Benefits Of Deficit Deadlifts

I fought against implement deficit deadlifts for a long time. I saw video after video of people performing them with terrible positioning, rounded lower back with the pelvis tucked under, and really just turning them into an odd looking stiff leg deadlift. But rather than allow my bias to continue, I feel like I have found great use of deficit deadlifts recently. The typical reasoning I had heard for implementing deficits as a variation was to increase someone’s strength off the floor on the deadlift. But with seeing them typically performed incorrectly, that didn’t really click with me. But what I have come to realize is the understanding of HOW deficit deadlifts can improve strength off the floor, and it is not just because you perform them. It is because you perform them with proper position and leg drive to learn to to actively recruit the legs, specifically the quads, correctly in the starting position to “leg press” the floor away. One caveat to all of this is that this pertains to conventional deadlift only. Sumo deadlifts done in a deficit places the lifter in a very odd position that will either result in significant hip shoot or just end up replicating a wide stance squat. The squat in general tends to train the sumo deadlift very well, so I’d prefer to rely on squat volume and intensity to produce that adaptation rather than try sumo in a deficit variation. So with that being said, I wanted to give a breakdown of the when, how and why of implementing deficits with success.

1. As I’ve already alluded to, the main reason I have programmed deficit deadlifts is to help a particular athletes with understanding how to properly utilize leg drive in the starting position of their deadlift. I would consider this a more advanced variation though, and I think the reason it is misused so often is that people jump right to deficits rather than learning the basics of deadlifting prior. As shown above (CLICK HERE), Joaquin already had a decent deadlift. His positioning was fairly good, bar path was solid, and he developed good tension off the floor. But he tended to lock his knees out too early, and I blame this on the over thinking of the cue “pull” rather than “leg press” off the floor. The first thing he mentioned when I had him do deficits is how much more he felt his quads engaged, and that was spot on with what I was looking for. For someone who has more issues with their deadlift and cannot achieve good positioning, tension, and bar path, I am probably not going to implement deficit deadlifts. Instead, I’d rather work on technique and form on their normal competition deadlift and maybe with pause deadlifts as well. But when someone needs that last little bit of leg drive reinforcement off the floor, deficits are starting to becoming my go to.

2. So that is the when and why, so let’s now take a look at the how. The single biggest thing I think I may do different than others with a deficit deadlift is that I don’t want much of a deficit at all. Typically 1.5 to 2 inches at most, or else it starts to become a very different movement, and a movement where a lifter most likely will not be able to maintain proper lumbar and pelvic position. Just like with how I program close grip bench press, we do not want to stray too far away from our normal competition movement pattern or else we start creating new habits that may carry over in a bad way. Second, one of my biggest pet peeves is seeing people touch and go on deficit deadlifts, which pretty much eliminates the whole point of doing them. If we are bouncing off the floor, that momentum is carrying through that 1.5-2 inch deficit and now just putting us right back into our normal deadlift position anyways. And lastly, we need to make sure the deficit variation is creating the desired effect we want on the lifter’s movement pattern. With the video above we can see this all in action. Notice how Joaquin’s knees were locking prematurely and how initially off the floor he had a slight hip rise and chest fall. Whereas with the deficit deadlifts, as soon as he initiates the movement his hips and chest rise together, tension stays on his quads as well and he “leg presses” the floor away.  His lock out is more fluid between the hips and knees, rather than mainly a hip extension dominant lock out. If we are implementing a variation of any of the competition movements to help improve some type of position or movement fault, it is vital that we see that improvement within the variation. If we are not, then it is just reinforcing the same bad positions and not achieving the desired effect.

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