Stiff Leg Deads: Build Incredible Lower Back Thickness!

For bodybuilding purposes, nothing is going to punish your hamstrings better than the stiff-leg deadlift. Get the details of my program right here. Let me know how it works for you.

As with many exercises, there's more than one way to do the stiff-leg deadlift (* SLDL) correctly. It all depends on what you want to get out of it. I use them as a heavy assistance movement, as a plateau killer, and as a great base builder.

The Finns love these, as do many all-time greats, including the King, Ed Coan. Even the Aussies are hammering these religiously at Scorps Gym down unda. For bodybuilding purposes, nothing is going to punish your hamstrings better, and there is no movement that is going to give you the incredible lower back thickness than the stiff-leg deadlift.

Click To Enlarge.
Anatomy Of The Back.

This routine will cover your lower and upper back. Squat and do quads and more isolated hamstring movements on a different training day. Let's get started.

When Should I Do Stiff-Leg Deadlifts?

For me, I do them nearly year round now. Right now I am a long way out from my next show, so most of my pulling is in the form of stiff-leg deadlifts.

When I start pulling heavy from the floor, I always do one set of five reps after my standard dead work, cuz nothing keeps your back tight and strong like a heavy set of stiff-legs.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Opinions vary. I feel a 3 inch block is perfect for these. I was doing them off a 4.5 inch block and it was just too much. I am not very flexible, and really had to alter my natural groove to touch the floor. Through trial and error, I concluded that a 3 inch block is perfect.

I Feel That A 3 Inch Block Works Best.

Other than that, I pull these with a contest DL bar (Okie for me) so I can really get used to the knurling and feel of the bar. Other than that, chalk your hands and put on your belt. I prefer to wear my flat-soled, contest shoes (wrestling shoes). Throw your straps away as well; they are not needed.

What Is The Proper Technique?

Here is where opinions really vary. I have made my money, so to speak, by keeping the bar in close to my body. It is safer this way and more like a contest pull where you are trying to minimize gravity's grasp. Bend your hips on the first rep, like a contest pull and lock it out.

Click To Enlarge.
Stiff-Leg Deadlift.

This is the starting point. Next, keep your head up, and lower the bar slowly. Fight to keep your head up the on the whole descent, let the weight touch the floor only slightly, then again keep your head up, the bar in close to your body, and lock it out. I prefer to wear sweat pants when I do SLDL's, to create a little extra friction and make the movement harder.

SLDL Cycle

Here is a solid, proven routine to give you a great cycle for the off-season. It is a plateau destroyer. Whether you pull sumo or conventional, stiff-legs are a great way to get your pull moving.

Perform all SLDL's off a 3 inch block, with a belt only. I am not a slave to percentages, but I will give them to you. Try not to deviate too much either way. A good goal is 70 percent of your best contest pull for five reps.

An example would be: if you can pull 700, your goal weight would be 490x5 reps on the SLDL. Some will do more and some less, sumo pullers generally aren't as strong in this movement. You need to feel it out and adjust accordingly. I have trained numerous people that thought 70 percent for five was unattainable, but they all did it.

They simply had to work hard for it. The SLDL is no joke, you gotta dig deep. With a good plan, proper form, and dedication, it is money in the bank. The following cycle is designed for a 700 pound puller. My best is 455x10 and 525x5 so far. Numbers that are soon to improve.

SLDL Cycle: Enter Your Best Contest Pull.

Week Percent Sets Reps Weight
Week 1 45 % 3 10
Week 2 48 % 3 10
Week 3 51 % 3 10
Week 4 55 % 3 5
Week 5 58 % 3 5
Week 6 61 % 3 5
Week 7 64 % 2 5
Week 8 67 % 2 5
Week 9 70 % 1 5
Week 10 No pulling; start pre-contest cycle or different off-season cycle

The sets of ten are tough, but you have to gut it out. I have done a two week on/one week off pulling cycle in the past with good results. Recently, however, I switched to an every week pulling scheme. I've been taking one week off every 10 weeks, and so far, so good.

It is all about lifestyle, nutrition, time management and supplementation. If your karma is good, you could pull every week for a long while. If I feel stiff or I'm lacking the focus and tenacity to pull on a particular day, I won't pull. You must learn your body. This routine will surely work, as it has for many.

Three days before your deadlift day should be your squat day. So for example, if you squat on Monday, you should pull on Friday. If it is off-season, I recommend alternating box squats and regular squats, with a belt only. Box squats for 8x2 and regular squats divided into a few weeks doing ten rep sets and a few doing five reps. You can structure your squats much like this routine.

Assistance Work

You didn't really think you were done yet did you? Assistance work is often what makes or breaks all major lifts. Here are the accessories you'll need to bring your SLDL's to a whole new level:

  • Bent rows on the 3 inch box, 2x5 reps, no straps, no belt for any assistance. Don't be afraid to use a bit of body momentum here. Work up to big weights as you get used to the movement (my best: 455x5).

  • Front chins (with weight if you can) 2x5-7 reps

  • Front lat pulls or cable rows (alternate) 2x7-10 reps

  • DB shrugs 2x20 reps

  • Regular (also called Russian) hyperextensions 2x10 with weight, 1x20 without weight to really flush out your back

  • Weighted abs (your choice of movement) 4x12-20 reps

  • On squat day, do glute ham raises for 4x10 as well as additional heavy ab work.

Click Here For A Printable Log Of Assistance Work.

Let me know how this works for you. This will set you up for an 8-12 week peaking routine, which will be covered next.

Semper Fi.