Deficit Deadlifts vs Rack Pulls

Deficit deadlifts and rack pulls are two popular deadlift variations that can be used to address individual strength limitations and/or increase performance at certain phases of the lift. In this article we will break down both movements, offer exercise demonstration of each, and discuss the unique differences between both movements to assist coaches and athletes in programming for maximal pulling performance.

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Deficit Deadlift

The benefits of the deficit deadlift have been discussed in past articles, all of which pointing out that this deadlift variation can be a great training variation to increase leg drive, back strength, and strengthen a lifter’s abilities off the floor/in the set up.

Exercise Demo

Below is an exercise demo of the deficit deadlift done by Mark Bell, demonstrating how to properly set up and execute this movement.

Rack Pull

The rack pull is a deadlift variation that is one from blocks or racks at varying heights to increase a lifter’s ability to overcome loads at sticking points of strengthen specific phases of the full deadlift. The ability to overload either above or below a sticking point can help lifters and coaches increase pulling strength, back development, and enhance lockout performance in the deadlift and other pulling movements.

Exercise Demo

Below isa throughout exercise demonstration on how to properly set up and execute the rack pull, which can be done a wide assortment of heights to address sticking points, increase back strength, and/or build lockout strength.

Deficit Deadlift vs Rack Pull

The deficit deadlift and rack pull are two deadlift variation that can be done with most athletes and ability levels to progress, regress, or simply vary a pulling program to diversify strength and pulling performance.

Leg Strength and Drive

The deficit deadlift has the lifter start in a deeper flexed (ankle, knee, and hip joints) position due to the lifter having to cover a longer range of motion in the lift. By doing so, the lifter must extend the knees and hips from deeper closed joint angles, increasing strength and leg drive  at the onset of the lift. While the rack pull can be done to increase hip drive, specifically from above the knee positions, the overall stimulus off the floor to the legs and hips in the deficit deadlift can have a significant impact of a lifter’s set up strength and first pull.

Grip Strength and Development

Nearly every pulling movement will help lifers develop grip strength and upper body pulling abilities, however the rack pull can be used to overload a lifter with greater loads. Due to the limited range of motion, and having the lifter start in a less flexed (ankle, knee, and hip joints in greater extension at the start of the lift) position, the lifter is often able to lift more weight. By doing so, the lifters grip, back, and upper traps are challenged to a higher degree simply due to the overloading of the movement, making the rack pull a great way to let lifters grip and rip heavier loads that they otherwise would not be able to lift from the floor.

Back Strength and Development

Both the deficit deadlift and the rack pull can work to increase back strength (lower, upper, and traps). The deficit deadlift has a lifter placed at a greater mechanical disadvantage, often challenging the lower and middle back greater than rack pulls, which place greater stress and demands upon the middle and upper back/traps. Both movements can be integrated into training programs to develop overall back strength and performance specific to pulling movements (deadlifts, cleans, snatches, etc).

Application to Regular Deadlift

Both deadlift variations can be used to address weaknesses in a lifter’s deadlifting and pulling performance. The deficit deadlift can be used to increase a lifter’s strength and positioning off the floor in the pull, or to help them develop great leg drive and strength specific to the deadlift. This is typically a good training option for lifters who fail to break barbells from the floor, get stuck a few inches off the ground, or lose fail to keep a strong, stable, neutral spine in the pull (specifically off the floor/around the shins). The rack pull can be used to increase lock out strength, grip strength, and help a lifter finish the lift above the knee. By doing rack pulls, you can overload the deadlifting movement creating a  great neurological stimulus that can also have an impact of poverty pulling potentials.

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