Partial Deadlifts vs. Deadlifts
Deadlifts are one of three lifts performed in a competition, and deadlifting regularly in training is vital if you wish to improve your performance in contests. Partial deadlifts, often referred to as rack pulls or rack deadlifts are a staple deadlift ancillary exercise in many powerlifting programs. These two exercises, while fairly similar in many respects, both emphasize different muscle groups and have distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on your goals and ability levels.
According to the USA Powerlifting guidelines, for a deadlift to count in a competition, you must lift the bar from a dead stop on the floor until your knees and hips are locked and arms are straight. Any jerking or downward movement resultz in a failed lift. You must finish the lift with your hips pushed forward and shoulders pulled back, then lower it to the floor again with control once you've been given the judge's call. Deadlifts are considered a total-body exercise, but focus specifically on your hamstrings, glutes, lower, mid and upper back, core and forearm muscles.
Partial deadlifts are not a competition exercise, so they don't have any strict guidelines regarding form. However, you should perform them in the same way as you would regular deadlifts -- the only difference being that you start with the bar in an elevated position. To do this, set the safety pins in a power rack to the desired height, or place lifting blocks under the weight plates. Always start with the bar below your knees, ideally somewhere between your lower and upper shin. According to elite powerlifter Andy Bolton, the first man to deadlift over 1,000 pounds, performing partial deadlifts above your knee has little carryover to your regular deadlift. Partials hit the same muscles as regular deadlifts, but with an increased emphasis on your back and less on your lower body.
If you're a competing powerlifter, it's far more important for you to perform regular deadlifts than partials, as full deadlifts from the floor are the competition exercise. Deadlifts are also better if you're looking to target your glutes and hamstrings. However, you can lift more weight with partial deadlifts as they have a reduced range of motion, which can improve your grip strength and focus more on your back muscles. Partial deadlifts are more suitable for those new to training or if you have mobility issues, reports Tony Gentilcore, strength coach at Cressey Performance, MA. Many people lack the ankle, hip and upper back flexibility to perform full deadlifts properly when starting out.
For best results, include both exercises in your routine. You can either use partial deadlifts as an ancillary exercise after your regular deadlifts or as a substitute for a small training block. For the first option, do one deadlift session per week. Work up to a heavy set of regular deadlifts in the one to six repetition range, then perform three to five sets of six to 10 reps on partial deadlifts, using a weight that is tough but manageable. For the second option, use partial deadlifts as a main exercise once a week for a four to six week training cycle. Perform three sets of three to five heavy reps, aiming to add a little weight, or a couple of extra reps each week.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.