What are straight leg deadlifts? What are they for?
The straight leg deadlifts are 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 guessed from the name that 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:
- Movement was mostly borne by the hip and less if at all in the knee;
- Presence of an eccentric phase that allows greater elongation of the buttocks and hamstrings ;
- Back muscles that are forced to maintain their contraction during the entire duration of the series without ever an effective rest phase, as it is not foreseen to rest the load on the ground at the end of each single repetition.
Deadlifts with straight legs: correct execution, technique and tutorial
The exercise is performed standing up, with a flexion-extension of the hip (bending forward) and rising in the same way as you came down. In straight-leg deadlifts, the shear forces on the spine increase: the compressive forces transform 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, as when standing:
- Do not hyperextend the neck, but keep the cervical curve,
- do not hunch over,
- do not miss lumbar lordosis.
If the spine remains natural, it maintains the right tension of the paravertebrals (multifidus, very long back, ileocostal, 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 sensation and results in performing the movement by bending the knees slightly 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:
- Starting 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: what does it train?
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:
- Hamstring: 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 can make sure that it works in 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 back 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).
The motor learning factor should not be overlooked, 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.