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Stiff Legged Deadlifts for Lower Back

Hi again Dr Darden,

Now having read several of your books, you include stiff legged deadlifts in your routines for lower back.

Being familiar with conventional deadlifts, is the main difference locking your slightly bent knees? How far down is advisable to go?
My primary question though, is whether you prefer a specific cadence on SLD, or if it’s ok to do in any cadence?
Also, having had a herniated disc in my lower back 10 years ago (no current symtoms) - which is your recommended strategy in terms of start out load/weight?

I am planning to introduce SLD as I find other excercises for the lower back a bit hard to load, thus having to do lots of reps. The lower back machine gets rather impractical when you load it up (and puts more stress on the quadriceps than I prefer).

Thanks in advance!

Be careful with stiff-legged deadlifts. I now recommend that you do them with a slight bend in your knees. With problems in your lower back, you’d be advised to do all your core or trunk exercises smoothly and slowly.


I have had slightly herniated discs and done plenty of SLDLs. A slight bend in the knees has always been the plan. In addition, your back will be flat or have a very slight arch. To answer you question, you go down as far as you can and keep your back straight.
You will feel a lot of pull in your hamstrings and glutes, but stop the millimeter you feel ANY rounding in your back. Come to a momentary stop and then easy into your ascent (DON’T bounce out of the bottom).

P.S. Keep the Hams and Glutes and Core tight to avoid an injury. At first, the bar will not go down past your knees. Even after a while, getting the bar down to mid-shin is quite an achievement!

A bit of a long read but I have learned a few things about myself and deadlifting.

I have low back problems along with arthritis from a few injuries from heavy deadlifting. I also got hit by a car crossing the street when I was a young teenager. I took a good shot it my hip.

The first time I heard of Arthur Jones was from a chiropractor after I hurt my low back deadlifting. He thought AJ was genius. He had a low back machine. Thats when I got into HIT.

Smoothly and slowly like Dr.Darden said.

I can say don’t move too slow. I hurt myself twice deadlifting after getting into HIT with 10/10 Once doing the SLD and once with a trap bar.

I thought strengthening my low back was what I needed to do.

I later found out it’s the deep muscles of the lowback that do not like to be loaded for a long time. I’m talking the multifidus and the group of rotatores.

They take longer to recover too. I think that is some of the findings that AJ learned.

I worked up to 225 at 10/10 on the SLD. My form was good. I now think those deep muscles were not recovered enough.

I did the same with with the Trap bar. My plan was to do a rest pause. A 10/10 rep and stand up without the bar for a 10 second pause. That will put you on the floor for a few minutes even if you don’t get hurt.

I worked up to more than 225. I hurt my low back again. Again I feel I was not recovered.

I also think those deep muscles do not need to be loaded with 10/10 or slower.

If you never have done the SLD I would not want to use much more weight than just the bar.

Learn if you even like the movment first. If it feels awkward to you stop.

I take it you are not using a MedX lowback? That would take your legs out of the equation.

One idea with the low back machine is to see how low you can put the foot rest. That might help to give the legs less work. Or work you legs just before the lowback. Leg extention,leg press,or even pre exhaust.

There are two schools of thought about low back training.

One school advocates loading the extensors through a full range of lumbar motion, or at least part of the range of motion. This is supposed to make the extensors strong over the whole range of motion. Exercises typically used are: Nautilus/MedX back machine (Jones), rounded back good mornings (Bill Starr), Jefferson curl with some weight (gymnastics guys), rounded back trunk extension.

The other school, exemplified by Stuart McGill, wants you to avoid loaded flexion or extension; you are supposed to keep the spine neutral, move at the hips under load. So effectively, you try to maintain isometric loading on the extensors and stabilizers, while doing hip extension. Exercises typically used are: barbell deadlift, RDL, SDL, regular trunk extension on a roman chair or 45 bench. The criticism is that it strengthens the muscles primarily at the mid range or neutral position, but not at the extremes of motion.

I’ve personally found that trying to flex or extend under load usually triggers back pain (especially flexion). So I use the second group of exercises. But I’ve never been able to use a MedX back machine, so maybe that would work better.

Thanks all, for informative replies!

I intend to include the SLD on the normal cadence (4 sec pos / 4 sec neg) sessions, perhaps extend the reps slightly - to see where it takes me. Will probably start out on just the bar, to get the hang of proper form.

I don’t have access to a MedX lowback unf, though I would love to try it. Will try to put the foot rest lower on the lower back machine (a brand called Gym80. Otherwise splendid machines - some even better than Nautilus re feel and range).

I have a plated loaded Nautilus for the home ab/low back. It’s not ideal but it does work the low back. It works your legs to some extent too.

I use it sometimes.