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Fact checked by Kirsten Yovino, CPT Brookbush InstituteFACT CHECKED
April 05, 2022
When you are deadlifting, little technical hitches can appear. But if you are only pulling submaximal weights those little technical hitches aren't very apparent. Now, when the weight is above 85% of your 1RM, technical hitches and weaknesses become apparent. It may be that you are pulling too slowly from the floor or you lack adequate lower back strength...and this is when the deficit deadlift comes into play.
The deficit deadlift is an advanced variation of the deadlift that has you performing a deadlift with your feet on a raised surface. This will increase the range of motion, so when you go back to the regular deadlift, your strength and technique will be greater. It's really a great way to blast past sticking points.
In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about the deficit deadlift:
Let’s get ready to pull heavy baby.
This deadlift variation has you pulling from a raised surface to increase the range of motion, increase your speed from the floor and improve your lower back strength. The thinking is when you go back to regular deadlifts, they’ll feel ‘easier’ because of this increase in ROM with the deficit deadlift.
Everything about this deadlift is like the conventional barbell deadlift except the raised surface. But this increase in ROM demands more from your upper back lower back and hip mobility, making this an advanced variation. Approach with caution.
Although the deficit deadlift exercise is performed similarly to the conventional deadlift, you need to pay attention to a couple of things to get the best out of this exercise. First is the surface to deadlift from.
1) Elevated Surface:
When finding an elevated surface to deadlift from, more is not better. More is dangerous for your lower back. The ideal surface to deadlift from should be 2-4 inches from the ground. This includes 45-pound plates either metal or bumper or low wooden boxes. Make sure you screw your feet into the surface to create tension and stability.
Due to the increase in ROM and the increased demand on your posterior muscles the resistance used for deficit deadlifts needs to be lighter than the conventional deadlift. A good rule of thumb is to use 10-25% less weight compared to your deadlifts.
3) Assume Your Conventional Deadlift Setup:
Set up as you would for your conventional deadlift. You will assume a slightly narrower stance if you’re deadlifting from weight plates. The position of your hips shouldn’t be altered to a large degree but a little more is demanded of your hip mobility. Hinge down to the bar, take a deep breath in, engage your upper back and pull the slack out of the bar. Keeping the bar tight will avoid the hips shooting up to quickly seeing they’re higher than normal.
4) Focus And Perform as Normal:
Pull from the floor as you would for the traditional deadlift and lower the same way too. Focus on controlling the barbell, keeping it close to the body, ensuring your hip hinging correctly and your hips are not shooting up too quickly and the spine is neutral the entire lift.
This is an advanced deadlift variation with SEVERAL important benefits including:
1. IMPROVES STRENGTH IN THE BOTTOM POSITION:
It doesn’t go without saying that if you can’t pull from the floor or you’re slow from the floor, your deadlifting heavy days are numbered. The first third of the deadlift is the most difficult and by making it more difficult the hope is it will be easier when you go back to your conventional deadlift.
2. MORE TIME UNDER TENSION:
The increased range of motion results in better time under tension due to the starting position. This leads to increases in strength and mass in the lower back, upper back, and hamstrings. The disadvantaged position will make you more aware of your hip hinge form too.
3. IMPROVED LOWER BACK STRENGTH:
One of the reasons lifters are slow from the floor is they lack lower back strength. Because of the elevated surface, you sit deeper in the starting position, and this creates a greater torso lean. More is demanded from the lower back to avoid excessive rounding of the lower spine. The increased ROM increasing forces you to create maximal tension and strength in the bottom position which develops lower and middle back strength.
4. IMPROVED POSTERIOR STRENGTH:
The posterior chain is every muscle from your upper back to your calves. Strengthening these muscles has a huge bearing on improving your athletic performance as a lot of movements need a powerful hip extension. Plus, it will improve your overall hip stability and strengthen the muscles that are important for good posture. The deficit deadlift with its increased ROM will strengthen your posterior from back of neck to heel.
5. BUILDS QUAD STRENGTH:
Due to the increased range of motion the greater the need for joint flexion from your ankles, knees, and hips. Because you need to bend your knees more to reach the barbell, you use more of your legs and hips. This means the quads are more involved in the deficit deadlift than the conventional deadlift. If you pull sumo-style, the deficit deadlift has great carry-over to this movement because sumo deadlifts requires more quads.
6. GREAT CARRYOVER TO OTHER PULL LIFTS:
There are other lifts from the floor that require a powerful pull like explosive Olympic movements, such as the power clean, snatch and clean and jerk. When you have trouble pulling from the floor in any of these lifts incorporate the deficit deadlift. Increasing the ROM from which you pull may help improve your ability to pull from the floor.
7. IMPROVES YOUR REGULAR DEADLIFT:
Even if you don’t have any weakness in your pull the deficit deadlift is a great accessory exercise for the deadlift. The greater ROM from the starting position teaches the lifter the need for more power right out of the gate to get a heavier load up. Obviously, this has great carryover to your regular deadlift.
8. EXPOSES DEADLIFT WEAKNESSES:
You might know about your weak point pulling from the floor but there are other deadlifts ‘weaknesses’ that include:
The increased range of motion may expose this weakness and performing the deficit deadlift at sub-maximal loads may help you iron out weaknesses for when you return to your regular deadlifts.
Interested in learning more about deadlifting benefits? Check out our article on the surprising benefits of deadlifting!
The increased range of motion means everything about your deadlift needs to be good to avoid injury and to get the most out of this lift. Here are a few things to look out for when doing the deficit deadlift:
The deficit deadlift is an advanced deadlift variation that stresses your posterior strength and the ability to keep a neutral spine under load. Therefore, it is best to perform early in your workout as a main strength exercise. Starting with a weight between 65-80% of your 1RM deadlift is a great starting point in any case.
When performing as a main strength exercise for the day, 3-4 sets of 3-6 reps work well. Performing a mobility and recovery exercise after that reinforces good deadlift form works well.
If you’re doing it as an accessory exercise, it is best done on the upper body prominent days after your big strength moves for the day. Aim for around 3 sets of 8-10 reps with around 65-75% of your 1RM.
Note: There are also variations of the deficit deadlift such as deficit sumo deadlifts and deficit stiff-leg deadlifts that you can implement into your routine.
Prepare to maximize your strength with our exclusive 13-week strength training program. 3, 4, and 5 day per week programming options.
The deficit deadlift is a great exercise to improve posterior strength, strengthen your power from the floor, and expose weaknesses in your pulling technique. When performed for four to six weeks your regular deadlift will feel like magic. Poof, your 1RM just went up.
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