Outdated studies and myths suggest that breaking past the parallel level in deep squats, and mobilizing past the standard range of motion in deadlifts and lunges, can put a tremendous amount of force on the knee joints and back, increasing your risk for injury. However, newer studies and research show there’s no such thing! In fact, deficit movements have many benefits. A deficit movement is traditionally a conventional movement performed with your feet elevated for increased range of motion (ROM). Ultimately, this places the lifter at a disadvantage, increases time under tension (TUT) and elongates the amount of time a lifter must work through the bottom end of the movements— which is typically the most challenging or weakest link of many lifters.
The key for safety, however, is for one to be ready to perform deficits experience-wise and via mobility. The objective is to get as strong as possible from the floor, and then start to add progressions slowly and see how they transfer. Your ability to display a safe position with an increased ROM is wildly important. If you cannot achieve good form, then the risk to reward ratio isn’t high enough for you to just plow through it. Work on mobility and strength on the ground, and then work your way into deficits.
Example for a squat: start normally at a 90-degree squat. Once perfection is achieved and you are not experiencing hip or knee pain, and you become more experienced and advanced in your lower body movements, experiment with increasing your range of motion by adding small platforms, plates, etc. to elevate your body from the ground. Progress slowly by adding elevation as you increase your range of mobility.
Another tip: start with your resistance in a range of 60 to 75 percent. Anything heavier, the form may deteriorate pretty quickly. Spend more time underloading (creating a disadvantage), traditionally loading and overloading. This offers the benefit of teaching someone how to really drive out of the bottom half. The deeper you squat, deadlift and lunge, the more you engage.
Try these five lower-body exercises utilizing deficit training, and take your training to a new level!
Elevated Cable Squat With Belt
Secure belt attachment to waist, with the cable placed at the lowest vertical setting, and resistance set at a challenging weight. Stand on platforms facing the frame of the cable machine, with one foot on each riser, in a proper squat stance. Keeping toes faced slightly outward and knees forward, bring your hips and torso as far down and possible. Press off heels when coming back up from the squat. The higher the risers and further distance from the cable setting, the more range of motion and deficit occurs.
Elevated Split Lunge
Begin by standing on platforms, both faced sideways, with one foot on each riser and holding dumbbells in hands. Bend the right knee between the risers, lowering your body toward the floor until both knees are bent past a 90-degree angle. At the bottom of the movement, aim for the right knee to break below the risers, keeping your left knee directly above the toe. Squeeze the glute as you press back up to start and keep the weight in your left leg. Continue moving down and up for desired number of reps and switch sides.
Elevated Kettlebell Deadlift
Stand on the elevated platforms so that you pick the weight up from the floor from a position that is lower than your feet. This makes a deeper starting position and activates more muscle to initiate the lift. Your foot stance should be shoulder width or slightly wider to allow room for the kettlebell to reach down past the risers in between your feet. Keeping your legs slightly bent, back and arms straight, press off heels to bring the kettlebell up to standing position without locking out knees.
Elevated Kettlebell Sumo Squat
Position your feet in a wide stance so they are wider than shoulder-width apart. Angle your toes so that they are facing outward. Lower your body downward until your thighs are past parallel to the ground. Hold this position, exhale and push through your feet to raise your body back to the starting position. Don’t allow your knees to go beyond your toes, and squeeze the glutes and abs as you perform the exercise.
Smith Machine Curtsy Lunge
Start by placing yourself in position under the Smith machine bar. Place the bar at the top of your traps and release the bar. Place your front leg on top of plates or platform for elevation. Start from a standing position, and step your left leg behind you on a diagonal so your thighs cross, bending both knees as if you were curtsying. Make sure your front knee is aligned with your front ankle. Release the bar, squat as far down as possible and return to standing position by pressing off the heel of the forward foot. After completing 12 reps, secure bar back to the rack position.
Photos by Robert Carani
Photos by Robert Carani