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If You Think Regular Deadlifts Are Hard, Wait Until You Try Deficit Deadlifts

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Ready to smash through your deadlift plateaus? Deficit deadlifts could be your secret weapon.

This advanced variation forces you to lift from a tougher starting position, building serious strength in the muscles responsible for that explosive pull off the floor.

deficit deadlifts
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Learn how to do them right, the ideal weights to use, and whether you should even add them to your routine. Get ready for a stronger, more powerful deadlift!pen_spark

What Are Deficit Deadlifts?

A deficit deadlift is very similar to a standard deadlift except you’re going to be standing on an elevated surface while your barbell is on the floor.

Any conventional deadlifts like sumo deadlifts and Romanian deadlifts can be performed from a deficit, but for this article, we’ll focus on form and muscles for a standard deficit deadlift.

In short, the term “deficit” is to say you’re doing the exercise from a disadvantage compared to its usual starting point in an attempt to help you deadlift stronger and build posterior chain strength.

Deficit Deadlift Muscles Used:

Just like most traditional deadlift variations, the deficit deadlift uses the hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors, calves, traps, and lats. This more advanced deadlift variation is a great starting point if you’re struggling a little with the regular deadlift exercise since it hits those muscle groups in a way to exercise your weaknesses when lifting. 

How To Deficit Deadlift

To get all the benefits of deficit deadlifts like an increase in hip mobility and an improved deadlift, let’s get into the specifics of an exercise like the elevated deadlift:

Set Up The Platform

First, you need something to stand on to achieve the desired deficit height. This can be a 45lb weight plate, a thicker hard mat, a steady block, or a piece of wood.

You can really use anything as long as it’s under 5 inches. Anything bigger puts you at risk of injuring your back, especially if you’re lifting heavier weights.

Really, the best height for a deficit is from 1”-2”. If you start off too high off the get-go you’re likely to lose the specificity of it and too much pressure on your back.

If you do want to try going higher, we recommend starting at a lower weight. 

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Your Foot And Shin Position

Make sure to have both your feet halfway under the bar and your shins touching lightly against it. If they’re too far back or even forward this can put you off balance and strain your energy levels. 

Hip Position

Unlike the standard deadlift, you’ll start with your hips slightly lower than where you would typically set up for a regular deadlift. Ensure that when you lift up with explosive power you’ll do that familiar hip hinge movement to the original deadlift to get that full impact of range.

Breathe And Brace

While you’re inhaling, brace your core while simultaneously engaging your lats. If you don’t brace and engage those muscles you’ll risk the barbell swaying or dipping forward, which can be incorrect form. Also, make sure to have a neutral spine and avoid any excessive rounding of the lower back.

Push With Your Legs

To begin the actual movement, start the initial pull with the mindset that you’re trying to “push the floor away.” Thinking this way will help engage your quads by extending your knees first. You want to make sure your gips don’t raise quicker than the barbell does.

Initiate The Lock-out

Once in a standing position, the goal is to “lockout” the hips and knees at the same time. This is identical to how you normally would with a standard deadlift so don’t think it’s too complicated. Once you get going you’ll learn what feels right.

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How Often Should I Do A Deficit Deadlift?

It’s best to program for fewer reps than you would a conventional deadlift. A deficit deadlift has greater time under tension because of the longer range of motion, so 5 reps in a set of 3 or 3 reps per set at a higher number of sets is a great place to start. However, after feeling it out and nailing down the proper movement people usually lift similarly to their standard deadlift. 

Is A Deficit Deadlift Harder Than A Regular Deadlift?

Technically yes. There is more time under tension and a longer range of motion while doing the elevated deadlift meaning it’ll be harder to complete especially during the initial pull. However, keep in mind that an exercise like this with increased time under tension can assist in muscle hypertrophy, strength, and muscle mass, which is usually the ultimate goal.

What Weight Should I Start At For A Deficit Deadlift?

This number will vary depending on training level and individual height, but for the average male, a good intermediate weight is around 366 lbs. If you’re a beginner, you’ll likely fair lower in the 200lb range. Though it’s very important to remember that putting on heavy weights, especially when starting out with deficit deadlifts, can lead to injuries. So, listen to your body and if you notice strange pains then stop and try a lower weight until you can deficit deadlift successfully without hurting yourself. Typically starting out with 10-25% less weight than you would during a conventional deadlift rep is a good rule of thumb to follow.

Should I Add Deficit Deadlifts To My Routine?

Since a deficit deadlift is not a beginner move there can be a lot of hesitation when learning them. Yes, they’re simple to set up, but without a solid foundation in deadlifting, it can be daunting to newbies. Because of this, we’ve come up with a list of questions to ask yourself to see if the deficit deadlift should be added to your training program right now.

  • Do you have good mobility for a deadlift?
  • Do you have a solid background in performing deadlifts?
  • Is there a reason you think you need to add deficit deadlifts to your routine?
  • Do you have a coach or someone with experience to help you with the correct form?
  • Do you have access to the space and equipment needed to do a deficit deadlift?
  • Are you currently in a deadlift plateau so to speak?
  • Are you looking to expose deadlift weaknesses? 

If any of those questions were, “no,” then maybe you need to rethink adding deficit deadlifts to your deadlift training. However, if you still want to give it a shot then don’t let us hold you back! Only you (and your coach if you have one) know what’s best for your routine and your body so if you want to try this fun deadlift variation then go for it.


Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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