Why the Deficit Deadlift Is a Great Modification for Beginners

The mighty deadlift is a classic exercise—and one that trainers love. It’s a compound move that works multiple muscle groups at once, which makes it really efficient and effective at building strength in the back of your body—namely your glutes and hamstrings—and even your core. But it can also be an exercise that’s tricky for beginners. That’s where variations come in, like the deficit deadlift, a modified move we spotted on trainer Dan Saladino’s Instagram.

You can check out the post below, via @donsaladino:

The “deficit” comes from the extra inch or so of height from the ground that Saladino gains by standing on a weight plate. You can also use any other stable, flat surface that lifts you slightly off the ground.

As Saladino points out in the caption, this modification can be great for people with long arms who feel they can’t get a big enough range. But the long-limbed aren’t the only ones that can benefit from a deficit deadlift.

“The deficit [lets you use a larger] range of motion, encouraging you to utilize more of your quads and posterior chain,” certified personal trainer Nadia Murdock tells SELF. Deadlifts already work the posterior chain, or the muscles at the rear of the body like the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, trapezius, posterior deltoids, and erector spinae. But as Murduck explains, the deficit adds a larger range of motion to your deadlift, meaning you have to bend your knees and hips a bit more to lift the weight from the floor. In this position, you’ll put a greater demand on your legs and quads and drive the movement from these powerful muscles.

This will also help you develop more strength in these posterior chain muscles, which will lead to bigger lifts over time. “This move is excellent for those that may have a hard time increasing their weight in a traditional deadlift,” Murdoch says.

According to Mike Septh, certified personal trainer at Aaptiv, the deficit modification can help beginners properly execute the initial pull of the deadlift, or the moment when your back, traps, and shoulders work together to lift the weight.

Trainers swear by deadlifts for the multitude of benefits that come from this one basic move. First and foremost, it’s a compound exercise, meaning it works many muscle groups at once. It’s even a great sneaky core workout. And according to Septh, the benefits of a deadlift only increase over time. Aside from the immediate workout you’ll get in the posterior chain, strengthening these muscles over time can help improve your posture and full-body strength.

Proper form for a deficit deadlift is the same as for a regular deadlift. (You just so happen to be standing an inch higher.)

  • Stand behind a barbell with your feet hip-width apart with your hands slightly wider than hip-width.
  • Keeping your arms fully extended, bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips as you push your butt back. Lower down until you can grip onto the barbell with both hands.
  • Keeping your chest up, core engaged, back flat, and weight in your heels, stand up and pull the bar up your shins and quads, keeping it as close as possible to your body. At the top, squeeze your butt.
  • Slowly lower the weight back down by bending your knees, hinging forward at your hip, and pushing your butt back.

The move should finish at the top with a “completely erect spine and fully extended hip,” says Septh. Murdock notes that before lifting, you should center your body on the platform and make sure the platform is big enough that you’re not wobbling off. Your feet should be sturdy during a deadlift, whether you’re on the floor or standing on a weight plate.

As Septh notes, the deadlift is “one of the most fundamental exercises that a person can do,” so whether you grab the nearest box or keep your feet on the floor, this lift is worth a try ASAP.

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