Deficit deadlifts have been used for a LONG time by some of the strongest lifters in the world. Personally, I have found them to be a reliable tool to help boost my numbers, and the numbers of certain people that I have programmed for.
Success leaves clues.
With the information below you can decide if deficit deadlifts can be utilized in your training, as it is with many record holding lifters today.
A deficit deadlift is traditionally a conventional deadlift performed with your feet elevated.
The obvious reason to perform this movement is the increased range of motion (ROM). This will put the lifter at a disadvantage, increase time under tension (TUT), and elongate the amount of time a lifter must work through the bottom end of the movements – which is typically the most challenging or weakest link.
Additionally, it offers the benefit of teaching someone how to really drive out of the bottom half. The increased amount of hip flexion, and generally more vertical torso angle needed to achieve a good position in the deficit pull will stress the duty of the quadriceps to break you from the ground.
When is an important question to consider when looking at this deadlift variation. If one is not prepared for the demands, the likelihood of injury will increase.
For me, the question of when has less to do with training experience, and more to do with mobility.
Considering training experience:
Deficit pulls can be used by the very beginner, to the very advanced. In fact, the middle ground lifter is who I see it the least suited for. The very beginner can benefit from the added ROM, and TUT. It will force them to work on stability through a larger ROM. Furthermore, it can teach some solid habits in setting up that only become easier as the feet are lowered. Seeing as they are already using, and benefiting from lower intensities, it’s not a bad fit.
The middle ground lifter, in my opinion, is best suited to spend more time pulling from the ground. They need to tap out on being very specific, then they can begin to branch off. Having to many lifts, to early, presents too many variables. Get as strong as possible from the floor, then start to add things in slowly and see how they transfer.
Considering movement restrictions:
Your ability to display a safe position with an increased ROM is wildly important. Movement restriction is tested on a deficit deadlift more so than any other popular big lift variation. It is, as far as I have seen, the only lift that increases a ROM (shy of maybe some people who squat high and then don’t on some variations, and snatch grip DL’s due to the hand position).
If you can not achieve an acceptable back position, the risk to reward ratio isn’t high enough for you to just plow through it. If you want to improve your mobility I would look at ankle dorsiflexion, and thoracic spine extension as your limiting factors.
Deficit pulls fit into everyone’s training philosophy differently. If I were to split a lifters training career into thirds, with the last third lasting an indefinite amount of time, then they would fit in the first and the last block. I discussed why a few paragraphs above.
From a training cycle standpoint, I have seen people who use them all the way up into the 80% ranges. Many of them, just do all their pulling from a deficit until they get into the 90% range. At that point they practice the technique from the ground, bank on the added ROM they have been training in, and often find some great progress for themselves.
I like to use them in the 60 – 75% range. Anything heavier than that and I think my form deteriorates pretty rapidly. Furthermore, in a complete training cycle I want to spend time under loading (creating a disadvantage), traditionally loading, and overloading. If I were to always pull from a deficit it would be harder to fit that all in.
Finally, the how. It’s really pretty straight forward, so I am going to elaborate just a bit.
For me, there are two kinds of deficit pulls. One, changes your technique, and the other does not. They are both useful, but need to be used at the right times, and the right weights.
The first is pulling from anything over about 1″. I would never advocate more than 2-2.5″. Anything over 1″ will get you into that knees forward, more vertical torso position. This can help teach your body to break the ground, but use it too long and it will start to interfere with your technique. I will use an above 1″ deficit at 60-68.5%
The second is at 1″, I don’t see a big point to something lower. At 1″(ish) you can maintain your technique from the floor, for the most part. I would use this height for 70% and higher.
A nice 4 week wave could have you like this:
60% at 2.5″ – 65% at 2″ – 70% at 1.5″ – 75% at 1″