Exercise Video of the Week: Deficit Deadlifts

An often under utilized exercise that I’ve been programming more lately is the deficit deadlift.

The deficit deadlift is quite simply a supercharged deadlift. Whether you want to build muscle or improve your strength, the deficit deadlift is an invaluable exercise for lifters of all experience levels.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to safely perform the movement and find out which set and rep scheme are best for you.

The Deficit Deadlift

A deficit deadlift is simply a deadlift that is performed standing on an elevated surface, usually 1-3 inches high. Rubber mats or weight plates can be used to create the deficit. You can do these with a conventional or sumo set up.

Because of the deficit, you’re increasing the range of motion of the lift. This is beneficial for several reasons:

  • During hypertrophy phases when adding muscle is the goal, the hamstrings get taken through a greater range of motion which is beneficial for adding size. There is more time under tension on the posterior chain which greatly benefits muscle building potential.
  • During strength phases, the deficit serves to help build strength off the floor. This is crucial for powerlifters and strength enthusiasts alike who care about lifting maximal weights.

Before I get into any more specifics of the lift, watch this quick tutorial to see how to do them properly. 

Technique Tips

  • Make sure you’re only using a 1-3″ deficit. Any more than this just isn’t necessary.
  • Your shins will need to travel foward a bit more in order to get the hips down enough to create a good pulling position. Since these aren’t stiff leg deadlifts, you’ll want to get the hips down slightly lower than you would in your normal deadlift setup.
  • When you set up, make sure to pull up on the bar while setting your hip position so that you take any slack out of the bar.
  • Brace your abs hard and try to lead with your chest as you push the floor away.
  • Stand tall, flexing your abs and glutes hard at the top.
  • Ensure the bar stays in close to the body the entire time by keeping your lats squeezed down towards your pockets.

Programming For Your Goal

So I mentioned earlier that you can use this exercise either for hypertrophy gains, or increases in strength.

Here’s how to do it.

For hypertrophy: On your primary deadlift day, give this one some playing time. To help grow the hamstrings, glutes, and erectors, do these for sets of 6-12 reps with around 60-75% of your 1RM. Start a bit more conservative with the weight and gradually increase over time. Over the course of a hypertrophy phase, aim to add one set per week while slightly increasing the weight and reps.

If gaining muscle or losing body fat is your primary goal then opt for higher reps on these.

Here’s me in action during a hypertrophy phase:


For strength: If building more strength off the floor is more important for you, then consider using deficit deadlifts during your strength phase of your training.

Keep the reps between 3-6 and use 75-90% of your 1RM for the best strength gains.

*Important note*

The percentage you use is based on your max for that specific exercise. If you try to use 90% of your pull from the floor you’ll more than likely be using way too much weight because deficits are harder. For this reason, bump your “max” down to account for this, and then get to building some serious strength.

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