The deadlift is often considered the king of exercises, and for good reason. It works almost every major muscle on the back of your body and several on the front, too. It builds real-world functional strength and, frankly, makes you look and feel like a badass. Combining deadlifts with an upper-body push, such as push-ups, dips, or bench presses, can give you a full-body workout from just two exercises. However, deadlifting from the floor is not easy, especially when you’re tall or inflexible.
Thankfully, there is more than one way to deadlift, and block pulls, aka partial deadlifts, are a great alternative to regular deadlifts. Block pulls are a compound exercise, meaning they involve several joints and multiple muscles working together. In fact, block pulls use so many muscles that they’re virtually a full-body exercise. The main muscles trained during block pulls are the Trapezius, Rhomboids, Deltoids, Biceps brachii, Forearm flexors, Latissimus dorsi, Erector spinae, Core, Gluteus maximus, Hamstrings, and Quadriceps.
The trapezius, or traps for short, is the large diamond-shaped muscle of your upper back. It consists of three groups of fibers – upper, middle, and lower. The upper and middle fibers are the most active during block pulls. Block pulls are very effective for building bigger, thicker traps. Located between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids work with your middle traps to pull your shoulders back and together. The deltoids are your shoulder muscles. Like the trapezius, the deltoids are made up of three groups of fibers called heads – anterior (front), medial (middle), and posterior (rear). All three deltoid heads are working during deadlifts, but the posterior delts are the most active.
Located on the front of your upper arm, your biceps flex your elbows. However, in block pulls, their job is to stop your elbows from hyperextending. Block pulls are a very grip-centric exercise. Gripping the bar involves lots of lower arm muscles, which are collectively called the forearm flexors. If you want bigger, more powerful forearms and a vice-like grip, block pulls are sure to help. Located on the sides of your torso, the latissimus dorsi, or lats for short, give your upper back its width. Well-developed lats look like wings! You use your lats to keep the bar pressed in toward your legs during block pulls. Bodybuilders do this exercise to develop a thicker, more powerful-looking back.
Erector spinae is the collective name for the muscles that run up either side of your spine. During block pulls, you use these muscles to prevent your back from rounding. Rack pulls will give you a more muscular lower back. Core is the name given to the muscles of your midsection, including your rectus abdominis, obliques, and transverse abdominis. Together, these muscles contract inward to create intra-abdominal pressure to support and stabilize your lumbar spine. Wearing a weightlifting belt allows you to produce even more intra-abdominal pressure.
Known as the glutes for short, this is the largest and most powerful muscle in the human body. The glutes extend your hips, which is the main lower body movement during block pulls. If you want a bigger butt, block pulls will help! Located on the backs of your thighs, the hamstrings work with your glutes to extend your hips during block pulls. However, the range of motion is relatively small, so if you want to work your hammies harder, you should also include exercises like leg curls and Romanian deadlifts in your lower body workouts. Block pulls start with your knees bent and end with your knees extended. This means they involve your quadriceps as well as your hamstrings and glutes. However, quads engagement is quite low because the range of motion at your knees is relatively small.
To get more from block pulls while keeping your risk of injury to a minimum, follow these guidelines: Place your barbell on blocks so it’s between lower knee and mid-thigh height. The lower the blocks, the more you’ll need to use your glutes and hamstrings to lift the weight. Stand behind the barbell with your feet between shoulder and hip-width apart. Your feet should be under the bar. Grip the bar with a double overhand or mixed shoulder-width grip. Straighten your arms, brace your core, and pull your shoulders back and down. Engage your lats by pressing the barbell toward your legs. Without rounding your lower back, drive your feet into the floor and stand up. Lock out your hips and knees, taking care not to lean back at the top of your rep. Leaning back increases your risk of injury. Lower the bar back to the blocks, let it settle for a second or two, reset your core and grip, and repeat.
Use chalk and/or lifting straps for a stronger grip. If you use a mixed grip, make sure you switch hands set by set to avoid muscle imbalances. Use lower blocks to work your glutes and hamstrings more or higher blocks to emphasize your upper back. Wear flat shoes or go barefooted to prevent your weight from shifting forward onto your toes. Use a weightlifting belt when training with heavy loads.
Block pulls are better for tall or inflexible lifters. Conventional deadlifts start with the weights on the floor and the bar about nine inches above the deck. Reaching down to grab the bar requires good flexibility, especially if you are taller than average. As such, some people end up rounding their lower back, which can lead to injury. Block pulls, on the other hand, start at a higher position, so you don’t need to bend over as far. This makes them a better choice for tall or inflexible lifters.
Block pulls are also a great way to break through deadlift plateaus. Doing nothing but conventional deadlifts will eventually get boring, even if you love what Victorian physical culturalists used to call the health lift. Thankfully, there is more than one way to deadlift, and block pulls are a great variation to add to your routine. They’re also a great way to work on your grip strength.
In summary, block pulls are a great exercise that works almost every major muscle in your body. They’re a great alternative to conventional deadlifts, especially if you’re tall or inflexible. They’re also a great way to break through deadlift plateaus and work on your grip strength. So, if you’re looking for a new exercise to add to your routine, give block pulls a try!