The deficit deadlift is a challenging and advanced variation of the deadlift. The lift is performed while standing on an elevated platform that is somewhere between 1 and 3 inches high. Many deadlift variations can be performed from the deficit, such as the Jefferson, landmine, snatch grip, and the sumo deadlift.
The deficit deadlift is an amazing posterior chain exercise. It has many benefits such as it has a longer range of motion, a longer time under tension, it loads your posterior chain and your lower back more than the normal deadlift, and many more.
But it’s also quite a challenging lift, that requires a decent amount of lower body mobility and a very good understanding of the conventional deadlift. Proper form and technique are a crucial part of this lift.
The deficit deadlift is a superb compound posterior chain exercise. Just like the conventional barbell deadlift, it will train pretty much every part of your body. But the main effort will go on the muscles in your posterior chain (your backside), especially your lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.
Because the deficit deadlift starts from a lower position and the fact that the range of this movement is much longer than in the conventional version, it will place a greater emphasis on your back muscles (especially your lower back).
Primary muscles worked:
- Erector Spinae
Secondary muscles worked:
Deficit deadlift benefits
It has an increased lower back and posterior chain recruitment. In the deficit deadlift, the lifter starts from a lower starting position, which means you are starting from a deeper spot. That will increase the distance you need to lean in with your body in order to lift the weight off the floor. Now to do this properly, your back and posterior chain muscles overall will need to work much harder to keep your back straight and to avoid rounding out.
The deficit deadlift has a longer time under tension. Because of the deeper starting position of this deadlift variation, the overall range of motion the barbell has to travel is much longer. Which means your body will be under tension for a longer period of time. It is great for your posterior chain because that means it needs to work a lot harder in the lift. Also, your core has to work harder to keep you stabilized and tight in the center. To be honest, all of your muscles will benefit from it, and it’s great for both strength and muscle building.
It will help you improve your conventional deadlift. Well, first off, it will help you increase it because of all the deficit deadlift benefits listed above. But also, pulling from a deficit will help you develop off the floor strength that is a crucial part of the deadlift. It’s the most challenging part of the exercise, and many athletes have trouble with it. It will also help you improve your lifting technique, posture, and form, especially in the first half of the lift (off the floor form).
How to do the deficit deadlift
Step-By-Step Deficit deadlift Guide
- The first thing you need to do is determine how much you want to elevate yourself (the length of the deficit). It will largely depend on your mobility. If you don’t have much hip and back mobility and flexibility, you cant use a very high platform. It’s usually performed from a 1 to 2.5-inch elevation, so 1 inch would be a great starting point.
- The next thing to do would be to prepare your deadlift platform. There are many things you can use to elevate yourself. The best would be to use a specific wooden platform, a matt, or weightlifting plates. Just make sure it wouldn’t move on the floor and that the surface would be even.
- Once you have figured out what you are using to elevate yourself, place it on the floor in front of the barbell (where you would be standing).
- Stand on the platform in a hip-width stance. Make sure the barbell is positioned over the middle part of your feet (it should run over your shoelaces). Your shins should be about 1 inch from the bar.
- Push your hips backward and hinge forward with your upper body until your body is either parallel to the floor or until you can reach the barbell.
- Now reach down to the barbell and grasp it with both of your hands in a shoulder-width overhand grip.
- Next, drop your hips and bring your shins to the barbell so they would be in contact with each other. In the deficit deadlift, your hips should sit a little lower than in the conventional version.
- Prepare yourself for the lift. Push your chest slightly up, engage your lats and upper back by rolling your shoulders a little back and tightening the muscles there. Brace and engage your core.
- Make sure your spine is in a neutral position (your head should be neutral and your back flat) and that your shoulders are directly over the barbell.
- Start the lift! Drive through your feet (imagine that you are pushing the floor away from yourself).
- Make sure the barbell travels in a straight path.
- Extend your hips and your knees. Once you are up, lock them out.
- Hold for a second and then reverse the movement and lower the bar back to the floor (be sure to do it in a slow and controlled manner).
- Repeat for however many reps you want to complete.
Tips and recommendations
- Choose the right deficit. Choosing the correct height of your platform (elevation) is crucial to this lift. If you start too “low” (your elevated surface is too high), your back will round. That would place you at risk of hurting yourself (and it will destroy your lifting form). Now all of this will depend on your mobility. If you are lacking in hip mobility, then you have to start with a lower platform. You should try the deficit deadlift from a 1-inch elevation. And then slowly move higher from there.
- Make sure your platform is sturdy. Now, this is as important as the previous point (if not more). The platform has to be fixed to the ground. Make sure you aren’t using a slippery platform that might move or slide when you are deadlifting. If it would move while you are lifting, then the consequences would be devastating. Also, make sure the top surface of it would be flat and even.
- Choose the right weight for the lift. Pulling from a deficit is quite a more challenging movement than pulling from the floor. Because of the increased range of motion and the more difficult starting position, you won’t be able to deadlift as much weight. And the higher the deficit gets, the less you will be able to pull. The weight difference is around 10-20% at one inch. So if you can lift 220 pounds (100kg) from the floor, then you can lift about 175-200 pounds (80-90 kg) from a 1-inch deficit. Whit each inch added, it will decrease. But the exact amount of weight anyone can pull will vary from person to person. I would recommend that you would start with much lighter weights and slowly work your way up from there, as you get more used to the lift.
- Keep your spine neutral. Deadlifting from a deficit is already quite taxing on your spine and lower back, so you don’t want to stress it even more by not keeping your spine neutral. So be sure to keep your back flat (don’t let it round and also don’t arch it) and your head in a neutral position (don’t look up nor down).
- Adding it to your workout routine. When adding and planning this exercise into your workout routine/ program, then keep in mind that it’s quite a harsh and taxing lift on your body and nervous system. Especially if you want to do it in high volume or with heavy loads. So be sure to give your body enough time to recover from it. Also, if done too much or if you replace the conventional deadlift with the deficit deadlift, then your deadlift form (technique) might suffer (especially the lockout). I would recommend using it together with the “off the floor” lift. And for frequency, I would recommend using it a maximum of once a week. It would be even better to use it every few weeks or so.
- Keep your hips lower than in the conventional deadlift. Doing so will help you keep your self in a more upright position and will let you use your legs more. It will also help you avoid rounding your back. And it will place less stress on your spine.
- Keep your core engaged for the whole exercise. Make sure to keep your abs and core tight and engaged for the entire lift. It will help you maintain proper form throughout the lift, and it will help you avoid and prevent injuring your lower back and spine.
Deficit deadlift variations
Many different types of deadlifts can be done using a deficit. Honestly, almost all of the deadlift variations that begin from the floor, can be done from an elevated surface. But it’s not always the smartest idea. Some variations and modifications have already a very low or challenging starting position. Making it even more challenging can have devastating results. The most common deficit deadlift variations are:
Sumo deficit deadlift
The deficit sumo deadlift is quite a popular variation of the deadlift. It’s especially well known in powerlifting and other strengths oriented sports circles. It’s a good and challenging accessory exercise whit many benefits.
The lift is an amazing posterior chain strengthener with the main effort and most of the load going on your glutes, hips, hamstrings, and your lower back.
The sumo stance deficit deadlift is a great way to develop your off the floor strength. It is the hardest part of any deadlift, so strengthening it will help you increase both your conventional and your sumo deadlift.
Compared to the conventional deficit deadlift, the sumo stance variation has a little bit of a more upright starting position. It’s a great alternative for people who don’t have enough hip/ lower body mobility for the conventional version. Also, it places less stress on your spine. Meaning it is more back-friendly.
How to do:
- Start by preparing the platform you are going to stand on. For this variation, it would be best to use two weightlifting (pumper) plates (that would be around 1 inch thick). Place the platform in front of the barbell, where you are going to stand. Remember that the sumo stance is much wider than the stance for the conventional DL, so place the plates accordingly (the width of the sumo stance starts from just outside your shoulders).
- Stand on the platform. Make sure the bar is just above the middle part of your feet.
- Push your hips back and hinge your torso forward.
- Grasp the bar with a shoulder-width grip.
- Drop your hips and let your shins lightly touch the bar.
- Brace your upper back and core.
- Drive through your feet and start to lift the bar.
- Extend your hips and knees.
- Lockout and hold for a second, then return the bar back to the floor.
- Repeat for desired repetitions.
Snatch grip deficit deadlift
The deficit snatch grip deadlift is another insane posterior chain training tool. The snatch grip adds an upper back element to the lift. The wide grip will force your traps and lats to work harder and contract more.
Thanks to the extra-wide grip (the snatch grip), you are already starting the deadlift from a much lower point. Now adding an elevated surface to the exercise will make it even lower. And it will increase the range even more. That makes the lift a lot more difficult and challenging, but also it has many more benefits (and risks). So proper execution of this exercise is crucial for avoiding injuring yourself.
How to do:
- Like with any deficit deadlift, start by preparing the platform you are going to use for the lift.
- Assume a hip-width stance with your toes pointing about 20 to 30-degrees outwards.
- Make sure the bar is over the middle parts of your feet.
- Next, squat down and grasp the barbell. Grasp it with an extra-wide double overhand grip, called the snath grip. Both of your hands should be near the ends of the barbell. Your hands should be somewhere around the last rings of the bar.
- Make sure your shoulders are directly over the bar.
- Engage your upper back by slightly rolling your shoulders back and squeezing them together.
- Brace your core.
- Keep your back flat and initiate the lift.
- Push through your feet and extend your hips and knees.
- Once you are up, lock your hips and pause for a second. Then lower the barbell back down to the floor.
Jefferson deficit deadlift
The Jefferson deadlift is one of those less known variations of the deadlift. It’s well known in the strongman and the powerlifting community, but outside those circles, it’s not very popular. Before getting to the Jefferson deficit deadlift modification, let’s take a look at the normal variation.
The regular Jefferson lift looks pretty strange for anyone who doesn’t know about it. Instead of standing in front of the barbell, this exercise will have you mount or straddle it so the bar would run between the lifter’s legs. And then, the lift is performed from that mounted position.
It’s actually a very beneficial and an overall great exercise. It’s great for your core, and it will help you develop anti-rotational strength and muscles. It’s also better for your spine and your lower back than the conventional deadlift because it has a more upright starting position.
Now, the deficit Jefferson deadlift is pretty much exactly the same as the lift is from the floor. Except for the fact that it’s performed off an elevated surface. Compared to the regular deficit deadlift, the Jefferson lift is much more suitable for people who have back issues and for people who want to really target their glutes.
How to do:
- Start by figuring out where your feet are going to be in this lift. It is important so you would know exactly where you should place your platforms. To do so:
- Set your barbell up.
- Straddle the bar so that your feet are on either side of the barbell. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. The bar has to be centered between your legs.
- Mark down where your feet are, so you would know where you should place the platforms.
- Next, set up your elevation. It’s easiest to use two weightlifting plates for this.
- Straddle the bar again, exactly like you did before.
- Squat down and grip the bar with a mixed grip.
- Engage your upper back and your core.
- Keep your back straight and flat.
- Drive through the soles of your feet and lift the bar up. Fully extend your knees and hips.
- While lifting the weight up, make sure your knees don’t collapse inwards.
- Once you are up, lock your hips, pause for a second and then lower the weight back to the floor.
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