly over the edge. Make sure the object is stable. Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width in a position where your knees will be at a 90-degree angle in the next step. If you want, hold a weight on your body at the hip level.
- Move up your hips until your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
- Slowly lower your body again.
The main goal of hip thrusts is glute isolation but you still get a good amount of hamstring and lower back muscle engagement.
To train the other muscles involved in stiff leg deadlifts you will have to choose some of the compound alternatives.
Since the muscles used in the exercise are so strong, most people need to do weighted hip thrusts to make this movement challenging enough for muscle growth and strength progress.
One downside of hip thrusts is that they can require a good amount of time and equipment to set up.
6. Rack pulls
As the name implies, for the following exercise you need a rack with adjustable safety bars. Besides that, you will also need a loaded barbell.
Once you have these, take the following steps to do a rack pull:
- Set up a barbell rack with the safety bars at a height just below your knees. Put the barbell on it and load it with the desired weight.
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width right in front of the barbell. Grab the barbell with a pronated grip which means with your hand palms pointing downward/backward. Slowly lift the barbell by tilting your upper body back until you stand up straight. Keep your back straight during the movement.
- Lower the barbell back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
Rack pulls are another great example of a hip dominant exercise. Similar to stiff leg deadlifts this exercise will work your glutes, hamstrings, lower back, erector spinae, forearms, and trapezius a lot.
Due to the smaller range of motion, generally heavier weights, and more folding of the knees, rack pulls focus a bit more on your trapezius, forearm, and quadricep muscles than stiff leg deadlifts.
In turn, rack pulls generally work your hamstrings and glutes less than stiff leg deadlifts.
7. Glute ham raises
For this next alternative, you need a glute-ham raise bench. This is a lower back gym machine where you can secure your feet behind two pads, rest your hips on a rounded pad, and thus hold a horizontal position.
Because of this rounded pad, you can also fold your knees instead of just doing a back extension. Take the following steps to do a glute-ham raise:
- Adjust the settings on the bench for your body proportions.
- Take place on the glute-ham raise bench facing downwards with your hips on the rouned pad and your feet behind the foot support. Make sure your ankle and hips are in a stable position and let your upper body hang downwards.
- Slowly raise your upper body until it is in a straight line with your legs. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Fold your knees until your upper body is in an upward position or until further would be unstable.
- Stretch your knees again.
- Lower your upper body in a controlled motion until it is in the position of step 2.
Because folding your knees is part of the movement you also engage your hamstrings extra compared to regular back extensions. The first part of the exercise is very similar.
As the name of this piece of fitness equipment implies, the movement above mainly works your glute, hamstring, lower back, and erector spinae muscles.
One difference between glute ham raises and stiff leg deadlifts is that you typically work your trapezius and forearm muscles less. Even if you hold extra weights to make the exercise more challenging.