Deadlift vs stiff leg deadlift: Which is better?

Traditional deadlifts and stiff leg deadlifts are both lower body compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Although they are similar, there are slight differences between the two lifts.

Do you do deadlifts when you train on leg day? If not, how come? 

woman doing deadlift in the gym

If you want to improve your upper body and lower body strength, posture and health, incorporating deadlifts into your fitness routine is necessary. 

You can do deadlifts with a single barbell or with a dumbbell in each hand. In addition to the traditional deadlift, another option is the stiff leg deadlift where you keep your legs almost straight.

But which type of deadlift is best for building strength?

The traditional deadlift vs stiff leg deadlift

The traditional deadlift:

  • Place a barbell in front of you on the floor
  • Step close to the barbell and stand in front of it with your feet hip-width apart
  • With your hands about shoulder width apart, just outside your feet, hinge your hips, bend your knees and grab the barbell with both bands in an overhand grip
  • Keeping your back straight and your core tight, lift the bar off the ground and pull it up
  • Once the bar reaches knee height, thrust your hips forward to a standing position
  • Reverse the movement and return to the starting position

The stiff leg deadlift:

The stiff leg deadlift (also known as straight leg deadlift) is similar to traditional deadlifts but you raise the bar without bending your knees.

  • Place a barbell in your hands with your palms facing you and your hands shoulder width apart
  • With your back straight, bend forward at your hips as you lower the barbell toward the floor.
  • Your knees should be soft and slightly bent throughout the movement.
  • Lower the barbell until you feel your hamstrings stretch
  • Reverse the movement and return to the starting position

The best thing about this exercise is that it does not require any fancy equipment. All you need is a barbell or pair of dumbbells and a flat surface.

Muscles worked: deadlift vs stiff leg deadlift

muscles worked in stiff leg deadlift

Primary muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Lower Back

Secondary muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Adductors
  • Traps
  • Forearms

What are the benefits of deadlifts?

deadlift vs stiff leg deadlift

Deadlifts are a great exercise and compound movement to build strength and muscle mass.

Works the entire body

Deadlifts use a large group of muscles. Few other exercises use as much as the deadlift does including traps, back, hip flexors, glutes to calves.


Although most people use barbells to do a deadlift, you can get benefits by using dumbbells and kettlebells. You can even use a resistance band which will help with hip hinge movements.

Better performance

It strengthens so many groups of muscles, particularly in the hips and legs. Research shows deadlifts training will improve your athletic performance increasing your vertical jump, and improve your running and sprinting.

Which deadlift should you do more often?

There’s no reason you can’t do traditional deadlifts and stiff leg deadlifts. During one training session, do traditional deadlifts and in the next do stiff leg deadlifts. Each works your muscles differently.

Popular deadlift variations

Try adding one of these types of deadlifts to add to your strength training routines

Sumo deadlift

Sumo deadlifts allow you to maintain a more upright torso and put more stress on the glutes and quads. You stand with your feet wider the hip width and your ties angled out so your shins are flush against the bar. When holding the bar your hands also are inside your hips.

Trap bar deadlift

The trap bar deadlift is another great option that takes stress off of the lower back and puts it onto the legs. In fact, the trap bar deadlift acts as a hybrid between traditional squats and deadlifts, giving you the best of both worlds.

Romanian deadlift

Romanian deadlifts (RDLs) put a greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. RDLs are not stiff-leg deadlifts. You want to maintain a slight bend in your knees and then hinge at the hips while maintaining a flat back.

Keep your back straight and lower the bar just past your knees. Use your legs to pull the bar back up.

Kettlebell sumo deadlift

Kettlebell sumo deadlifts are sumo deadlifts. The movement pattern actually resembles more a trap bar deadlift motion, almost like a squat with the weight in your hands.

You typically will use lighter weight and the movement allows you to maintain more of an upright torso.

Single leg deadlift

This variation involves one leg lifting off the ground and extending out behind you. The movement works even more core muscles as well as the standing leg, which helps to improve balance.

Do you prefer the traditional deadlift or stiff leg deadlift?

Try these other lower body workouts

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