Stiff legged deadlifts are the best exercises you're not doing. While you might see the odd girl in your gym performing a set of stiff legged deadlifts, they're generally not seen too often. They hit your glutes, hamstrings and lower back, yet most people will still migrate towards resistance machines to work these muscles. Surprisingly, they also hit your core muscle. Build strong abs by ditching your sit-ups and crunches, grab a barbell and stiff leg deadlift your way to a rock solid core.
The stiff leg deadlift can be a tricky exercise to master, but it's worth persevering with. Grab a barbell with an overhand shoulder-width grip and stand up straight with it. Lower the barbell toward the floor by pushing your butt back, arching your lower back and keeping your head and chest up. If you feel your lower back rounding, it's probably because you've let the bar drift away from your body, so keep it close. Go as low as you can while keeping perfect form, then stand back up by pushing your hips forward forcefully.
While most people think your core muscles control spinal flexion -- the movement that happens during sit-ups, this isn't the case. According to Tony Gentilcore, trainer at Cressey Performance in Massachusetts, your core's main role is to stabilize your mid-section and spine and actually prevents movement. Therefore a a stiff leg deadlift is the ideal choice, as your core has to work tremendously hard to prevent your lower back from rounding and to maintain perfect posture.
Performing stiff leg deadlifts as a core exercise is all very well and good, but they can become slightly mundane after a while. While you can keep adding weight to further challenge your muscles, it's sometimes good to shake things up a bit. In "The New Rules of Lifting for Women" coach Cassandra Forsythe recommends then single-leg stiff leg deadlift performed with a dumbbell. The action is exactly the same, but you perform the movement while standing on one leg, holding a dumbbell in the corresponding hand. These provide a huge challenge for your core strength and balance and the offset loading with the dumbbell makes the exercise even more effective.
Stiff leg deadlifts are an excellent exercise for core strength, but you shouldn't rely on them as your sole ab-builder. Incorporate other stabilization and anti-rotation movements in your routine too. Add in planks and side planks, along with cable rotations and Russian twists. With your stiff leg deadlifts, aim to add a little extra weight or perform more reps every session.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.