Jefferson Lift

In Strongman Mastery by admin21 Comments

The Jefferson lift, also known as the Jefferson deadlift, Jefferson squat or straddle deadlift, is not a commonly seen exercise. In fact, I would put it as something that is forgotten or unknown by 99% of the population.

According to my research it was named after Strongman Charles Jefferson.

But since I’ve been introduced to it, I’ve absolutely loved it. Let me tell you why.

First off, let’s talk about how to do the Jefferson lift. It is like a conventional deadlift except you’ll step one foot over the bar so that you are straddling it.

At first glance, men are going to be scared of this lift as I‘ve heard it been referred to its nick-name the “nut-crusher”. Let me say that I’ve personally never had this particular problem. I suppose it does depend on several factors though including arm length, torso length, and how its hanging. For that reason it may not be appropriate for everyone. Anyway…

The great thing about the Jefferson lift is how you can find your own personal groove with it.

  • You can hinge at the hips more to incorporate more back. (more like a regular deadlift)
  • Squat down more, making it similar to a sumo deadlift, and use recruit more quad involvement. (more like a squat)
  • Move the feet closer of further.
  • Change your hand position closer or wider.
  • Turn more to the side, or stay facing straight forwards.
  • And of course you can switch what foot is facing forwards.

There’s a lot of variation here. If you’ve ever looked for something that is same but different this is a great one. If you do biofeedback training, this exercise alone is a testament to what can be done. And on that note its note surprising the results David Dellanave has gotten with it. Here he is lifting 605 lbs. in the Jefferson.

It has been instrumental for me in increasing my conventional deadlift up to 505. And now I’m working to go even further.

Here is one more important point. The Jefferson is similar to the trap bar deadlift in that the weight is centered under you, unlike in a conventional deadlift where the weight is slightly in front of you. For this reason alone I find the Jefferson lift is actually a safer variation for many people.

Of course there is some unique core work involved, which could be great for you, or not so much. After doing a set of heavy Jeffersons you’ll feel your rib cage on one side  perhaps unlike ever before.

Go ahead and try this deadlift out if you never have.

Here’s your question for the day. If you’ve done the Jefferson deadlift before “what are your experiences of it?”

In strength,
Logan Christopher

P.S. If you want to learn a whole bunch more similar “oldtimer” exercises I suggest you check out the Arthur Saxon Power Pack.


  1. First Mike T. Nelson and now Logan….I got the message, time to give this another go! I approached this last week and it felt uncomfortable so didn’t really work with it, but after watching your video am convinced it is worth another look. Your points on the variations possible tell me to go find out what the Jefferson is all about. Thanks for always posting useful information!

    1. @Monte: Be sure to play around to find how it works for you. Like I said, it may not work for everyone but it is worth a shot (or two!)

  2. Gave it a go a couple years ago, but I couldn’t afford a proper weight set so I mostly had sandbags tied to the bar. This added to the problem of making the lift the same for whichever side you do it on. Other than that, I liked the feel of it and yes, in particular the tension in the torso.

  3. I’ve been working regularly with the Jeff Deadlift for a couple of months now, and I love it. Besides giving me another DL variation to test and work with, it’s also a great way to go asymetric. As well, I has proven to help with my recovery of a bad parkour landing from last summer (hips and knee).

    If you haven’t, definitely try it out.

  4. About time, dude……I thought I was the only dude out there pulling the Jefferson (Pun intended). 🙂

    I train at home alone, no power-rackk, and I was not able to squat for a long time. I tried the Jefferson and it worked my legs pretty damn hard. Not to mention, it’s fun to lift like this. I believe it is a worthwhile lift to incorporate.

    Also, often times when I work at the Steel Mill, I am put into positions like this. I never get the chance to deadlift, carry, or curl in a conventional method. The steel parts are super hot, all forms of awkward shapes and sizes. There were many times i had to deadlift a part in a Jefferson style….so, it’s pretty badass.

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  6. since when are u supposed to use your back to deadlift… and squat with only one foot facing forward?? the answer is never! I did try this lift today (with correct and safe form)…its nonsense, nonfunctional and not safe for most everyone’s mobility…abilities. I realize the weight is low, but that does not make the form u describe above safe for the body. If you want to “squat” and “deadlift” at the same time SAFELY, or at least hit some of the same muscle groups …grab a dumbell or plate…hold it tight to your chest, and squat with it (goblet squat). Even better is picking up a kettlebell from the floor by the handle and deadlifting it repeatedly ( kettlebell deadlift)

    1. If I might intervene, Julia, I’d argue that in many ways, the Jefferson deadlift is safer than the conventional deadlift. It reinforces rotational core strength, and, because of the awkward leverage, it’s easier to do the lift in a way that is accustomed to individual form, whereas conventional deadlift has a much stricter form. Jefferson deadlifts really empower your obliques and core strength, and they do well to supplement one’s actual deadlift. Very safely.

    2. You know I have to agree with you julia even, all the bodybuilders, strongmen, athletes who have done this lift for the past decade with success must not have noticed how dangerous the Jefferson lift is, but now thanks to you, someone who has just been introduced to the lift and tried it for the first time, telling us all just how bad this lift is we can stop using it in our training.

    3. ‘Never’ putting one foot forward, in other words we as a species are so bio-mechanically structured as to only be able to move in a certain motion. There are major benefits to be had from doing a familiar movement in an unfamiliar position and the Jefferson Lift is just one of many. If you were right, which you’re not, then why were these movements so well practiced in the 18-1900s? Most of the strongmen and bodybuilders of this period were known to have continued competing and demonstrating feats of strength well into their later years (see for instance Max Sick wrist wrestling with a much younger man half an hour before his death, Jasper Benincasa doing a one arm pullup a week before his death, etc). The reason why so many lifters of today complain of pain and have to stop younger than ever is because they follow a very rigid set of lifts, I highly doubt most of them have even tried a Bent Press or a two hands anyhow. But the all round functional strength that is built by this kind of weight lifting will last way into your later years.

    4. Ummm… Julia, I think it’s quite impossible to NOT use your back when you deadlift… Or squat, and as far as having only one foot facing forward, I think were splitting hairs now… And correct me if I’m wrong but I think the ability to perform a Jefferson deadlift with 400+ pounds is going to build a little more strength and muscle than holding a plate on your chest and squatting with it…

  7. I lift at home using minimal Equipment: a 6-ft-Olympic barbell with plates as well as rods & 1″ plates for dumbbells; I have enough iron to make a 600+ lbs barbell and one 205 dumbbell (my rods can hold up to 8 x 25’s) or a pair of 145’s (not enough 25’s to this day). I usually train three main lifts: Clean & Press, Deadlift and a Squat-type lift, which alternates between the Barbell Hack Lift and the Jefferson Deadlift. I also enjoy doing heavy rows and grip work.

    At first, the Jefferson Lift felt ackward and I needed to ease into it. I used 185 lbs at the most, but over eight months, I came to feel pretty much at home in this lift (ditto for BB Hack) and I’m now up to sets of 4 using 355 lbs — my typical session has 6 sets of 4 (3 each side); on the 5th set (which hits my weaker side), I may push reps to a 6-count, and when successful I add 10 lbs for next session (simple, effective and creates some sens of suspense since those attempts are never planned). My quad strength is up and of course I’m now a better deadlifter since I’m stronger off the floor. I max out on my stronger side, but I always do rep work both sides (I once trained one sided only and got VERY sore on one side, so I learned…)

    Great Lift! Thanks, Logan!! I look forward to bring my DL up to 505 too!!!

    1. Author

      Awesome work. Yeah, I don’t think this lift feels natural to anyone at first but its worth easing into as you said.

  8. For those who use the Jefferson

    No one has mentioned it but do you all switch sides? Or feel the one stance works both sides of the body evenly. I’m thinking of incorporating them in my next cycle and wonder if it helps strengthen the non dominate limb without doing two separate sets.

    1. Author

      Yes you should switch sides. One side will feel better than the other (as in most things) but they should both be trained.

  9. Great post.

    I love recommending the Jefferson Squat. It’s great for decreasing spinal loading and working multiple planes of motion at once, which strengthens joints.

  10. I have been doing this lift for almost 2 months now. I tend to do 2 sets at each weight while moving up and then do my max lift(double or triple) on my strong side. I just got 405×2 this week and I am enjoying being able to see my front obliques! Also, my squat has improved along with this lift. Havent noticed any marked gain in conventional deads, but I tend to not push those too hard due to my low back issues. Jeffersons have been a great find!

  11. I used the deadlift in my training and like it. I also teach powerlifting to intellectually challenge in the. Special Olympics. It works well wit students with Dow Syndrome because regular Squats can damage the vertebrate at the neck area.

    David Toth

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