Although the fulcrum deadlift is a relatively unknown exercise, it is a fantastic way to build core stability and strength.
The movement requires your spinal and core musculature to work in overdrive, fighting against an unbalanced barbell.
By only loading one side, it means you need to resist the natural tendency to rotate and twist as you perform the movement… which ultimately means there’s no opportunity for your core to rest.
This helps to create better core stability, improved athletic performance, a stronger overall core, and enhanced functional movements.
This exercise guide outlines everything you need to know about fulcrum deadlifts, including how to perform them properly, the muscles worked, benefits and potential alternatives that create similar outcomes.
What is a Fulcrum Deadlift
A fulcrum deadlift, also sometimes referred to as an “off-set loaded” deadlift, involves putting weight (bumper plates) on only one side of a barbell.
The aim of the exercise is to keep the barbell parallel to the floor at all times during the lift. This requires incredible core stability and strength to avoid any sort of twisting or rotation.
By only placing weight on one side of a barbell, it fundamentally changes the purpose and benefits of this deadlift variation, as it becomes all about your core.
Using an unbalanced bar means that you don’t need to add much weight at all to fire up and activate your core during this movement.
Although this exercise looks quite straight-forward, it’s certainly far from easy and even if you’re experienced in the gym, we’d recommend opting for the lightest weight possible and slowly building it up over time.
How to Perform a Fulcrum Deadlift Properly
To do a fulcrum off set loaded deadlift:
- Place a bumper plate on only one side of a barbell.
- Take a breath in.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, grab the barbell and lift it up like you would a regular deadlift (hinging at the hips, bending the knees and keeping your back straight) whilst breathing out.
- Keep your core braced throughout the lift.
- The unbalanced barbell will mean you need to adopt a slow and controlled movement.
- Breathe in and lower the barbell to the starting position, keeping your core braced.
- Repeat for repetitions.
- Repeat on the other side.
Coach’s Tip – Focus on engaging your core to keep the barbell parallel. Avoid lifting your shoulder or bending your arm to make the barbell parallel.
The fulcrum deadlift primarily works the core muscles, which include:
- Rectus abdominis
- Transversus abdominis
- Internal and external obliques
- Erector spinae
- Quadratus lumborum
The deadlift movement will mean that the glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, lower back and lats, are also activated.
Fulcrum deadlifts are an incredible effective way to build core stability and strength. Your core will be constantly fighting against the imbalance and working hard to maintain stability throughout the movement.
There’s no opportunity for your core to rest at any point, as the barbell is unbalanced throughout. This means that it won’t take many reps or sets for you to really feel it in your obliques and core stabilizing muscles.
Attempting to keep the barbell parallel during the exercise also means you’ll find you need to adopt quite a slow tempo… which means each repetition is long and this further keeps the core muscles engaged and activated.
Spot Muscular Imbalances
Fulcrum deadlifts can also be really effective at revealing potential muscular imbalances. If you find you struggle more on one side than the other… it demonstrates that there is a muscular imbalance between your obliques and core musculature.
This isn’t uncommon for certain athletes, such as tennis/hockey players, who may use more rotational strength from one side, compared to the other.
However, any sort of imbalance can cause MSK issues, as well as reduced performance, which is why off set loading and unilateral exercises are so important within fitness plans.
Improves Deadlift Technique
A by-product of off-set loading a barbell means that each repetition is going to be much slower, so the lifter can ensure they are maintaining a parallel barbell.
The helps improve deadlift technique and encourages a smooth movement (instead of one that uses momentum and a jerking action).
Support Functional Movements
The fulcrum deadlift is an awkward movement… the imbalance that your body has to fight against whilst lifting and lowering the barbell is about as subtle as a slap in the face. But the reality is, training like this carries over to real-world requirements and activities very well.
In very few situations will weight be distributed so perfectly like it is with most strength training exercises.
Including these sorts of “awkward” movements and lifts within your workouts helps to better prepare you for what daily life will throw your way… and this can be really powerful at reducing your risk of injuries.
Fun Exercise to Try
Core workouts can sometimes get a bit repetitive, so finding new exercises to include can really help to boost motivation.
If you don’t look forward to a round of sit-ups or planks, an exercise like the fulcrum deadlift might come as a welcome addition to your core workout.
Rethinking Core Exercises
Great for Warm-Ups/Accessory Lift
For those serious about deadlifts, or any sort of strength training, fulcrum deadlifts can be used really effectively as a warm-up or accessory lift.
Although the primary focus is on the core, you’re still going through the motion of a deadlift, which helps to activate the associated muscle groups.
It also teaches you to keep your core tight and braced whilst deadlifting, which carries over nicely to the traditional, heavier deadlift.
Off Set Loaded Hold
If you like the idea of using an unbalanced barbell to test your core stability, but struggle with the deadlift part, then simply holding an unbalanced barbell is a great starting point.
If you’re a beginner and looking for an easier alternative, we’d recommend opting for this instead.
This will allow you to get familiar with holding an unbalanced bar until you feel confident to go through the phases of a deadlift.
Similar to a fulcrum deadlift, the aim here is very much on keeping the barbell as parallel to the floor as possible. This means doing it in front of a gym mirror is useful, so you can see if the bar dips to one side.
Suitcase (Single Arm) Deadlift
This shares a lot of the same biomechanics as fulcrum deadlifts, but involves holding the weight (barbell, kettlebell or dumbbell) in one hand.
This tends to feel more like a true unilateral deadlift, as you can often lift heavier weight, which means your back, glutes, and legs need to do more heavy lifting compared to fulcrum deadlifts.
Although very similar movements, we would opt for fulcrum deadlifts for those wanting to focus on the core and suitcase deadlifts for those wanting a unilateral variation of the traditional deadlift.
Both variations are great… and both are very tough.
Single Arm Farmer’s Carry
Single arm farmer’s carry, also known as the suitcase carry, will test your core stability in a very similar way to fulcrum deadlifts.
It is another example of off-setting the load… but this time by holding either a dumbbell or kettlebell is just one hand and walking.
This replicates lots of real-world activities, such as carrying shoppping in one hand, and is therefore great for improving practical strength that is useful day-to-day.
It also works your grip strength too.
If you enjoy farmer’s carry as an exercise, including some single arm sets into your workout is a simple way to increase core activation.
Single Arm/Leg RDL (Romanian Deadlift)
Single leg RDLs (holding the weight with the opposite hand) is another great way to fire up the core, as well as the posterior chain.
Single leg RDLs will also test your balance, as well as your overall stability.
If these are too tricky, you could also try a b-stance deadlift that doesn’t require as much balance (this involves keeping your back leg on the floor, in a staggered stance).
We really like using fulcrum deadlifts as a way to build functional core strength and stability. It’s also a fun exercise that can mix up a repetitive core workout.
If you enjoy fulcrum deadlifts, this concept can also be carried over to all sorts of movements. Off-set lunges, squats and overhead presses are all similar ways to fire up the core and obliques.
These sorts of exercises are challenging though, so if you’re a beginner, take things nice and slow to start with and focus on keeping the bar parallel at all times… if this is a struggle, drop the weight until this is achievable.
Featured image and video demonstration credit – Lexie McClelland