15 Best Stiff-Leg Deadlift Alternatives (With Pictures)

best stiff-leg deadlift alternatives

The stiff-leg deadlift is a fantastic hip hinge exercise that emphasizes the hamstrings. But it’s not the only way to do that!

Maybe you’ve been training stiff-leg deadlifts for a while and need variety. Or perhaps you need different equipment when you don’t have your usual resources.

Here’s a complete list of the best stiff leg deadlift alternatives:

  1. Romanian deadlift
  2. Single-leg stiff-leg deadlift
  3. Cable stiff-leg deadlift
  4. Stiff-leg sumo deadlift
  5. Barbell deadlift
  6. Dumbbell deadlift
  7. Deficit deadlift
  8. Dumbbell deficit deadlift
  9. Stiff-leg deficit deadlift
  10. Dumbbell stiff-leg deficit deadlift
  11. Barbell good morning
  12. Dumbbell good morning
  13. Lying leg curl
  14. Seated leg curl
  15. Viking curl

What Makes a Stiff-Leg Deadlift Alternative?

stiff-leg deadlift

For a good alternative exercise to the stiff-leg deadlift, I’ve targeted two main criteria:

  • The exercise targets the hamstrings
  • The exercise follows a similar movement pattern

The Exercise Targets the Hamstrings

Stiff-leg deadlifts limit knee flexion and increase hip flexion, meaning there’s limited knee bend and more hip hinging. This emphasizes the hamstrings beyond a conventional deadlift.

So long as we maintain good form and limit knee flexion, we can get a great burn and targeting of our hamstrings. 

For any alternatives we want to consider, we want to pick exercises that similarly recruit the hamstrings to get the job done. 

Not every alternative on this list will be a pure, isolated hamstring exercise, but the hamstrings are heavily relied upon at some point in the compound movement.

The Exercise Follows a Similar Movement Pattern

The stiff-leg deadlift is a hip hinge exercise, meaning we bend at the hip as the primary movement for the lift. The hamstrings help move our hips forward and backward in these movements. We want to include hip hinge alternatives as much as possible when looking for a stiff-leg deadlift alternative for our routine. 

By focusing on other hip hinge movements, we will automatically hit the hamstrings. We also stay true to our goal of finding an alternative with a similar range and type of motion. 

15 Best Stiff Leg Deadlift Alternatives

1. Romanian Deadlift

Many people don’t notice the difference between stiff-leg deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts, and many use the names interchangeably as though they are the same exercise. While they are close, they are different, making the RDL a great alternative to the stiff leg deadlift. 

How To Do It

  • Step up to a barbell on the floor with the barbell close to your shins.
  • Lock your knees or bend them slightly and keep them in this position for each rep.
  • Bend at the hip to reach down and grip the barbell about shoulder-width apart.
  • Pull the barbell up until you are in an upright position.
  • Lower the barbell back down, but don’t touch the floor with the barbell.
  • Begin your next rep without touching the ground in between.
  • Repeat for as many reps as necessary.

Pro Tip

This movement is all about your hips moving forward and backward, which is why it’s such a great hamstring exercise. The hamstrings help move those hips in just that way. 

As you pull the bar upward, think about pulling your hips forward to meet the barbell at your waist. Then as you lower the barbell, think about pushing your hips away from the barbell. 

Your hips should move almost parallel to the floor to allow your upper body to move the barbell up and down. 

The more you focus on this hip movement, the better your form will be, and the better you’ll target your hamstrings!

If you have trouble feeling your hamstrings during Romanian deadlifts, check out Can’t Feel Hamstrings In Romanian Deadlifts? Try These 5 Tips.

2. Single-Leg Stiff-Leg Deadlift

A great alternative to any exercise is breaking it up into unilateral or one-sided variations. We can take the stiff-leg deadlift and perform it with one leg at a time, just like we can turn a barbell curl into independent dumbbell curls on each arm

We hit the same muscles but train one leg at a time, making each leg work and grow independently of the other. 

How To Do It

  • Step up to a barbell on the floor, so the barbell is against your shins.
  • Bend your knees slightly and hold them in that position the whole time.
  • Pick up one leg, so you are standing on one foot.
  • Stand the barbell up by bending at the hip to come fully upright.
  • Lower the barbell back down to the floor.
  • Repeat for the remaining reps with that leg.
  • Repeat on the other leg after completing the first leg’s reps.

Pro Tip

Balance can be the trickiest part with single-leg stiff-leg deadlifts, so take time to find your balance! 

Using a barbell is the easiest way for me. When I first started trying these with a single dumbbell in my hand, it was much harder to maintain balance and good form to really target my hamstrings. 

Using a barbell is like a tightrope walker using a big balancing pole – it can help you stay balanced and focus on a good hamstring pump!

3. Cable Stiff-Leg Deadlift

Sometimes a change in equipment can make a big difference for lifters! You can get a similar effect using a cable machine as you can with a free weight when doing stiff-leg deadlifts.

You may find it’s best to do these elevated, like standing on a small box, to get the full range of motion. 

How To Do It

  • Set the cable to the desired weight.
  • Set the cable machine, so the pulley is at the lowest setting near the floor.
  • Attach an appropriate handle attachment (an EZ bar, straight bar, D-grip bar, V-grip bar, or rope would work).
  • Face away from the pulley and grip the attachment in your hands.
  • Bend your knees slightly.
  • Bending only at the hip, stand upward to pull the weight as you move to an erect stance.
  • Lower the weight back down.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

When changing equipment, try mimicking the movement to be as close to the one you want to repeat or replace. 

For example, when using a cable stack for this exercise, keep your arms straight like you would when holding a barbell or dumbbells

Additionally, match the same range of motion (ROM) as the original exercise. If your pulley and attachment setup means you lose all resistance before getting as low as you would with free weights, stand on a box or other platform. This will allow the cable to offer resistance throughout the whole movement.

If you have a cable machine in your home gym and need cable attachments for it, check out our 10 favorite cable attachments.

4. Stiff-Leg Sumo Deadlift

The sumo deadlift is a wide-stance variation of the deadlift. While its standard form reduces the amount of hamstring engagement compared to a conventional deadlift, the stiff-leg sumo deadlift brings that hamstring recruitment right back into the equation!

How To Do It

  • Step up to the bar with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart, and your toes slightly pointed out about 45 degrees. 
  • Grip the barbell shoulder-width apart while bending at the hip and keeping your knees only slightly bent.
  • Pull the bar upward until you are in an upright position.
  • Return the barbell to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

When doing a normal sumo deadlift, we would want to bend our knees a LOT to bring our hips low and avoid our upper body moving forward and backward. The advantage of this stance is that we can keep the bar centered near our body without bending at the hip to grab it.

But it’s a different goal when we do a stiff-leg variation because we now HAVE to bend forward to grab that bar. That’s just fine because that’s the motion that will hit our hamstrings and bring them back into this variation for emphasis. 

Make sure you know and feel the difference between a standard sumo form and the stiff-leg version so you can really target your hamstrings! Set your knees in the same slightly bent position from the start, just like you would with a stiff-leg deadlift, and keep them there as you pull. 

5. Barbell Deadlift

In my opinion, stiff leg deadlifts are fine, but barbell deadlifts are even better!

I like them more than the stiff-leg variation because you can load them to an infinite level!

Very few lifters will reach a point where they run out of weight to add to a deadlift. It’s a hip hinge movement that hits your hamstrings very similarly to a stiff-leg variation, so you can blast those hamstrings to a high degree with the regular deadlift!

How To Do it

  • Step up to the barbell, so it nearly touches your ankles.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend forward and place your hands shoulder-width apart on the barbell.
  • Bend your knees and lower your hips, so your back is in a straight line from your shoulders to your butt.
  • Push the floor with your feet and pull on the bar with your hands until you reach an upright position.
  • Return the barbell to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

While the deadlift is a simple exercise, your form can start to break down as you add weight, even when you’ve been training for years. 

Since you are likely focused on your hamstrings when looking for stiff-leg deadlift alternatives, you can ensure your deadlift is hitting your hamstrings properly by maintaining good form. 

One key element to track is ensuring that your upper body and lower body move simultaneously and at the same speed. For example, if you push with your legs too hard and too fast, you can shoot your hips up faster than your shoulders. This leaves you in a more bent-over position, making your lower back overcompensate and do more work than you want. 

You can track your form over time and in each set by videoing yourself on your phone or having a training partner watch for form breakdown. 

The better you keep your form, the better you target the right muscles!

A common question regarding conventional deadlifts is whether or not it’s okay for your back to round. We discuss this in detail in Is It Okay To Deadlift With a Round Back? (Powerlifters Say Yes).

6. Dumbbell Deadlift

The dumbbell deadlift is a great hip hinge movement that relies heavily on your hamstrings. While you won’t be able to load as much weight holding dumbbells as you can with a barbell, the movement and fundamentals remain unchanged from the barbell deadlift. 

How To Do It

  • Step up to the dumbbells, so a dumbbell sits in front of each foot, ideally over your toes.
  • Place your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Bend forward and grip the dumbbells.
  • Bend your knees and lower your hips, so your back is in a straight line from your shoulders to your butt.
  • Push the floor away with your feet and pull on the dumbbells with your hands until you reach an upright position.
  • Return the dumbbells to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

Since dumbbells in each hand move independently of each other, focus on positioning them as though they are connected, like you would with a barbell. 

One advantage of dumbbells is that the plates on the outsides are typically much smaller than the 45lb plates you’d have on a barbell. You have to bend lower to the ground to complete your rep each time, which means moving your muscles through a larger range of motion.

You can use this as an advantage to get some more stretch and engagement you wouldn’t get with a barbell variation. Or you can simply note where a barbell typically meets your shins and only lower the dumbbells to that level before standing back up for your next rep!

7. Deficit Deadlift

One way to get more hamstring emphasis is to increase the bottom end of the deadlift range of motion. We can do that by elevating our feet and pulling from a deficit or added distance than we would normally have with our feet on the same plane as the barbell on the floor. 

How To Do It

  • Place a block, board, plate, or other platform 1-4” tall beneath your feet in front of a barbell.
  • Roll the barbell up to where it’s nearly against your shins.
  • Using your normal deadlift technique, pull the bar up to an erect position.
  • Return the bar to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

All we need is a difference in height between our feet and the barbell on the floor due to a deficit deadlift. It’s easy to pick just anything to stand on to make that difference. 

However, not all surfaces are safe or good to stand on, especially when we add the weight of the barbell to the force put on the platform once we start pulling. 

Use only a solid, stable surface for deficit deadlifts. You can use a 45lb or 100lb plate, wooden boards, or rubber mats likely found in your gym. But avoid using things like yoga mats (too soft, not stable), plastic items (breakable, flimsy), or unstable items (Bosu balls) that won’t stay in place under your feet.

Learn more about the benefits of deficit deadlifts in 5 Benefits of Deficit Deadlifts (+5 Other Things You Should Know).

8. Dumbbell Deficit Deadlift

As with many lifts, we can change up the equipment with deficit deadlifts. Simply place your feet on a deficit platform like a board, mats, a plate, or something else, and perform deficit deadlifts with dumbbells just like you would with a barbell!

How To Do It

  • Place your feet on a mat, block, or another platform 1-4” higher than the floor.
  • Bend over and grip the dumbbells in each hand.
  • Perform a deadlift using your normal technique, standing in an erect stance.
  • Bend forward to return the dumbbells to the floor below or beside the platform your feet are on.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

We already have an increased range of motion when using dumbbells to deadlift since dumbbell handles sit closer to the floor than a barbell with plates on it. Putting our feet on a deficit platform will only add to that ROM and give us even more hamstring stretch and engagement.

If you’re in a pinch for resources, you can simply get the benefits of added ROM by switching to DB’s for your deadlifts. Adding a deficit will give you more stretch and ROM to play with to engage your hamstrings. This can be a great option when you only have dumbbells and can’t load as much as you would with a barbell deadlift. 

9. Stiff-Leg Deficit Deadlift

Now we can start combining variations and getting really fun with our alternatives. Combine the stiff-leg deadlift with a deficit to spice things up from your normal stiff-leg deadlift work, and you get a whole new exercise!

How To Do It

  • Place your feet on a deficit platform like a board, mats, or plate to elevate your feet 1-2”.
  • Roll the barbell up against your shins.
  • Perform a stiff-leg deadlift with standard technique to stand the barbell to an erect position.
  • Lower the barbell to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

Really what we have here is a stiff-leg deadlift with a longer ROM. Now you can get even more stretch on your stiff-leg deads than you have been getting!

To get the most out of this, don’t push the deficit too far. That added 1-2” will be totally new to your hamstrings if you’ve never done them before. Don’t feel like you need to stand on a 16” box and make the barbell travel 5” below your feet!

Treat it like any exercise – start with a load you’re comfortable with, add 1-2” of deficit, and progress from there. Leave the deficit consistent over 4-6 weeks and progress the weight instead of constantly changing the deficit.

10. Dumbbell Stiff-Leg Deficit Deadlift

Triple combination variation here using all the fun things we’ve already changed above. Now you get ultimate ROM with dumbbells in your hands, your feet on a deficit platform, and your knees only slightly bent to really stretch those hamstrings. 

How To Do It

  • Place your feet on a deficit platform like a board, mats, or plate to elevate your feet 1-4”.
  • Place the dumbbells on the floor off the deficit platform.
  • Perform a stiff-leg deadlift with standard technique to stand the dumbbells to an erect position.
  • Lower the dumbbells to the floor.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

We’ve got a lot of variables at play here, so it can be easy to change too many things at once and make this a sloppy exercise. 

I recommend trying these once you are comfortable with deficit deadlifts, stiff-leg deadlifts, and dumbbell deadlifts. Once you have a good handle on the form and goals of each, you can mix them together for dumbbell stiff-leg deficit deadlifts. 

Otherwise, there are too many variables here, and you may be confused as to why these aren’t giving you a good workout or working the way you expect them to.

11. Barbell Good Morning

A good morning is an excellent hip hinge movement to hit your hamstrings! It’s essentially a stiff-leg deadlift but with the weight on your back instead of in your hands, making it one of the best alternatives on this list.

While the glutes and erectors are heavily involved, this exercise hits the hamstrings beautifully. 

How To Do It

  • Place your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold a barbell on your back just below your neck with a shoulder-width grip.
  • Bend your knees slightly, but keep them in the same position the whole time.
  • Bending at the hip, bend your torso forward until it is parallel or nearly parallel with the floor.
  • Return to the standing position.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

You can control how much hamstring versus lower back emphasis is involved by adjusting your knee position. Stiffer or locked knees will give you more hamstring emphasis, while slightly bent knees will give you more lower back emphasis. 

However you set your knees, the best advice I can give when doing good mornings is to think less about bending forward and more about moving your hips backward and forward. So as you want to lower the bar forward, do so by pushing your hips and butt straight back. This will keep the bar centered over your feet, so you don’t get off balance and fall forward. 

When you are ready to stand it back up, simply focus on pushing your hips forward to bring your upper body upright again. 

As with any exercise, start with a low weight you can safely do to get comfortable with the movement before adding more weight.

Good mornings are also a fantastic exercise to include in your program if you want to improve your deadlift

12. Dumbbell Good Morning

When you don’t have access to a barbell or squat rack to do barbell good mornings, the dumbbell alternative will give you the same benefits while using equipment you have access to at the moment!

How To Do It

  • Place your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest it on each shoulder. Keep the dumbbells in the same position the whole time.
  • Bend your knees slightly, but keep them in the same position throughout the rep.
  • Bending at the hip, bend your torso forward until it is parallel or nearly parallel with the floor.
  • Return to the standing position.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

Barbells will always allow you to load more weight than dumbbells, so don’t think of this variation as a perfect replacement for barbell good mornings. 

When you have access to both barbells and dumbbells, use the dumbbell good morning as a lighter variation or for higher reps. You can also use it for warm-ups or reps with long, exaggerated tempos where you don’t need the heavier weight. 

When you really want to hit hamstrings hard, use the barbell to get optimal load possibilities and give your hamstrings a good session.

Think critically about your goals and apply the right variation to reach them!

13. Lying Leg Curl

Leg curl variations may seem like a far cry from stiff-leg deadlifts, but they still target the hamstrings. We just hit them with knee flexion and extension instead of hip flexion and extension. Lying leg curls are still an excellent alternative when hamstring growth is the goal. 

How To Do It

  • Lie face down on a leg curl machine bench.
  • Adjust the cable pin to the desired weight.
  • Place your ankles against the lever pad.
  • Curl the pad toward your butt until you can’t flex any further.
  • Lower the weight back to the starting point.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

These are pretty hard to do wrong, considering it requires a whole machine that does a great job of forcing you to do it right. 

That said, you can get more out of this movement by focusing on slow and controlled reps. Avoid heaving or throwing the weight around.

Not only will this help avoid injury, but you can also get a better mind-muscle connection on your hamstrings and really let them do the work instead of finding momentum or other muscles that can help move the weight. 

If you don’t have access to a leg curl machine, there are several leg curl alternatives you can do that are also effective stiff-leg deadlift substitutes.

14. Seated Leg Curl

The seated one is a great option for targeting the hamstrings if you don’t have access to a specific lying leg curl machine. Again, we aren’t using a hip hinge, so this movement’s emphasis on the hamstrings varies slightly from the stiff-leg deadlift. However, it still allows us to target them well.

How To Do It

  • Sit in the leg curl machine.
  • Set the cable pin to the desired weight.
  • Place your ankles against the pad.
  • Lower the bracing pad, if available.
  • Curl the padded lever downward by flexing your knee until you can’t go any further.
  • Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

As with the lying curls, it’s hard to get these wrong when the machine is designed to make you do it the right way. But you can make these more effective by keeping your butt down in the seat in the same position the whole time. 

If you find your butt shifts upward in the seat when you apply force to the padded lever, counter it by gripping the side handles and keeping yourself in place. That slight change in hip angle can take away a decent amount of hamstring ROM and change how effective the exercise is for you. 

You can also manage this by keeping the weight a little lower, so it’s not leveraging you up and out of your seat when you try to curl it. 

15. Viking Curls

One last curl variation that works great as a stiff-leg deadlift alternative is the Viking curl (also called the Nordic curl). It hits the hamstrings in a torturously good way, and you don’t need a whole machine to do it. You can even pull it off with just the help of a competent spotter (who’s ideally heavier than you). 

How To Do It

  • Wedge your feet in a Viking curl bench, or have a spotter stand on your toes behind you as you kneel on the floor facing away from them.
  • Lower yourself to the floor, bending at the knee and limiting lower back hinging. 
  • Curl your upper body back up, bending only at the knee. 
  • Repeat for reps.

Pro Tip

Most people will not be strong enough to curl themselves back up without some momentum or help. While the end goal is to eventually be strong enough to do so, you can use momentum to get started and build strength initially. 

You can do this by pushing yourself off the floor with your hands when you get to the bottom, like an explosive push-up. You can place a large band around your rib cage and have a spotter behind you hold it to spring you back up from the bottom. A second spotter can stand in front of you and lift you slightly by the shoulders to help you get moving again. 

Progress this like you would weight, and try to use less and less assistance as you train Viking curls weekly!

Frequently Asked Questions

What Exercises Can I Do Instead of Stiff-Leg Deadlifts?

Any exercise that targets your hamstrings and follows a similar hip hinge movement is a great alternative to stiff-leg deadlifts. Movements like conventional deadlifts, good mornings, and leg curls can all target the hamstrings and be done with various equipment, from barbells to dumbbells to cables. 

What Makes a Good Stiff-Leg Deadlift Alternative?

Stiff-leg deadlifts target your hamstrings in a hip hinge movement pattern. You can select alternatives by focusing on exercises that follow this same hip hinge movement and target your hamstrings.

About The Author

Adam Gardner

Adam Gardner is a proud resident of Utah, where he lives with his wife and two kids. He has been competing in powerlifting since 2016 in both the USPA and the APF. For the past three years, he and his wife, Merrili, have coached beginning lifters to learn the fundamentals of powerlifting and compete in their first powerlifting competitions.