Deadlift Deficit Exercise: How To, Benefits, Techniques

Delly Bezoss

You’re reading this because you love to deadlift. You love the challenge of stepping over the bar and gripping and ripping heavy weight from the floor. When lifting heavier weights, little technical hitches can appear that are covered up while you’re working with submaximal weights. And the conventional deadlift is no different and that’s where the deficit deadlift exercise comes in to play.

When training with a load over 90 percent of your 1RM one of those weaknesses is pulling slowly from the floor. Getting stuck on the floor is a big deadlifting no-no. Rather than continuing to pull heavy hoping the problem will go away it’s time to take a step back to take a step forward.

Enter the deficit deadlift. The deficit deadlift involves lowering the weight and slightly increasing the range of motion to help improve your speed from the floor. And when you return to your regular deadlifts, you’ll be ripping heavy from the floor once again.

Here we’ll cover what the deficit deadlift is, how to do it, muscles trained, its benefits, and some program suggestions so you can crush your deadlift max.

Let’s get ready to pull.

WHAT IS THE DEFICIT DEADLIFT?

The deficit deadlift has you pulling from a raised surface, increasing the range of motion to help increase your speed from the floor while improving your upper and lower-back strength. When you go back to pulling from the floor again, they’ll feel “easier” because of this increase in ROM.

Almost everything about the deficit deadlift is the same as the conventional deadlift except for the raised surface. This increase in ROM demands more from your upper and back and hip mobility, making this an advanced variation. If you have any problem with hip mobility or back pain approach this variation with caution.

HOW TO DO THE DEFICIT DEADLIFT

1. Stand on a weight plate or low wooden box no higher than four inches with the loaded barbell in front of you. Set up is the same as the conventional deadlift with your feet hip-width apart and the barbell close to your shins. (Note- you can pull sumo — you’ll just need two raised surfaces instead of one.)

2. Hinge down to the barbell. As you’re elevated, you may need to slightly bend your knees to maintain a neutral spine.

3. Grip the bar with your grip of choice. Keep your chest up and squeeze your armpits together to keep a neutral spine. Keep engaging your upper back so your hips don’t shoot up too quickly when starting your pull.

4. Keep pulling until your knees are extended and your glutes are locked out.

5. Slowly lower down to the floor and reset and repeat.

MUSCLES TRAINED BY THE DEFICIT DEADLIFT

  • Glutes: A powerful hip extension is needed because of the increased ROM.
  • Hamstrings: Like the glutes the hamstrings will be stretched more and assist in hip extension, particularly at the start of the lift.
  • Erector Spinae: Otherwise known as the lower back. The erector spinae is three muscles that run up the spine and work extra hard to keep the spine neutral. The extra ROM here helps to strengthen the lower back for a faster pull from the floor.
  • Upper Back: The upper back has two major functions in the deficit deadlift. It keeps the spine in neutral and prevents the hips from shooting up to quickly due to the extra ROM. The extra ROM here will strengthen this entire area too.

BENEFITS OF DEFICIT DEADLIFTS

This is an advanced deadlift variation with many important benefits:

  • Improved Lower Back Strength: The lack of lower-back strength is a major reason why lifters struggle from the floor. Because of the deficit, you are starting in a deeper, disadvantaged position and this results in more torso lean. This means more is demanded from the lower back muscle to prevent spinal flexion. This increased ROM forces you to create maximal tension and strength in the bottom position which develops lower and middle back strength
  • Time Under Tension: The increased ROM from pulling from an elevated surface increases your time under tension. This helps to increase strength in the lower back, upper, and hamstrings. Pulling from a deficit makes you more aware of your hip hinge technique also.
  • Improved Posterior Strength: The posterior chain is all the muscles from your upper back to your calves. A strong posterior chain improves your athletic performance as a lot of movements need a powerful hip extension. The deficit deadlift helps to improve your hip stability and strengthen postural muscles and this exercise will strengthen your posterior from head to toe.
  • Increased Quad Strength: Due to the increased ROM, the greater the need for knee flexion as you need to bend your knees more to reach the barbell. This means the quads are more engaged in the deficit deadlift than the conventional deadlift.
  • Improves Strength From the Floor: If you cannot pull from the floor or slow from the floor, you’ll continue to struggle to deadlift heavily. The first third of the deadlift movement is the most difficult and by making it more difficult with the deficit, the hope is it will be easier when you go back to deadlifting from the floor.
  • Improves Your Conventional Deadlift: Even if you don’t struggle with speed from the floor, the deficit deadlift is a great accessory exercise for the deadlift. The greater ROM teaches the lifter the need for more power from the floor to get a heavy load up. This has great carryover to your regular deadlift.
  • Exposes Other Weaknesses: You might know about your weak point pulling from the floor but there are other major deadlifts flaws including rounding of the spine due to a lack of hip mobility, the barbell being too far away from the body due to the lack of upper back tightness, and a lack of lockout strength. The increased ROM exposes this weakness and performing the deficit deadlift at sub-maximal loads helps you iron out weaknesses for when you return to your regular deadlifts

DEFICIT DEADLIFT TECHNIQUES AND PROGRAMMING TIPS

The increased ROM means everything needs to be locked in 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.

  • Lower Back Warning: If you’re suffering from low back pain or coming back from a back injury, it’s best to avoid this exercise until you can hinge without pain.
  • Perform In Four- to Six-Week Blocks: The deficit deadlift is more of a technically demanding lift that requires focus and demands more from your body. Therefore, best program this in four to six-week blocks to improve your regular deadlift performance. Any more than this, the risk of burnout and injury is higher.
  • Higher Box is Not Better: There is always a temptation that a little is good so more is better. Not so with the deficit deadlift. All you need to make the deficit deadlift effective is a two-four-inch elevated surface. Any higher than this you’ll increase your risk of injury and turn the exercise into a circus trick.
  • A Strong Upper Back is Important: A strong upper back keeps the bar close while you pull, spine neutral, and stops your hips from shooting up to quickly. The upper back needs to be locked in the whole time.

PROGRAMMING SUGGESTIONS

The deficit deadlift is an advanced deadlift variation and it’s best performed early in your training. If you’re doing it as an accessory exercise, it is best done on the upper body prominent days after your strength moves for the day. Starting with a weight between 70 to 80 percent of your deadlift 1RM works well.

Strength Example

When performing for strength doing three to five sets of three to six reps work well. Pairing this with a mobility drill that reinforces good deadlift technique works well. For example

1A. Deficit deadlift: 3 sets 6 reps

1B. Half-kneeling Hip Flexor Mobilization: 10 reps per side

Hypertrophy Example

When doing the deficit deadlift for muscle and improving performance starting on the lighter side (70% 1RM) and pairing this will a hip extension or upper back exercise that doesn’t tax grip strength will work. For example

1A. Deficit deadlift: 3 sets 8-10 reps

1B. Bodyweight Hip Thrust: 12-15 reps

Here’s Why You Should Be Adding Deficit Deadlifts to Your Workout

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