Deficit Deadlifts – Training Percentages and Carryover to Deadlift

Deficit deadlifts are an effective deadlift variation to increase leg and back strength, improve setup and body poisoning specific to pulling movements, and enhance overall deadlifting performance with lifters who express sticking points at the onset of the pull and or lack general pulling strength.

In this article we will discuss the deficit deadlift, how heavy you should do them (training percentages), and the specific carryover to the regular deadlift.

Deficit Deadlift Exercise Demo

Below is an exercise demonstration on how to set up and perform the deficit deadlift, which can be done by standing on plates or blocks. It is important to note that this deadlift variation is not for beginners or those who cannot perform a regular deadlift with integrity and proper back positioning, as it does require greater mobility and strength.

Deficit Deadlift vs Regular Deadlift

The deficit deadlift is nearly identical to the regular deadlift, with the exception that the lifter pulls from a slight deficit (standing on blocks/ plates). The amount of deficit is also important, as the larger the deficit the harder the lift is relative to the regular deadlift. The most common deficit used is 1-3 inches, which can be effective at bring about the below adaptations without drastically changing the movement and pulling technique.

Training Intensities/Percentages

Programming deficit deadlifts can be done in a similar structure as any other deadlifting movement, with the understanding that the longer ranges of motion and less than ideal starting angle will typically decrease the amount of weight a lifter can move relative to the regular deadlift. I find that when programming deficit deadlifts, sets and reps can be kept the same as in regular pulls, however training percentages are often 5-15% lower than the regular deadlift.

For example, if a lifter has a 1RM deadlift of 500lbs, and is looking to do 3 sets of 5 repetitions for a deficit deadlift, at 80% RM (of the full deadlift), they should realistically be using 340-380lbs. The important thing to remember is that loads are often lower when compared to the regular deadlift, despite relative rate of perceived exertion (RPE), and therefore should be monitored accordingly.

Carryover to the Regular Deadlift

The deficit deadlift can have a significant impact on pulling strength, leg and back development, and overall muscle building capacities for powerlifters, weightlifters, and general fitness athletes. In the below section we will discuss five specific aspects of the regular deadlift that can be positively impacted by the inclusion of deficit training in a program.

Better Set Ups

Pulling from a deficit increases the need for tension and body awareness at the onset of the pull. Sometimes, a lifter cannot develop tension and create stability in the spine, hips, and legs at the onset of the deadlift simply because their bodies do not understand how to set up in the new positioning. By acclimating and developing body awareness and postural strength and control in the deficit deadlift, lifters will often find they can increase tension and strength in the regular deadlift following deficit training.

Stronger Leg Drive

Pulling from a deficit increases the amount of knee and hip flexion at the onset of the pull, placing our leverages and joint angles at a greater disadvantage, therefore increasing the need for the muscles to overcome and extend the joints. By increasing the range of motion, the liter will need to utilize their legs more at the start off the lift, as the lower, middle, and upper back will not be in a good position to overcome such angles. Once trained, the newly developed leg drive (as well as the other benefits below) can equate to a stronger set up and pull.

Improved Lower Back Strength

Deeper hip and knee flexion in the start of the deficit deadlift will often also increase the amount of demands placed upon the spinal erectors and lats to resist torso/spinal flexion, specifically at the middle and lower back. Deep joint angles in the deadlift (due to the deficit) can be challenging to maintain while under load, and therefore can work to increase our strength and awareness while in those positions. The carryover is that once a lifter develops strength and awareness at those new depths, he/she will be more adept to overcome pulls from more open starting angles as well (example, going from a deficit deadlift to a regular deadlift).

Greater Acceleration Off Floor

While acceleration training in the deadlift can be dependent on more than just developing strength in a longer range of motion (such as speed strength, band training, etc) it can be impacted to a certain degree by attaining greater force production capacities at deeper angles (like in the deficit deadlift). The ability to contract, promote force, and do so in a organized recruitment of muscle fibers can help the barbell to increase acceleration at the onset of the pull. Once the deficit is removed, a lifter may have trained more muscles fibers and developed more strength/hypertrophy from simply training deeper ranges of motion at the start.

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Minimize Sticking Points at Start

The deficit deadlift can be used to increase a lifter’s ability to break through sticking points off the floor and around shin level, most likely due to increased leg drive, back strength and positioning, and barbell acceleration off the floor. By combining those three carryovers, the net effect can be that a lifter will be able to (1) overcome sticking points in the deadlift due to greater force production, (2) overcome sticking points in the deadlift due to greater back and body positioning in the pull, and/or (3) overcome sticking points in the deadlift due to approaching the sticking point with more upwards acceleration/bar speeds.

More Deadlift Variations

Check out the below deadlifting articles and learn how to increase your strength in all phases of the pull!

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