WSBB Blog: Deficit Deadlifts
No matter if you are a powerlifter, a strongman, a Crossfit competitor, an athlete, or just someone who wants to get in better shape, the deadlift is one of the most important and effective exercises to increase strength and muscle mass. The deadlift is probably the most physically demanding lift of all three powerlifters, requiring high levels of absolute strength and strength endurance to execute. The deadlift will target the lower, mid, and upper back, while also placing great demand on the hamstrings, glutes, hips, and quads.
There are many different ways to increase your deadlift strength. This can be done through the use of squats, goodmornings, or deadlift variations designed to place the lifter in an unconventional position placing increased demand onto specific muscle groups. One such exercise is the deficit deadlift. The deficit deadlift is a deadlift variation designed to place the bar at a lower shin position than what is typical when the lifter is at standing height. To do this, we use mats, plates, or wooden platforms to stand on to increase the standing height of the lifter, which places the barbell at low shin / ankle level.
This positioning places great demand on the low back, glutes, and hamstrings, and forces the lifter to properly hinge the hips, sit into the deadlift, and lift the barbell with the shoulders behind the bar as much as possible. Failure to execute the lift properly will result in the hips shooting up, hamstrings lengthening too quickly, causing the lift to be missed. When executed correctly, low back, glute, and hamstring strength will rapidly increase leading to improved deadlift strength and speed off of the floor. At Westside, we have a few preferred ways to execute deficit deadlifts, we will go over them below.
2” Deficit Deadlift vs. Minibands
When you are beginning to think about ways to create special exercise variations for your deficit deadlift training, this exercise is a good place to start. The 2” deficit should be familiar to the lifter already, considering it is the recommended height for beginner or intermediate lifters training deficit deadlifts. The difference will be the minibands, which will force the lifter to execute and maintain proper starting positioning to generate as much speed off of the floor to maintain optimal levels of power and positioning throughout the duration of the lift.
The bands provide two benefits; they assist in the training of absolute strength given the demand they place on the lifter under heavy barbell load, and they expose glute and hamstring weakness by causing the hips to rise and the hamstrings to lengthen too quickly when overloaded. If you are pulling deficits against bands and you can’t keep your butt down and your hamstrings shortened at the beginning of the lift then you know you need to up the glute and hamstring training volume.
4” Wooden Platform Deficit Deadlifts
This exercise is designed to be used by lifters who possess high levels of strength in the deadlift, as well as experience with deficit deadlift. The 4” deficit will place the lifter at a great disadvantage, with the barbell being almost on top of the feet at the starting position. The first issue a lifter will face, especially larger lifters, will be how to grip the bar. With an extreme deficit, you will likely have to modify your grip a bit, considering a wider grip will allow for you to lower your hips and bring your knees forward to initiate the pull.
The benefit of this exercise is simple, lengthening the distance of the pull to increase difficulty and time under tension. This will lead to improved execution of competition style deadlifts, as well as improved levels of limit strength. If you want a true test of your deadlift strength and skill, the 4” deficit deadlift is your best bet.
Ascending Rack Pull Deficits
This exercise is intended for use by experienced lifters. This exercise will begin as a rack pull just below the knees, with the final set ending with the barbell starting just above the feet. To do this you will pull your first rep in a rack pull position, with the barbell at mid shin level. Once that rep is complete, you will add in a 2” mat. You will complete another rep, then add another mat. The goal is to continue adding mats, keeping the weight on the bar the same for as long as possible.
Once you get to a point you don’t think you will be able to pull another rep, you will begin removing weight off of the bar. The goal is to complete the entire exercise, with your final pull being performed with the bar slightly above the feet with as much remaining weight on the barbell as possible. This exercise is incredibly demanding, both physically and mentally. It is easy to get tired and begin to make mistakes, which is why we recommend this exercise for experienced athletes only.
When programmed correctly, deficit deadlifts are one of the most effective deadlift variations you can use. The increased length of the pull provides increased time under tension, resulting in faster speeds off of the floor and increased pulling power. The abnormal starting position helps improve your form and execution as well. When it comes to hamstring, glute, and low back focused exercises, few can compare to the deficit deadlift. The exercises listed above are great variations to begin adding into your own programming, providing you additional ways to continue to avoid accommodation and add pounds to your deadlift. For more information regarding our deadlift training at Westside Barbell, please visit the Westside Barbell blog.