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break through plateaus with deficit training

Break Through Plateaus with Deficit Training

To make muscles grow, usually lifters with a good head on their shoulders will combine the perfect mix of volume and intensity. That means an increased number of sets to up overall work capacity coupled with a weight that poses a challenge for the muscle. Add low rest intervals and you’ve got a recipe for size. 

So you’ve done that.  And you’ve added size. Good on you. 

But what happens when you reach the inevitable plateau?  It’s only a matter of time before the body adapts to a training method and your gains become scant. “Changing it up” is the name of the game, but choosing different exercises, set schemes, and rest intervals can only go so far. 

We’re forgetting about another important piece to the size puzzle—time under tension (TUT).  Increasing the time a muscle spends under tension increases its work capacity and also helps release necessary hormones for growth like testosterone and HGH. It makes sense when you think about it. Having a heavy bar on your back for 60 seconds will be better than having a heavy bar on your back for 20 seconds where building muscle is concerned. 

Other than playing with your tempo, an easy, quick, and less often used way of increasing TUT would be through adding a deficit to certain exercises.  This increases the ROM and ultimately makes you more beastly. Here are four of the best moves to use deficit training with. 

Deficit Deadlifts

If you want increased grip strength, added flexibility, and a kick start to posterior chain development, then adding a deficit to your deadlift variations is key. To do them, set up a 6-inch box or step platform under your feet, but make sure the barbell still rests on the floor. Assume the same starting position you normally would with a flat back and proper setup, and go to town.  

Note: If you don’t have adequate flexibility to assume a good start position from a deficit when deadlifting, stick with the conventional deadlifts with no deficit until you can achieve this. It’s not a safe idea to pull without the necessary tightness.

Reverse Lunges from Deficit

Reverse lunges on their own help the posterior chain to fire first since the first movement is initiated by the glutes and hamstrings to step backward, rather than the hips and quads to step forward. You can add to the glute involvement by adding a deficit—starting by standing on a low box. Use dumbbells, and ensure that your working leg has the heel firmly planted on the box. Aim for a full depth with the trailing knee so that it reaches the floor. The glutes and hamstrings have to work overtime to overcome the deficit and climb the body back up to the box. 

Deficit Push-Ups

Simply planting your hands on a pair of dumbbells on the ground gives the chest a few vital inches of extra ROM when doing push-ups or weighted push-ups. As long as you don’t have any pre-existing shoulder conditions, this can be a key to trigger stubborn chest development.  

To hit every last fiber, attempt to get the chest to travel “thorough” the hands, and don’t let the stomach or hips sag in towards the floor as you’re doing it. Use partial reps if you want to keep more constant tension on the pecs—don’t come up much past 90 degrees. Extend your final set by doing partials until you reach absolute failure. These go well as a supplementary exercise to the flat bench, incline press or pin press in your chest workout. 

Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats from Deficit

Though this may be the simplest of all the movements, the effectiveness is probably the most far reaching.  

First, the setup. To create a deficit in the RLESS, simply elevate the front foot by a few inches using a step platform. Ensure that the rear knee travels all the way past the box and makes it to the floor. The benefits are plenty. First, on the working leg, the glutes get the chance to work harder due to the added depth and smaller angle of hip flexion. On the elevated leg, that same added depth can act as a vehicle for increased mobility and flexibility to the hip flexors and hip region. This is my number one go-to exercise to assist the barbell squat, as I believe it has huge carryover. 

How to stay comfortable during the RLESS

In my experience, I’ve found that many people get foot cramps, foot stress, and general discomfort from performing the RLESS in the recommended technical fashion. For most, it’s a flexibility issue, causing the inability to plant the shoelaces of the elevated leg, down on the bench. Watch the video below where I go into detail and give the simple, though much needed, fix to this problem. 


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We Love Fitness - 2013