Leg Training – Deficit Deadlifts

The deadlift is a lower body exercise, but it taxes your entire body. It is one of your core strength building exercises and deficits are a variation on the deadlift that increases the range of motion of the deadlift. Since you are forced to start your pull from a deeper starting position, the initiation of the pull will be much more difficult. This can help you improve your strength off the floor for your conventional deadlift.

Muscles Used for this Exercised

  • Primary Muscle Groups: Glutes, Hamstrings
  • Secondary Muscle Groups: Quadriceps, Spinal Erectors
  • Stabilizers: nearly every muscle in your body, from your forearms to grip the bar; your upper back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius) to anchor the weight; to your core to maintain stability and transfer power from your legs through your upper body to the bar.

Exercise Classification

  • Primary
  • Compound

Exercise Technique

Deficit deadlifts can be a good tool to help you build strength at the lower end of the deadlift and increase your power off the floor. It does this by increasing the range of motion of your deadlift, and done right forcing you to start from a deeper position.

If a little is good, a lot isn’t necessarily better. The height of the platform you stand on to create a deficit should not be so high that you cannot hit the proper setup position for your deadlift. If you have shorter arms in relation to your torso, you should use a lower platform than someone with longer arms.

  • Equipment: The simplest way to set up for deficit deadlifts is to stack up plates under the center of the bar. Varying the height of the deficit by adding or removing plates can change the stimulus of the exercise. Additional equipment you will use is the same as for conventional deadlifts
    • Round Plates – many commercial gyms use octagonal plates which make deadlifting very difficult. As you set them down the bar wants to roll to the flat spot of the plate, and it will either roll away from you, causing you to have to reset your position, or back toward you, and may run into your shins.
    • Weight lifting belt – perform as much training as you can without the belt. It will strengthen your spinal erectors and the rest of your core. Use your belt when you need it to protect your lumbar spine and build more power. Generally speaking, I add a belt at around 80% of my max deadlift.
    • Chalk – your grip is one of the most important strength aspects of the lift. When your grip starts to slip, your body stops pulling. Chalking your hands generously helps immensely in holding the bar.
    • Knee length socks – you shins will thank me.
    • Baby Powder – When you are at your max lifts, powdering your thighs will reduce the resistance and allow the bar to slide up more easily.
  • Stance/Foot PositionStance will be similar to the conventional deadlift stance. Your feet will be placed on the platform or plates directly under your hips with the outside of your legs a plum line down from your hips. If you have wider hips, you may need to move your feet out slightly, but they should remain inside shoulder width. Your toes should point outward slightly. You should set up close to the bar, your shins should be within an inch of the bar.
  • Hand Position: Your hands should be directly outside your hips and thighs, and best case drop straight down from your shoulders. Try to place your hands so you can grip the knurling for a better grip.
  • Grip: There are three common grips for the deadlift
    • Double overhand grip – Grip the bar with both hands pronated (overhand). This is the toughest way to grip the bar. As the bar weight increases, the bar will begin to roll out of your hands. It can effectively lengthen your arm span which shortens the range of motion of the deadlift.
    • Alternating over/under grip: Over-Under Grip: Grip the bar with one hand pronated (overhand) and one hand supinated (underhand). Which hand you use is your preference, but generally speaking it’s more effective gripping with your dominant hand pronated. Using the over-under grip prevents the bar from rolling out of your grip.
    • Hook grip: Grip the bar with both hands pronated. Instead of wrapping your thumbs around the bar, lie them along the bar and wrap your fingers around your thumbs. This is a very effective grip, locking the bar in and preventing it from rolling or slipping out of your grip, but it can be exceptionally painful.

    • Performing the lift:

    • Rotating at the hips, bend down to grip the bar.
    • Pull up slightly on the bar creating upward tension on the bar and removing any slack between you and the bar.
    • Take a deep breath into your lungs and abdomen. Tighten your back by squeezing your shoulder blades tightly – try to tuck them into your back pockets.
    • Keeping your back flat, rock back, lowering your hips to the starting position. Bring your hips down and your chest up until your shoulders come back just behind the bar.


    • Concentrate on tightening your glutes and hamstrings as you rock back into the starting position. This will prepare them to explode firing the barbell off the floor.
    • As soon as you hit the starting point, begin your pull explosively. Drive down through your heels and drive your hips forward.
    • Keep your head and chest up and your back flat as you pull.
    • Your hips, shoulders and the bar should rise at the same rate initially – don’t let your hips kick back and up ahead of the bar as you begin to pull.
    • Thrust your hips forward as the barbell passes your knees and straighten your back bringing your upper body fully erect.
    • Begin to exhale as the bar crosses your knees and continue through lock out.
    • Lock out your knees and hips, and bring your chest up to finish the lift.


      • After locking out, lower the weight in a controlled fashion. Reset before each repetition by rocking back again into the starting position.
      • Select a weight that you can perform all of your repetitions using proper technique. On your last 1-2 sets, your last repetitions should be very difficult, but it is very important that maintain good form on every rep.

Strength Standard

  • Deficit deadlifts will be more difficult than conventional deadlifts. Because of the increased range of motion, and increased difficulty at the starting position you should expect your lifts to be somewhat lower than your conventional deadlift. The difference should, however, be relatively slight.

Common Mistakes

  • Changing your deadlift setup: The setup for deficit deadlifts should be identical to a conventional deadlift.
  • Don’t play around with the set up: Take a deep breath, set up and pull immediately. Taking too much time to set up leaves you mentally unprepared to pull heavy weights.
  • Hitching: The barbell should not rest on your thighs at any time during the lift; the pull should be one smooth motion from the point it breaks the floor until you lock it out.
  • Starting with the bar too far forward: Set up with the bar close to your shins; beginning the pull with the barbell too far forward, leaves you out of position over the bar which will place more of the strain on your lower back versus your hamstrings and glutes.
  • Starting with your hips too high: Starting the lift with your hips and butt high forces you to complete the lift largely with your lower back, reducing your leg drive at the start of the lift.
  • Hips and butt rising ahead of the barbell and your shoulders: The barbell, your hips and shoulders should initially rise at the same rate. If your hips and butt rise first, your legs will fully extended, again forcing you to complete the work with your lower back
  • Pulling the bar with your arms: Don’t attempt to pull the bar with your arms or shrug the weight – this doesn’t aid in your lift and expends precious energy
  • Using gloves: Gloves on the deadlift will impair your grip, reducing the weight you can lift.

Exercise Safety

If performed incorrectly, the deadlift can increase your risk of injury – it is crucial that you complete every repetition with proper technique.

  • Don’t use a platform that is too high and forces you out of your proper deadlift starting position.
  • Perform every repetition with perfect technique. If you cannot complete your sets and repetitions with proper form, reduce the weight. Performing deadlifts with weight that is too heavy to perform correctly will greatly increase your risk of injury.
  • Keep your back flat. Don’t let your lower back round. Rounding your back during the pull can increase the risk of lower back injury.
  • Don’t jerk the weight from the floor. Although explosive, your pull should be smooth and controlled.



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