Awkward but Awesome: The Jefferson Lift

Let’s get one thing out of the way:  The vast majority of gym-goers cannot properly lift a straight metal bar placed in front of them off the floor.  This isn’t surprising since that’s not at all an easy way to pick something up.

Conventional deadlifts are an advanced exercise.  Getting into a good position for the lift requires mobility and stability in some commonly weak areas.  Keep in mind that there are many other ways to replicate a deadlift pattern depending on your level of strength and training goals.  In this post I’m going to cover a lesser known variation, the jefferson!

I have no idea where the name for it came from, but maybe the great Thomas Jefferson used to deadlift this way?
I have no idea where the name for it came from, but maybe the great Thomas Jefferson used to deadlift this way?

Why It’s Awkward

I really don’t even have a great explanation for why it’s awkward.  For gentlemen, it’s a little bit unusual to accelerate a heavy bar in between your legs up to your balls.  Otherwise, it just feels different.  It’s slightly unilateral by nature and usually produces soreness in some unique areas.

As with most exercises, there isn’t just one perfect way to perform a jefferson lift.  It’s probably going to take some time to find a comfortable setup and pulling pattern.  Most beginners will have to experiment with different stances and hip angles.  Embrace the awkwardness and find a style that feels good for you.

Why It’s Awesome

For starters, it’s incredibly low back friendly.  By straddling the bar it stays very close to your center of gravity and takes away some of the shear force on the spine.  It also takes a little bit less mobility to perform well than a conventional deadlift does.

What I really like is how you can modify your technique to target different musculature.  For a more quad intensive lift, make the movement more knee dominant by dropping the hips and kind of squatting the bar upward.  For more posterior chain, make the movement more hip dominant by hinging over and letting the butt travel back.  Always finish the lift with a forceful hip thrust and glute squeeze.

Two Examples

Here’s a set performed from a short deficit to increase the range of motion and emphasis on quads.

Here’s a set performed off the floor with a more hip dominant strategy.


Add in some jefferson’s to your deadlift training and see how they feel.  Test out both knee and hip dominant styles.  Chances are you’ll be giving your low back a break while gaining more strength for the long term.  Get after it!


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