How to Shorten Your Legs Without a Hacksaw

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

For athletes with long legs, artificially "shortening" the legs may be necessary for the deadlift.

Jonathon Sullivan MD, PhD, SSC, PBC

In certain gyms occupying the danker realms of the Inferno, there exists an unpleasant assistance exercise called a deficit deadlift, used by advanced and competitive athletes to take their deadlifts from Damn Strong to Really Damn Strong. In this variant, the lifter positions himself above the level of the floor, so the bar is an inch or two lower relative to the usual. (One could also, I suppose, lower the floor, but that often presents logistical, safety, and marital difficulties that outweigh the supposed benefits).

The deficit dead is used for advanced lifters because it lengthens the pull and results in a more horizontal back, which will suggest to anybody with a modicum of imagination and experience that the exercise is harder. It is.

The ideal, perfect, categorical, Platonic Deadlifter is a short guy with short legs, long arms incapable of flexing and actively pulling on the bar, and steel hooks where his hands are supposed to be. This guy can set up with a less horizontal back, and his distance to lockout is relatively short--meaning he has to do less work to complete his pull.

The ideal deadlifter has short legs, long arms, big hands, and absolutely no ability to pull on the bar with his arms.
Mr. Deadlift.

Figure 1. Mr. Deadlift. Short legs, long arms, big strong hands, short distance from floor to lockout, nice smile, really badass shorts. This guy does your max for reps to warm up on light day.

Fortunately, not all of us are built like this. Some people are what we might call "lanky," or what the Scandinavians call "average." Some people have very long legs relative to their torsos and arms. When you take these praying-mantis-phenotype outliers through a standard deadlift setup, what you'll get is the bar over the midfoot (good), shins on the bar (good), knees inside the elbows (good), arms projecting posteriorly to the bar (good), hamstrings tight (good), long straight elbows (good), and the ass higher than the shoulders (unfortunate). They end up in a deficit deadlift position by default, simply by virtue of their anthropometry.

So, when it comes to deadlifts, those people are screwed.

Athletes with super-long legs are screwed in the deadlift. But not irretrievably screwed.
What happens to your deadlift when you have the wrong parents.

In both figures, trunk and arm length are identical. Stumpy, in A, has a perfect dead setup, and his back angle is in a nominal range. Lanky, in B, also has a perfect deadlift setup, and his back angle can be most charitably described as unenviable.

But they're not irretrievably screwed, because we can make adjustments to get them out of the deficit position, into something resembling a more standard deadlift setup.

The key here is to make their legs shorter.

Hacksaws and other invasive approaches to this solution have proven unsatisfactory in my client population, and there have been some vociferous recriminations and lost revenue. Mistakes were made.

But a noninvasive approach is available, and the solution my colleagues and I most often use turns out to be astonishingly simple.

First, we ask the athlete to widen the grip. The astute reader may recoil from this suggestion. After all, if we widen the grip, we have two immediate