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The Partial Deadlift and Why its Beneficial to Fighters

May 28, 2008 01:20 PM

If you're a fighter, then you want to pay close attention to a little used exercise not seen much in gyms these days. In fact it's not seen much of anywhere except the pages of hardcore lifting books and old time strongman books, as well as the Dragon Door community. It is called the Partial Deadlift, or Lockout - or if you're familiar with "The Party," the Healthlift. If you want your strength to shoot through the roof then I highly suggest you adapt this movement into your training routine.

A partial deadlift is performed using a power rack, a good strong bar, wrist straps and chalk. The power rack will have 2 support bars or pins and many holes to place the bars into. You can alternately substitute a pair of boxes to pull from if you do not have a power rack. You could even do what the great Paul Anderson and William Boone did which is sit the bar the on the ground and dig a hole to stand in. Find a way to work around whatever equipment you have to get what you need done. Many of you may or may not agree with the use of straps, but I personally feel that once you get to a heavy enough weight you will need them.

I suggest you place the support bars into the holes that are right above the top part of your knees. Right where your teardrop on the bottom of your quads ties into your knees. This setting of the holes or whatever apparatus you may be using will vary depending on your height.

The reason I suggest this height is because I feel you get the most power from your legs, hips, and back. I have found this to be the most beneficial height for many of my students I have trained. However nothing is set in stone, so if you find it more comfortable at a different setting then by all means do what's best for you.

The mechanics of the movement are really quite simple, however there are some key points that need to be brought to your attention for maximum benefit.

1. Make sure the bar that you are about to pull on is sitting straight across the supports. You don't want it to be at any kind of angle. If the bar is not straight you risk injury as well as a weak pull. Pay attention to this little detail.

2. Step up to the bar so that the bar is pressed right against your legs. You want to be in constant contact with the bar at all times. Your foot placement should be no more than shoulder width apart for maximal pulling power.

3. Hand placement is a personal preference. I feel the wider your grip the weaker your pull. I like to place my thumbs right on the part of the bar where the knurling starts. Sometimes I will go a thumb space from the beginning of the knurling. The reason I go in close is that I want everything nice and tight, no looseness or leakage in any of the pull. I want everything in my body compact and ready to explode.

I feel that by having a closer grip and everything tight that this leaves less room for error in the lift. This is particularly important when you start lifting huge amounts of weight. I like using an overhand grip instead of a switch grip when I am using straps. But this is up to you.

4. The Pull- First things first, you start the pull with your head leaning back towards the floor. (This may vary for some of you). Remember - where the head goes the body follows. This also helps keep your back flat. If you put your head down and look at the bar while you pull your back will tend to round. We don't want that. We want everything tight and straight. These little points will ensure us of a maximal pull.

Once our head placement is good to go, our pull then starts at our legs, with a huge push in to the floor. Try and picture in your mind that your heels are trying to push the floor away from you. At the start of your pull make sure you are bent at the knees and sitting back, as if you were sitting in a chair. This visualization helps keep the back straight and the body in proper alignment.

As you explode up with your legs, simultaneously start to pop your hips forward. Be very explosive. Once you get your hips all the way forward, your legs and upper body straight you have completed the movement.

Now all you fighters out there who have never experienced this great exercise are probably wondering how is this going to benefit me? I was always told that lifting real heavy will only get you hurt, or, "You're not a powerlifter, why lift like that?"

Well my friends let me tell you about the benefits you will get by incorporating this power movement into your routine.

1. You will gain insane hip power and follow through that will make your throws that much more explosive. Think about this, if your used to popping your hips through with 500, 700 or 800 lbs. on a partial lift then imagine how light a man your weight is going to feel. It will feel like your throwing him up to the moon.

2. Your grip will be like a vice. Even if you use straps you're going to squeeze as hard as you possibly can working your grip. After all the heavy partials you perform in the gym, your tendons, fingers, and forearms are going to feel like steel cables. When you grab the man anywhere he is going to feel pain. So pick a spot on his body and use it as a handle and start squeezing.

3. Your stance is going to be greatly enhanced. You will be so much harder to move for your opponent. This exercise puts extreme stress on every muscle in your body. Your muscles must be compact and tight through out the movement. Therefore this will carry over to your body in the ring or mat. If you can control that much heavy load capacity and not let the weight control you, then what makes you think that another man of your equal weight will be able to move you?

4. Armored core… that's right your stomach. In order to pull this amount of weight around you need to have a strong stomach. Do you think a guy with a soft belly could pull up these heavy poundages? No way!! He would blow out his gut trying. When you do heavy partials you are in - directly working your abs. They have to be tight when you pull. I don't care how many crunches you do, they wont equal out to pulling 500 or 800 lbs. Where else could you use that kind of weight in a stomach exercise?

5. You will have the ability to pick up another man your weight like he is a rag doll. It doesn't matter if it's offensively or defensively. Just knowing in the back of your mind that you have the arm strength that most men have in their legs. The power in your biceps from a straight arm lockout will be greatly improved. This added power then gives you more of a chance to defend against your opponents arm-bar attacks, whether with his legs or his arms.

6. Unbelievable stamina that you don't get from doing your typical cardio session. I prefer doing low repetitions with this exercise for maximum power. However until you have tried a couple high rep sets of 20 reps with the partials you have no idea what you're missing. Moving heavy weights at a fast pace will have you huffing and puffing, gasping for air.

Who wouldn't, as a fighter, like to improve these abilities? Insane hip power, vice-like grip, an immovable stance, armored abdominals, incredible arm, whole-body and back strength not to mention unbelievable stamina. Below I have outlined a routine and a suggested progression of where to start. Much of this has to do with your own personal abilities and current condition. Just alter my outline to fit yourself.

Partials can be done a couple ways. First way is to only do them once a week. This only applies if you're going for all out maximum power at each session. The reason for this is that this lift is very demanding on your body as it is. Once you start training at or near your max, your whole body will be taxed. Depending on your recovery if you pull only a percentage of your max you might get away with only a couple of times per week. The important thing here is to stay with a low volume in general and your heavy strength training over all. This is a key point missed by many fighters. This one lift will strengthen your whole body. There's no need to attempt to add a ridiculous amount of stress on top of what a fighter all ready puts his body through.

The second way is that you can do the partials as a conditioner and do them 2-3 times a week. You must gauge how you feel, because even though you are doing high reps you will be handling much heavier weights then you would on any other exercise. Pay attention to how you feel and especially your lower back.

KEY POINT: When doing high reps be very careful of losing control of the bar. If you bounce the bar off the supports in an uncontrolled manner the bar could easily shift directions or the plates could easily start to move off the bar. Remember to pay attention to what your doing and you will have success. Do not do high reps until you have mastered the exercise and form and can maintain it even under fatigue. Also when you do high reps with this exercise you will only be using a small percentage of your total weight yet the work will still be hard and the conditioning high.

Monday- Partials heavy - 1x10,1x5,3x3,1x2

Your adjustments in weight will vary depending on the person. However I find that you can jump up in weight quite considerably. The 1x10 and 1x5 are meant to be warm up sets. The others are work sets. You can use other rep variations if you wish just keep them low and the sets moderate. Here's an example from my own personal progression to give you an idea:

675x3 - 765x3 - 855x3 - 945x3 - 1035x2 or 3. This is a regular workout I would do once or twice a week, but don't think you can't get really strong with this. My personal max is 1,500. If you go this heavy you're going to need special equipment like Iron Mind's S-Cube Bar.

Monday and Friday:

Partials for conditioning - 5x20 reps.
Again your adjustments are going to vary depending on the person. So here is another personal progression from my notes.

135x20-30 - 225x20 - 315x20,20,20 sometimes a 4th set of 20 with 365.
I tend to stay with 315, it's easier to handle, but on occasion I will get a little crazy and try and thrash myself. I often also mix this with either swings or sprawls to really drive the cardio crazy and build strength at the same time. The important thing when doing the conditioning partial is to control the weight as much as possible. But try and explode the weight up as fast as you can.

Now get out there, get inside the rack and get some!
You will be glad you did.

Mike "The Machine" Bruce

Mike Bruce is a former no-holds barred fighter, champion grappler, bodyguard and lifelong martial artist having trained in Kung-Fu, stick fighting, boxing, judo, shoot fighting and more. He is now a professional strongman inspiring old and young people everywhere to live a fit life and overcome adversity. Mike can be found at