5 Benefits Of Deficit Deadlifts (+5 Other Things You Should Know)

If you’re looking for an exercise to help improve your speed and strength off the floor, as well as the strength and mobility of your leg, hip, and lower back muscles, there are few options better than the deficit deadlift.

The exercise is performed while positioned on an elevated surface - usually either a weight plate or riser - with a deficit ranging from one to four inches.

This guide will take an in-depth look at the deficit deadlift, including everything you need to know about the set-up of the exercise, the key benefits, as well as a number of other important considerations. We’ll also look to answer some of the frequently asked questions.

What exactly is a “deficit deadlift”?

This exercise is also known by many as the “elevated deadlift”, and can be performed by using either the sumo or conventional stance.

If you decide to opt for the conventional stance, you’ll be rewarded with a greater deficit, ranging anywhere from two to four inches. On the other hand, if you use the sumo stance, you’ll ideally want a smaller deficit, usually around one to two inches.

The difference in deficit is mainly because the sumo stance already challenges your hip mobility in the wider stance, therefore any extra range of motion may aggravate the hip joint - unless of course you possess a superior level of mobility in a natural sense.

Listed below are a few simple steps explaining how to set up and perform the deficit deadlift exercise. It’s worth noting that the same principles apply irrespective of whether you’re using the conventional or sumo stance.

Firstly, find something suitable in the gym to stand on such as plates or an elevated surface so you place the barbell in a deficit position. The most common method is to use 45lb plates.

To get into the right position, place your midfoot below the barbell and bring your shins forward to touch the deadlift bar.

In terms of your hip position, they’ll be slightly lower when performing the deficit deadlift than they would be in a regular deadlift.

As you prepare to begin the exercise, take a big breath in, brace your core, and engage your lats. This ensures that your shins remain touching the bar when initiating the movement.

To begin the lift, use your legs to push up off the floor. This motion will effectively activate your quad muscles to extend the knee, making sure your hips don’t rise at a quicker rate than the barbell.

Finally, to initiate the lock-out, do your best to lock the knees and hips simultaneously at the top of the movement.

Benefits Of Deficit Deadlifts

Once you’ve perfected the set-up and movement of the deficit deadlift, you can begin to enjoy the benefits associated with the exercise. We’ll now look to explain five of the main benefits of deficit deadlifts in greater detail.

More Effective Starting Position

One of the most common reasons that lifters sustain injuries or miss deadlifts is because of an ineffective start position.

Whether this is their back rounding, knees caving in, or hips shooting up before the barbell leaves the floor, incorrect starting technique places unnecessary stresses on the body.

However, by adding deficit deadlifts to your workouts, you’re able to expose your body to a far greater range of motion. This is because spending time in the deficit deadlift position requires greater strength and flexibility, which in turn makes starting in the standard deadlift position a lot less difficult.

Just keep in mind that it’s best if you stick to using lighter or moderate loads while performing the deficit deadlift exercise as the last thing you want is to recreate the same problems that you’re trying to rectify with the movement.

To put it simply, use a weight that’s comfortable and one where your back isn’t rounding, your knees remain stacked over your feet, and your hips move upwards at the same speed as the barbell.

To conclude: regularly performing deficit deadlifts in your workouts can improve flexibility and strength in the starting position, making it less of a struggle to hold a correct posture during regular deadlifts.

Improved Output Off The Floor

If you’re a lifter who struggles to push off the floor as you approach some of the heavier loads in the deadlift exercise, an area that you need to work on is breaking the floor.

In other words, it’s the bottom-end range where you don’t possess the required strength and speed to complete the heavier lifts.

Those who suffer from a bottom-end weakness often feel like they can successfully lock the weight out if they’re able to crack it from the floor.

Therefore, if you manage to raise the bar at least an inch from the floor, there’s every chance that you’ll be able to complete the lift. However, if you can’t manage this, it’s likely that you’ll fail the lift on the ground.

In terms of the deficit deadlift exercise, this adaptation of the regular deadlift exposes the bottom-end weakness even more due to the fact that it requires you to pull an extra range of motion. We’ll now look to explain why.

The starting position for a traditional deadlift is 8.75 inches. This is the distance from the floor up to where the barbell sits on the plate (usually 45lb). Irrespective of your height or the length of your limbs, this is the standard position that everyone pulls from.

In contrast, the starting position in a deficit deadlift has the bar lower than the standard 8.75 inches (usually around 6.5 inches). As a result, you’ll be starting from a disadvantaged position, meaning significantly more output is required to move the bar from the ground.

What’s more, this lower starting position closes the knee, hip, and ankle joints, causing the body to recruit unused muscle mass that’s not usually trained during a standard deadlift set-up.

To conclude: using deficit deadlifts and consistently training in the weaker range of motion will improve the efficiency and speed of your regular deadlifts off the floor.

Improved Leg Strength

Unlike the regular deadlift, the deficit deadlift requires you to sink your hips a little bit lower in the starting position and have a better flexion of the knee.

As a result of these adjustments, the exercise activates your quads considerably more than a regular deadlift, so much so that many people view the deficit deadlift as providing similar qualities to the squat.

The deficit deadlift is a useful exercise for lifters with weaker legs who find that their hip extensors often take over the movement.

If you’re unsure about whether your hip extensors are taking over your deadlift technique, it’s relatively easy to find out as your hips will tend to shoot up off the ground before the bar. This will make your back look like it’s horizontal before it picks up any kind of upward momentum.

If this is something that you’re struggling with, it’s important to increase the strength of your leg muscles by performing the deficit deadlift.

To conclude: if you need to build up strength in your quad muscles, deficit deadlifts are a great choice.

Increased Lower Back And Hip Strength

When performing a deficit deadlift, your hips and lower back will be challenged more due to the fact that the starting position of the exercise requires the lower back to cope with an increased range of motion.

As a result of this exposure to a greater range of motion, the muscles of the body produce increased levels of contraction, and subsequently become more resilient to the external load on the barbell.

Just keep in mind that you want to avoid excessive rounding in the lower back while performing the exercise. So long as you’re able to maintain a neutral spine, the lower back can be activated and worked safely. This means you’re able to gradually increase the load accordingly.

To conclude: if you’re looking to target the muscles in your lower back, the deficit deadlift is far more effective than a regular deadlift.

Improved Hypertrophy

The final benefit of performing deficit deadlifts that we’ll take a closer look at is improved hypertrophy, or in other words - muscle growth.

This mainly occurs because the exercise increases time under tension (the total duration of a rep). If you’re able to expose your muscles to exercises such as the deficit deadlift that provide greater time under tension, it’s proven to significantly increase the development of muscle protein synthesis.

To conclude: for lifers wanting to improve muscle mass in their quads and lower back, the deficit deadlift is an effective exercise to consider.

Other Considerations

In addition to the key benefits of deficit deadlifts, there are a number of other factors to take into account if you’re looking to implement the exercise into your workout program. Listed below are five of the most important things you need to know about the deficit deadlift.

What To Stand On

Before you begin to perform the exercise, it’s essential to find a heavy solid plate to stand on. This plate needs to be completely flat in order to resemble the type of solid and flat surface you’d perform a regular deadlift from.

It’s worth noting that sometimes using smaller diameter plates such as 5lbs or 10lbs is better for achieving this “flat surface”.

If you’re a sumo puller, it’s imperative that you don’t perform the deficit deadlift on an unstable surface or slippery plates. This is because the lateral force applied to the outside of the foot can result in the plates sliding away.

Greater Mobility Required

Due to the fact that you’ll be starting with the bar lower on the body, it’s vital to have a good amount of mobility at the ankle, knee, hip, and spine to reach the bar. The rules of set-up aren’t too different from the regular deadlift, except that every joint will be activated a few more degrees into flexion.

If you’re unable to perform the exercise with the bar in a lower position, there’s every chance that you’ll increase lower back rounding which can lead to a number of lower back injuries.

So, if you don’t possess the mobility to get into the deficit position without rounding the lower back, it isn’t worth performing the exercise in the first place.

How Low To Start

The starting deficit is determined by the mobility of the lifter. Remember, it’s essential that you get to the bar with a neutral spine. If you’re unable to do this, then the deficit deadlift isn’t the right exercise for you.

For the vast majority of lifters, a starting deficit of one to two inches is sufficient. A deficit of anything more than a couple of inches is likely to increase the risk versus reward.

Despite the risks associated with a deficit of three to four inches, some lifters move onto this deficit if their mobility holds up well at the previous depth.

Breathing Mechanics

Performing a deficit deadlift requires the lifter to compress their bodies more than a regular deadlift in order to get to the bar. It’s a position that’s similar to the leg press exercise - one that can increase blood pressure numbers as high as the 370/360 mark.

Just keep in mind that some lifters often feel lightheaded when getting into a deadlift position due to an increased arterial pressure. Furthermore, wearing a belt while lifting can increase body compression and time under tension, potentially leading to higher blood pressure.

How Heavy Should You Go

Deficit deadlifts are considerably more difficult to perform than regular deadlifts, therefore it’s always a good idea to be a little conservative when moving up to the heavier weights.

Try to remember that the main goal of the exercise is to improve your technique of getting the barbell off the floor quickly. Hitting the heavy weights isn’t the priority, so try to avoid loading this movement too much.

Benefits of Deficit Deadlifts - FAQ's

Do deadlifts burn belly fat?

Deadlifts are one of the most popular exercises among athletes looking to build strength in the lower areas of their body such as legs, thighs, and lower back.

As a result, performing deadlifts regularly can help you to burn belly fat efficiently by involving muscles from these areas into your workout.

Do deadlifts get you big?

There are few exercises better for bulking up the superficial back muscles than the deadlift. Furthermore, the deadlift also trains the hips through a deep range of motion, maximizing any potential gains in the glutes.

Due to the fact that a range of different muscles are worked effectively, the deadlift is often described as a full-body exercise for the whole posterior chain.

What’s better, deadlifts or squats?

This all depends on your specific fitness goals. Deadlifts are more effective for improving your grip strength, core, posterior chain, glutes, and hamstrings, while squats are equally effective if you’re looking for strength gains in your lower back, legs and core.

For beginners just starting out in the gym, squats are a better option as they place less stress on the body.

Does the deadlift work the core muscles?

If you perform the deadlift correctly with the proper technique, the exercise will strengthen most of the muscles in your body, including the abdominals. In the deadlift, your core muscles act as stabilizer muscles.

How many deadlifts should I do?

This depends on the type of training that you’re looking to do. Most powerlifters tend to perform anywhere between one to eight reps, with strength-specific workouts usually around the three to five rep mark.

For bodybuilders who want to add muscle to their back, they’re closer to the eight to 12 rep range.

What is a deficit stiff leg deadlift?

This variation of the deadlift is an isolation movement that mainly focuses on hip flexion and extension. Stiff leg deadlifts can be used by lifters of all experience levels, and are great for increasing hypertrophy, muscular strength, and neuromuscular control of the muscles used in explosive movements. 

Kevin Harris