Pin Pulls, Block Pulls And Mat Pulls

his article will discuss 3 different styles of partial movement training for the Deadlift. Partial Movement Training refers to training through less than a full range of motion. You will discover how to use partial deadlifts to improve your Deadlift and also some pitfalls you should avoid.

Partial Movement Training has been used by many great Powerlifters over the years to improve their lifts and their total. Bob Peoples was a pioneer in the sport and used partial movement training to pull a faintly ludicrous 725lbs at less than 190lbs bodyweight way back in the 1950′s. Paul Anderson also used partials to build freaky strength. So much so that the ever-so-hard-to-please Russians labelled him a wonder of nature.

These days Tom Martin from England trains his Deadlift 3 to 4 times a week using partials a lot of the time. You may wonder what he’s pulled… How does 355kg at 82.5kg bodyweight sound? Pretty good eh… read on and see how partial deadlifts can  help you; regardless of whether you are a Powerlifter, Athlete or Bodybuilder.

3 Different Kinds of Partial Deadlifts

You can pull your Deadlifts from pins, from blocks or from mats.

Pin Pulls

You use a power rack to perform Pin Pulls. The pins should be set at the height you want to start pulling from and the bar sits on the pins in the start position. Then simply pull your deadlifts as usual.

Don’t use your best power bar for this movement because there is a very high possibility that you will bend a bar at some point when you do Pin Pulls.

Block Pulls

To pull from blocks you’ll need some wooden blocks that are cut to the height that you wish to pull your partial deadlifts from. Unlike pin pulls, the plates rest on the blocks at the start (as opposed to the bar resting on the pins).

Deadlifting from blocks feels more like Deadlifting from the floor, than when you Deadlift from the pins. This is because the bar flexes the same way as it does when Deadlifting from the floor, as it does Deadlifting from blocks.

Pulling from Mats

This is the same as pulling from blocks, but you use rubber mats instead of wooden blocks. There is one advantage that pulling from mats has over pulling from blocks and that is if you buy a stack of mats that are 1 or 2 inches thick, it’s very easy to pull from different heights (by varying how many mats you use).

The disadvantage of using mats is that when the weight get really heavy, they can compress. So you end up pulling through a slightly increased range of motion as your sets get heavier.

Important points to consider

  • Pulling from above the knee is basically a waste of time if your biggest goal is to improve your deadlift from the floor. The trouble with pulling from above the knee is that it becomes an ego stroke. Pulling from above the knee will let you lift way above your max and this can negatively affect your CNS and recovery. (For bodybuilders looking to increase the muscle mass in their upper back; pulling from above the knee can have its place).
  • Don’t pile a ton of weight on the bar and pull wildly in any direction, getting the weight up however you can. Rather, focus on pulling with the same technique as you would from the floor, no matter what height you are pulling from. This approach will ensure that your partial work carries over to your Deadlift from the floor.
  • Get your training partners to film your partial Deadlifts. Make sure the body position you were in to pull the partial resembles where you would be at that point of a pull from the floor. Put simply, if it does not… this will not carry over well to your deadlift from the floor.
  • Whether you Deadlift from pins, blocks or mats; Deadlift from varying heights at the knee or below. This will avoid boredom, both from a mental and physical point of view.

Throughout my own powerlifting career, I’ve always used two main exercises to improve my deadlift. The first is my competition style deadlift (from the floor, conventional). The second exercise is the block pull, with the bar starting just below knee height. I find this height to offer several benefits to me:

  • It allows me to train my deadlift hard (without as much pressure on my lower back).
  • It lets me overload the top end and get used to doing reps with heavy weight. I find that feeling this heavy weight in my hands is key to eventually pulling it from the floor.
  • It isn’t a tiny range of motion that just strokes my ego and hurts my recovery.

You must decide what your priorities are and find the right partial movement to help build your deadlift.

Another important consideration is, “Where is your weak point?”  For example, if you are weak off the floor, it makes no sense to constantly train through a partial range of motion. Instead, lots of floor work and deficit Deadlifts could help you out much more.

Accommodating Resistance

Bands or chains can be used with pin pulls, block pulls or when pulling from mats. (However, I have personally always used straight weight for my deadlift training).

  • To pull against bands through a partial range, pin pulls are your best bet. Simply use a power rackwith two sets of pins and double or quadruple the bands under the lower pin and then over the sleeve of the bar.
  • If you pull Sumo, chains are easy to use. Just drape them over the middle of the bar and this will work fine with pin pulls, block pulls, or pulling from mats.
  • If you pull Conventional, drape the chain over the sleeve of the bar, or use Chain Mates.
  • Body Position: match your full deadlift.

The last bullet point is really important if you use partial movement training and I touched on it earlier, but I’ll go into more detail now.

Regardless of whether you pull from pins, blocks or mats and whatever height you choose to pull from; you MUST make sure that you start each and every rep in the same body position that you would be in if you had pulled the weight from the floor. If you fail to do this, then you may bust your ass and get very good at partial deadlifts, but your competition deadlift will stall. This is not what you want.

To solve this problem, record your pulls on video. Compare your body positions of full deadlifts with your partial deadlifts to make sure they match. If they don’t, you are wearing yourself out for nothing with the partials.

Partial Movement Training for Athletes

If you’re an athlete competing in a sport other than powerlifting, or you coach athletes who compete outside of powerlifting, then you may want to exclusively use partial deadlifts for your deadlift training. The reason is that, as an athlete, you’re using the deadlift movement pattern to develop a strong posterior chain in order to jump higher, sprint faster, throw further, punch harder etc, and improve in your sport. You aren’t deadlifting simply to get a big deadlift and improve your powerlifting total.

Bearing this is mind, the partial deadlift (from pins, blocks or mats) can have a few advantages for the athlete.

  • First, it’s easier to learn.
  • Second, it may be safer.

Getting an athlete to pull with an arched lower back, relaxed shoulders and tight abs is a lot easier to do from knee height than it is from the floor. The risk of
deadlifting with horrible form from the floor may not be worth it for someone whose goal is to improve at football, rugby or MMA. But rather than ditching the deadlift movement pattern, switching to partial variations can solve the problem.

Partials are easier to learn than Deadlifts from the floor and are still a great way to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, entire back and grip.

The Wrap Up

  • Partial deadlifts are a great way to over-load the posterior chain and improve your deadlift.
  • They can be done from pins, blocks or mats.
  • Bands or chains can be used to accommodate resistance.
  • Make sure your body position is the same during a partial as it would be if you pulled that weight from the floor.
  • Athletes may want to use partials exclusively for training the deadlift movement pattern.

To learn more about exactly how to build your Deadlift and do it the right way, check this out:

Explode your deadlift