One of my absolute favourite hamstring and glute builders is the Stiff Leg Romanian Deadlift.
I always incorporate some kind of a stiff leg deadlift into my hamstring training as it ensures that I am training them as stabilizers alongside eccentric/concentric exercises like a hamstring curl. This allows for maximum development, strength and detail.
Romanian Deadlifts are a fantastic way to build total strength in the posterior chain (These are the groups of muscles that run all the way down the back of the body from the back of the neck to the ankles) as well as contributing to developing impressive hamstring definition and separating the tie in between the lower glutes and upper hamstring.
The key with the Romanian deadlift is ensuring that you have enough mobility in the lower back so that you can push your hips back behind you whilst keeping your chest from dropping forward and losing posture. This is what targets the entire posterior chain. As soon as posture drops the load will switch from the muscles in the posterior chain to the vulnerable vertebrae of the spine. This is when this exercise gets dangerous. If you have tight shoulders you will most likely also have tight hips and these will prevent you from performing this exercise correctly and will force the load into the spine so is actually best avoided until posture has been corrected with adequate stretching of the hip flexors, chest and shoulders.
Steps for correct execution:
- Hold a Barbell in front of your thighs with arms straight, feet hip width apart.
- Raise your toenails so that you can feel them against the toe of the shoe (this loads your bodyweight onto the heel).
- Draw your shoulder blades together, push your chest out and pull your belly button in.
- Unlock your knees so that they are ever so slightly bent (this part is absolutely crucial as it will allow your lower back to remain in the neutral (butt out) position. A locked knee will make this almost impossible.
- Keeping your toenails against the toe of the shoes, slide your hips back (butt out) while forcing your chest upwards and slide the barbell down the legs to just below the knee. If your lower back is in the correct position you will not be able to go any lower without bending the knees further or allowing the lower back to round up.
- NB, Because your knees are extended and not very bent your hamstrings will be at a full stretch here and you will feel the tension on them. You should feel all your bodyweight on your heels.
- Pause then EXHALE and pull the chest upwards sliding the bar back up the legs without bending the elbows or the knees further.
- Recheck position then repeat
It is always advisable to start with very conservative load so that you can warm up the range of motion and the movement pathway. Then aim to increase load only if your form is maintaining throughout your reps. As with all lifting, correct technique needs to be the decider on how much more load you add for each set. With a lift like a stiff leg dead lift its best to err on the side of caution and increase in smaller increments because as soon as the form gives way your spine is in jeopardy, however when done with perfect form and accurate loading your strength and hamstring development will reach a new level!