Avoid the Jefferson Lift

The Jefferson lift has you place the barbell so that it goes between the legs with one foot ahead of the other. The ends of the bar are in front and behind you or, more often, to each side, so that the bar may touch your shins. Though in some ways it may seem like a good choice, the Jefferson lift risks your safety and works less well than the squat.

The Jefferson lift, also known as a straddle deadlift, got its name from the strongman Charles Jefferson. It gained fame with the rise of functional training, which brings many poor exercises, tools, and methods. Trainees may use it to hit the quads more so than on a deadlift. They also may feel it works well if they do not have a power rack for squats. It does make the deadlift feel more like a squat and would seem to strike a good balance to use all of the lower body. It could give some variety that the trainee feels he or she needs.

The Jefferson lift brings problems though for these reasons.


Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.

– Euripides

  • You lift with a twist of the spine.

The twist you start with as you lift, along with the fact that you will rotate your core more so as you move, places torsion on the spine.

Some tout that the Jefferson lift avoids shear on the spine by placing the load between the legs instead of in front of you as on most dead-lifts. They ignore that torsion places shear within the spine itself. Adding a load to the fray will only make this worse. This twist will also up the odds that you will round the lower back.

The single-armed dumbbell row may bring in a slight twist if just to stop movement away from neutral. This trains the core much better. This also occurs with intervals such as when you sprint, as seen through the serape effect.

  • It feels unbalanced.

The stance you use targets the lead leg. The over-under grip that many will use does not work the upper body evenly. If you choose to use just one tough set, this poses a problem. If you use more than one set, you still must hope that you place yourself the same each time. Otherwise leads to even less balance.

This brings some of the issues that come with unilateral exercises. Mostly though, this lack of balance harms the joints and fails to work all the muscles well. This stops your body from using each part smoothly as a unit.

Choose exercises that train your muscles in medium positions. This hits all of them well and puts no odd forces on the joints. As you get strong, they will all grow, with no isolation needed.

  • You should lift in the sagittal plane only.

Some say that the lack of balance, which risks your safety, is an asset of the Jefferson lift. They may state that you need to work the stabilizers. You must get ready for the unknown nature of life.

Your body moves in planes. The arrangement of your parts makes it clear that you should lift in the sagittal plane. This occurs from front to back and divides the body into halves, such as when you flex and extend a joint. The bench press, squat, and row, the only exercises you should use when you lift, all have you lift in this plane. Otherwise your muscles work weakly and you will harm your joints.

Some muscles mostly move loads and others mostly hold positions. Any muscle that can move to a side, such as when bending at the waist or by lifting your arm so that your hand is as far away as you can get, works a stabilizer.

These muscles, as a rule, will not grow too large. If they are, this comes from having to control other large muscles and due to their long moment arms. They have not evolved to move with loads. They instead should gain endurance to better hold positions.

Your body seeks to form a strong position when you lift. These stabilizers then work on every exercise. Train them by staying tight on your lifts and on intervals such as when you climb stairs.

  • You must learn endless cues.

Like any odd lift, you have to learn many cues just to stay as safe as you can. While some cues are good, too many harms effort as they distract you. Instead, good form should feel simple in time. You still may want to make a cue list that gives you a few tips before a lift though.

  • Variety has no purpose.

Variety causes trainees to use bad exercises. Variety just forms an illusion of progress since your body must learn the movement. This leads to quick progress at first but does not change the body.

You may not even be able to do the Jefferson lift if your body does not allow it, such as by having short arms.

If you fail to improve, you instead need to use a good program. Eat enough and eat well. Get enough good sleep and rest. Fixing these will lead to real results.

Avoid the Jefferson Lift

Fitness thrives on trends. For instance, a guru picks an exercise they like. They talk about it at every chance until all of their peers that want to make money join in with them to support it. The guru makes a product and these peers become affiliates, meaning that they get a part of the sale for them.

These gurus seek to gather legions of fans that soak up every word they say. The more they talk, and the more they partner with other gurus, the more this base grows. They form tribes, perhaps by trying to act cool like claiming their version of the science as best. These gurus form a club to share their fans so that they all walk away with more money, which makes it seem as if all of their methods work. This is a shame since the reality is that just about all of their methods will hurt you.

Are they genuine though? Who can really know? In most cases I would guess, yes, at least the one that made the product, even if their system is corrupt. Coming from a good place does not mean you are right though. They toss out the basic science and can always find a study that supports their views. The marketing then allows it to take on a life of its own. The naive whom read and listen to them then come to see it as fact. With so much money at stake, you have to wonder if this engine supports the truth though.

I attack these ideas knowing that others seek out these topics. I hope then that someone comes on to a point of view that can help them, despite that it looks unlike anything else they ever saw. If I can help just one person in this way, then harsh judgment from others is a small price to pay.

Any system focused on progress will work. This muddles things since some will do well enough with poor methods. Will it work best and keep you safe though? I feel that the mainstream will fail you in both.

Use only the bench press, the squat, and the row for lifting. These work all of the muscles well and keep the joints safe. Choose medium stances, grips, and positions. Use just one tough set per exercise after you warm up. Start with a rep range not too high nor too low. Change this based on your preference as you add weight and learn form. Train as often as you can, though you should less than most think. You will need to train less as you grow strong.

With this plan, all of the muscles will grow. They will grow evenly and without the harm to the joints. Avoid the Jefferson lift.

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