Jefferson Lift Origin & Techniques

by Roger LaPointe

Jefferson Lift

So you want to build some crazy back and leg strength?

Try out the Jefferson Lift, also called the Straddle Deadlift in Great Britain.

I have loved the Jefferson Lift since the day I first started lifting. My Dad taught it to me as, “the best and safest way to squat.” Well, it’s not technically a squat, but a deadlift and it is also not necessarily the safest.  However, it is a great alternative to traditional deadlifting, which can replicate the feel of a front squat, at least in the legs.

The Jefferson Lift gets its name from the old circus strongman Charles Jefferson (1863?-July 12, 1911). Originally from Canaan, New Hampshire, he traveled and performed with Barnum and later with Barnum & Bailey. He was known for chain breaking and lifting “enormous” weights. I have never been able to find out what was considered “enormous”.

Alan Calvert, of Milo Barbell, seemed quite fond of the Jefferson Lift, as he wrote about two different variations, including photos, in his book “Super Strength”. Interestingly, when I worked at York Barbell, Jan Dellinger told me that John Grimek was also extremely fond of the Jefferson Lift, and considered “Super Strength” to be his single reference work for lifting. Of course, Grimek did modeling for the Milo Barbell Company before working for Hoffman. At the time, Jan had told me that Grimek believed in only doing the Jefferson Lift as a partial lift off of blocks. Both of the methods shown in Calvert’s book reflect Grimek’s opinion. Calvert also writes, “In performing this exercise, the legs are bent no further than shown in the picture,”

As for technique, beyond Calvert’s book, I have seen a number of other methods. In some photos, I see the the bar is perpendicular to the shoulders with a high degree of twist to the spine. In other shots, which I call the Hirsh technique, the bar is lifted with an alternate grip, like a standard deadlift, but the legs straddle the bar in a fashion very similar to a split jerk, with the heels being allowed to rise. Al Myers, of the USAWA, did an excellent article about the Jefferson Lift, featuring this photo of Bob Hirsh, who easily had the best modern Jefferson Lift.  Check it out on this website.

If you would like to compete in a variation of the Jefferson Lift, you can do so at our Atomic Athletic Tractor Pull Championship Weekend Meet, this Saturday, August 18th. The variation we will be contesting is with a 2 Inch Thick Bar, called a Fulton Bar in the USAWA.