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How To Deficit Deadlift: Stronger Off the Floor

The deficit deadlift is a great deadlift supplemental lift to get stronger off the floor & increase your deadlift. Learn why and how to perform this deadlift variation that increases the range of motion & decreases the weight on the bar, providing a variation with lots of specificity and carryover to boost your normal deadlift.

Deficit Deadlift: What Is It?

The deficit deadlift is a deadlift supplemental lift that increases the range of motion by having the lifter stand on an elevated surface from the floor (where the weight plates are resting).

Increasing the range of motion increases the time under tension but decreases the intensity (weight on the bar) slightly.

As a supplemental lift, the lift is similar to a regular deadlift and thus more specific to the deadlift. Typically, supplemental lifts increase or decrease the time under tension through the addition of a pause, a slower tempo, or a reduced or greater range of motion.

Supplemental lifts with greater time under tension reduce the intensity, whereas supplemental lifts with a shorter time under tension enable more weight on the bar.

Deficit Deadlift Benefits

We like the deficit deadlift because of its specificity and carryover to build strength in the regular deadlift.

The snatch grip deadlift also increases the range of motion. It does this by artificially shortening the arms by widening the grip. This variation, however, causes greater changes to the joint angles of the hip and knee—and a larger drop in intensity. Because of this, the deficit deadlift is more specific and carries over better to the conventional deadlift.

The deficit deadlift makes the setup more difficult because the bar is lower, making the lifter’s hips slightly higher and lengthening the glutes and hamstrings. It is harder for the lifter to flatten his back (put the lumbar spine in normal anatomical extension), as the erector spinae muscle group has more work to do to extend the lumbar spine.

This, however, helps make the standard deadlift stronger off the floor. Once the elevated platform is removed, the range of motion is decreased, and it becomes easier to set the back. The regular deadlift starting position and the initial pulling off the floor will feel much easier.

Elevating Your Feet

One struggle for some people can be finding an appropriate object to stand on. The feet must be elevated, but the weight plates must remain on the floor.

The elevated surface must be flat, stable, sturdy, and of the correct height.

Aim for a 1″ – 2″ deficit. At less than 1”,  you lose the benefits of the deficit as a supplemental lift. More than 2” of elevation changes the lift too much, causing it to lose the specificity that makes it valuable to an improved deadlift. It also makes setting your back much more difficult, such that a deficit of more than 2” can be dangerous to perform at heavy weights.

The Setup

Deficit deadlifts require the same setup and execution as conventional deadlifts.

  1. Stand with your shins one inch away from the barbell (directly over the middle of the foot).
  2. Lean over with straight legs and take a grip just outside your legs.
  3. Bring your shins forward until they touch the bar.
  4. Hold a big breath, brace your core, and squeeze your chest up to engage the low back muscles.
  5. Drag the bar up your legs.

Programming This Variation

If you struggle to get the deadlift moving off the floor, this supplemental lift might be an excellent addition to your training program.

We typically program this for similar, though fewer, reps than the conventional deadlift. A deficit deadlift rep involves greater time under tension than a conventional deadlift rep. 5×3 is more typical than 3×5, but you may program this similar to the standard deadlift as well.

However, if you’re still a Novice (what’s a novice?), this supplemental lift is not yet for you.

If you’re having trouble progressing your conventional deadlift, listen in as Matt and Niki discuss how to troubleshoot your deadlift progress here. They have also discussed their favorite lifting accessories, and this article looks at shoes for the deadlift.

For a quick how-to video on deficit deadlifts, check out our Gym Short.

Want to explore other deadlift variations? Here are videos on the snatch grip deadliftpaused deadliftsumo deadliftRomanian deadlift, and the rack pull.

For more on when, why, and how to incorporate supplemental lifts into your training program, watch this video.

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