The deadlift, along with the squat, are two of the best exercises that you can perform–but the deadlift may be king. Whereas the squat challenges the whole body to perform, it’s obviously a more lower-body focused exercise. The deadlift not only takes a full-body effort but works almost every muscle in the body from your feet up to your neck.
What is a Deficit Deadlift
A deficit deadlift is a variation of the deadlift which is performed using a weight plate or a short platform to stand on. The deficit deadlift serves as an important exercise as it will help to build strength to improve your ability and power overall for a regular deadlift. The difference here is that you will be using an elevation to stand on when performing them.
As great as the conventional deadlift is, it helps to have some alternatives to be able to improve it–and get some extra benefits–and that will be the focus of this article.
Benefits of the Deficit Deadlift
As mentioned, the deficit deadlift will help to build strength, but also transfer over to improve your regular deadlift. As we discussed, the traditional deadlift is one of the best exercises to build power, strength, muscle, and athletic performance.
The deficit deadlift is also a great way to provide a new stimulus to the body and create variation in your workout which can lead to greater gains in strength and muscle. It also helps you to learn the ideal technique as you need to focus on form and coordination to properly perform it.
The deficit deadlift may also help you with flexibility while still building some extra strength. It also helps you build leg and hip strength as these muscles need to be very active when executing the lift.
The deficit deadlift is also helpful in building the strength and power for those who have trouble performing the first stage of the deadlift.
How to do a Deficit Deadlift
If you’ve never done a deficit deadlift before, you want to start simple with only a one or two-inch elevation from the ground. A flat, 45-pound plate is a good starting point, and as you progress with them, you can go to a 2 to 4-inch elevation to help increase the deficit.
Here is how to properly do a deficit deadlift:
- Stand with your feet spread to the edge-but still flat on the plate which should be close to shoulder-width apart, and bring the barbell in as close to your shins as possible.
- Starting position will be close to a squat with the head up and chest out
- Grasp the bar with your hands just outside of your legs
- Keeping the back straight, and the core tight, exhale as you start to pull the bar up, focusing on pushing through your feet and keeping the bar close to the shins on the way up
- Drive the hips forward while continuing to pull the bar up where it should be touching the front of your legs
- At the top of the position, flex your glutes to full engage the lift, then inhale as you lower back under control to the starting position with the weights touching the ground
Deficit Deadlift Muscles Worked
The deadlift itself will target a majority of the back muscles, but there will be a focus on the posterior chain while doing a deficit deadlift including:
- Erector spinae
- Biceps femoris
- Adductor magnus
You will still target your trapezius, lats, quads, rhomboids, abdominals, obliques, and the flexor muscles through the forearms.
Deficit Deadlifts vs Regular Deadlift
The big difference is that the deficit deadlift will use the elevated platform. The regular deadlift allows you to pull more weight as you are in full contact with the ground. The regular deadlift not only allows for more weight to be lifted, but will result in greater strength gains, power, and possible muscle.
The deficit deadlift–as mentioned–is a great lift variation that not only improves the regular deadlift, but comes with some added benefits such as improved flexibility, better leg strength, and possibly more gains in hypertrophy.
When to Use This Lift Variation
Not only does this lift help to improve your overall traditional deadlift, but it is also the go-to choice if you have any sticking points on the traditional deadlift–especially through the first phase of the lift. You will also want to use this lift variation if you are looking to build more speed coming up off the floor.
If your starting position in the traditional deadlift has been struggling, this will also be a great time to start using this lift variation. If you find yourself with weaker hips, and a weak lower back, you would also want to use deficit deadlifts–but make sure to start light to master the form and prevent injuring yourself.
They are also a good choice if you are wanting to focus more on muscle growth as opposed to just the strength and power building that can come from regular deadlifts. With a lighter weight, you will be able to perform more reps and generate more hypertrophy.
Alternatives to Deficit Deadlifts
One way to create an alternative to this lift is to perform it by using dumbbells. It’s important to note that using dumbbells can lead to greater flexion in the back so spine neutrality is critical.
Since the dumbbells are not as high as weight plates, it will take longer for them to reach the ground. This may be difficult depending on your height and level of flexibility. As usual, make sure to start light to master to form and avoid injury.
Hex bar deficit deadlifts are also a great alternative. With the hex bar (or trap bar), you now are changing your arm position which can result in the muscles being used in a different way with less bicep engagement. The hex bar deadlifts may also build some more strength, speed, and power over traditional deadlifts. Heavier loads may be lifted and the lift may be performed faster.
There is also the option to perform these with a low cable pulley. You would start with the same set up with the elevated surface, but this time use a straight bar cable attachment. It will be a bit tougher to get closer to the cable, but keeping the bar tight to the legs will be a way to replicate the barbell deficit deadlift.
Personal Trainer Tips
A proper warm-up is going to be critical before any type of deadlift. Any deadlift is a full-out maximum effort exercise and will really engage your central nervous system. Not only that, but you are working a majority of muscles in the body so make sure to do at least a 5-10 minute warmup to get the heart rate up and blood flowing to working muscles.
It also helps to do some dynamic stretching to not only warm the body up but to get more blood flow to the muscles. It is also helpful to start with a series of lighter warmup sets to get your body and muscles familiar to the motion.
A good cooldown, and stretching period, will also help to jumpstart recovery due to the taxing nature of deadlifting. Paying attention to form here is key. Keeping a neutral spine is critical throughout the lift as deficit deadlifts can lead to back flexion.
Form and keeping the back as straight as possible need to be a priority and it may help to have someone watch you during the exercise to make sure you are performing them correctly and safely.