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Why deadlift from a deficit [Article]

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

Jul 18, 2018 9:30:00 AM

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Why deadlift from a deficit

Deadlifting from a deficit makes you stronger in the beginning of a pull. This is most relevant for powerlifters and weightlifters. This way of training is most suited to advanced lifters. Beginners should stick with the basic movements until proficiency is reached. Always consult with your trainer or doctor for specifics for your individual case. 


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Setting the context of the question


If you are a regular reader of my blog you can skip this part. If you are here for the first time please take the time to read this paragraph. It will improve the overall quality of your training immensely. Based on my experience in the fitness industry there are three major interests of people who get involved. You probably want to improve one or all of these things with the deficit deadlift:


  • Your Looks
  • Your Health
  • Your Performance


When you research for the deficit deadlift points towards that you are probably most interested in performance. Another scenario is that you have a very good coach who knows what he is doing or a bad coach who wants to impress you. Overall the deficit deadlift is an exercise which is most suited to advanced athletes interested in performance. If you have not sat down yet to prioritize the importance of these three fields to you, now would be a good time. Knowing which of the three is most important to you will help to pick the right programs and make your research more targeted.

For my personal training I chose this:


  • Priority 1: Performance
  • Priority 2: Health
  • Priority 3: Looks


Depending on your age, training experience and goals it might be different for you. If you say "all of these are equally important" you will have a hard time to be satisfied with your training and results.


Why should you care about deficit deadlifts?


Deficit deadlifts are a great tool to get stronger. They especially address speed off the floor. If you fail most of your lifts by not breaking ground they can be a fix.

Based on this they are most relevant for

  • Weightlifters
  • Sumo deadlifters
  • Martial artists with strength deficits

They are less relevant to

They are not relevant for 

  • Recreational Sports
  • Fitness models
  • Endurance athletes

Of course, these are blatant generalizations, but they work for the day to day business. Always look at the specifics of your training and consult an expert before making a decision.

The first group can benefit from deficit deadlifts as they are most specific to the sport they do.

The second group has some carry over and relevance. Bodybuilders and Crossfitters can use some more strength off the ground, however, it is not specific to their training. Both groups tend to benefit from high repetition work. The more repetitions you do the less weight you use. The less weight you use the less likely it becomes that you have problems with breaking ground.

Conventional deadlifters usually have fewer problems with breaking ground. There are more challenges with the lockout. Therefore rack pulls are preferable over deficit deadlifts. 

The last group probably won't benefit from deadlifts for their overall goals. Therefore deficit deadlifts are not relevant as a special form of the deadlift. If these three groups are interested in strength training it is a good idea to start with trap bar or barbell deadlifts before adding a deficit. 

Overall the deficit deadlift is more of an accessory rather than the main exercise. Use it to address your personal weaknesses rather than as a main staple. 


How to do deficit deadlifts


You can do deficit deadlifts by standing on a small box, mat or plate. The idea is to perform a deadlift while being elevated. Getting to higher ground increases the range of motion. Increasing range of motion with the same weight makes the exercise harder.  You can program these in 3 - 4 weeks at a time. For each inch you add to the range of motion, you can subtract 10% from your one repetition maximum for your loads.

For example, if your normal one repetition maximum for the deadlift is 100kg and you would do 5 sets for 5 repetitions at 70% the weight to use would be 70kg. If you add a one-inch deficit your one rep max moves to 90kg and the load for this session to 5x5x62,5. The intensity for deficit deadlifts should be around 60 - 70%. If this paragraph was very hard to follow, I would strongly advise that you start with simpler training methods than a deficit deadlift. 

For advanced lifters who are worried about their lockout, you can also add chains. I personally prefer to separate these two parts. Elevation and chains are an annoying set up with high potential to go wrong. If you use chains a lot, just elevate yourself. If you have not trained with chains before start with deficits and then get used to chains. 

Once you start adding elevation ease into it. Do one inch at a time. Keep variations to a minimum in the beginning. While the westside method propagates continuous change on all exercises it becomes very hard to measure progress. If you start with deficit deadlifts, keep the variables to a minimum to be more confident about the cause and effect of the results. 

Some trainers advocate for snatch grip deadlifts from a deficit. The reason is that they are safer than conventional ones. I would debate that theory as you are putting the lifter into a double whammy. The range of motion is prolonged by the deficit. The snatch grip minimizes the power transfer from the back to the ground. That is not a set up which makes it less likely to get hurt. 

One of the most extreme approaches to the deficit deadlift comes from Sheiko. Sheiko is a Russian strength coach with an impressive track record. Based on his recommendations deficit deadlifts should be done 10cm above ground. In his theory, the lifter should have to fight hard to get into a good position for the lift. Keep in mind that Sheiko worked with Olympians. They usually bring the necessary mobility and training capacity to the table. Therefore you can be more extreme. If you lack mobility work on that before going near a deficit deadlift. 


Individual differences for the deficit deadlift


A deficit deadlift might not be appropriate for all lifters based on individual differences. If you lack the necessary mobility to perform a normal deadlift, you have no business in adding a deficit.  At some stage, someone decided that 45-pound plates are 17.5 to 18 inches in diameter.

This already assumes that everyone should pull from the same height. Of course, that is not necessarily ideal when physics and leverages come into play. The longer your arms are compared to your overall body, the easier deadlifts become. The wider your wingspan compared to your height the easier the deadlift becomes. Same goes for the deficit deadlift as a harder variation of the deadlift. This article about NBA players gives you some insight into whether you are above average.


Risks of the deficit deadlift


The risk of a deficit deadlift is that it is more likely to go to "snap city". Snap city means that some parts of your back snap because it is too rounded. If you have poor form or mobility the deficit deadlift is not a good idea.

Some coaches leave it out completely as they think the deficit deadlift is too dangerous. If you can perform a deadlift correctly and have the mobility, the risk to gain ratio becomes more palatable. Especially if you fail most of your heaviest lifts because of not getting the bar from the ground. Benefits of the deficit deadlift The benefits of the deficit deadlift are

  • Increased Leg Strength and Drive
  • Lower back and posterior chain strength
  • Greater force production
  • Better Setup
  • Greater Time under tension
  • Deadlift more weight


If you can pull a weight from a deficit you can be very positive that you can pull it from floor level. The exercise will also help you to become more aware of when to initiate leg drive. Many lifters initiate leg drive to early before building proper tension. The more tension you create before leg drive, the easier will it be to lock out the weight. This becomes more relevant to experienced lifters. Beginners should concern themselves with hypertrophy and get the basics right.




The deficit deadlift is one of the more relevant accessory movements. It is best suited for advanced lifters who care about performance. These lifters can make a decision between pin pulls, block pulls and deficit pulls. If you struggle with the middle of the lift or lockout block pulls are a good remedy. If you can not break ground, even though you easily row 600pounds, deficit deadlifts can be looked at.


Further reading


Topics: Lift stronger, Deadlift, Strength