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Whats the Big Deal with Partial Lifts?

This week we feature a guest article from Sam Cox, owner and founder of Fearless Training Systems, dedicated to providing world class coaching to athletes and individuals hungry to be their best.


I’ll come right out and say it: I’M A BIG FAN OF PARTIAL LIFTS. Some say they are dangerous. Some say they are unproductive. After all, why do a partial when you can do the whole lift?

These dissenting views are always from people who have never done them, or seen or read about them used properly, to their fruition. Most people don’t know anyone who uses them, and especially uses them properly. And more so, hardly anyone writes about how to dissect and implement a partial lift to pay off in the long and short run.

An athlete needs to sit down and really think about the partial lift. I know for a fact they can help fighters, football players, soccer players, swimmers, gymnasts, strongmen and pretty much anyone else that plays a sport. You see, in your sport, do you ever really do a full range of motion…motion?

When you fight, you do partial twists; there is partial extension of the arm and partial flexion of the hips in a kick. When you do strongman events, you pick up those farmers walk implements and that yoke from a partial position. As well as lifting a stone from your lap onto the platform, and flipping that tire.

More power with the same mass of muscle always means better efficiency. It means that the muscle has become metabolically superior. Your body has also developed a finer muscular nerve connection facilitating better contraction, better response times, and the endurance that builds from a full partial workout means that you have more strength in the trenches, when you tired, at the end of competition.

The partial lift, from my own experience, is probably the best stability, joint and tendon strengthener there is. There is no way to build the core strength you need as a strongman or a football player without them. When was the last time you played football and came from a full range of motion from any position? There is no way to build the twisting, hip and lower back power you need as a fighter without them. There is no better way I can think of to build the shoulder power and stability you need as a gymnast.

As a 17 year old, I did partial deadlifts regularly. I worked up to 900+ pounds, and at my first strongman competition I was able to easily match the teenage record in the Silver Dollar Deadlift. Circumstances kept me from breaking it. But, looking back, I also didn’t get tired. I practiced partial deadlifts as well as partial squats, and the endurance that they build was evident where it counted. I won my first competition decisively.

Obviously, they have the most possible benefit for powerlifters and strongmen. If you don’t compete in these sports, they have obvious benefits for you too; you need to find out how to implement them successfully and still do the other type of training that is necessary for your sport.

Back to the powerlifters and strongmen. Weight sensitivity is a competition win or lose factor. I know this from experience. I am a state champion powerlifter, and I can tell you that how the weight feels out of the rack is a massive confidence booster, or other wise.

As a powerlifter, strongman, football player, etc., if you do squats on a regular basis in other words, this is what I would suggest. I recommend two week cycles. One week do full squats, no more than three reps, let the endurance work be done else where. The next week, you will set the power rack to not allow you to do more than a quarter of the full lift. Set the bar on the safety bars and load it up. Use the first, say, 4 sets as warm up sets as you work up to a working weight, or a new max.

Here’s an example day when I was doing them:

    135×5 reps
    315×3 reps
    405×2 reps

After 405, I would work in single reps. 495, one rep. 585 one rep. At about 675, I would try for a new max without my belt, then a new max with it. I got up to 845 without a belt and 1015 with it.

When I recommend using the two week cycle, it is just an estimate. That is what I had to do, and sometimes I had to take a week off because they can be quite stressful when done regularly. Listen to your body. If the weight you did last time for a max or near a max feels heavy, you haven’t fully recovered. You should take the week off. It never hurt anyone.

The same thing can be followed with the partial deadlift. Set the power rack to where you do a quarter of the movement, and follow the same type of training. I would suggest doing partial squats and partial deadlifts on the same day to build the endurance you need. I suggest doing the squats first, but you can alternate the weeks for each: quarter squats one week, and quarter deadlifts the next. Andy Bolton, 1,000 pound full deadlift holder, recommends doing them the same day as well. I think he knows what he’s talking about. A word of warning, the quarter deadlift could very well pack so much muscle on your back that you look kind of funny – deformed almost, but in a good way. You know what I mean…

A last word on the injury prevention benefits of partials. The three full years I practiced them, I never suffered an injury in any way. The people I trained with did, and they never did them. When your joints, tendons and muscles are used to handling much more weight than they experience in competition, then competition, or just everyday life, is a walk in the park to them. Just a thought.

Check out Sam’s site, Fearless Training Systems

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8 Responses to “Whats the Big Deal with Partial Lifts?”

  1. ted Says:

    When referring to the quarter deads, do you take them up only a quarter from the bottom position, or from an elevated position and “lock out” at the top position?

    Thanks sounds like a great two week combo

  2. Matt Hunter Says:

    Great article, I don’t see enough information on partial training on the web. Nick Nilsson is also a big advocate of partials so you should check out his articles and videos. Their effectiveness, especially in translation to real world strength, cannot be underestimated. You also might want to check out Static Contraction Training by Pete Sisco and John Little. I used SCT for six weeks last summer, one workout a week, took literally less than 10 minutes for my full body workout. All of my shirts got tight, my pants got too big, and my vertical went up at least six inches (I went from barely dunking with one hand to catching alley oops from half court and throwing them in with two hands).

  3. oliver Says:

    nice atricle!

  4. George Boedecker Says:

    Great article about partial squats and dead lifts. I am going to get back on them now and I appreciate the program scheme advice. I’m recovering from knee surgery and I can do squats. I’m going to start easy and work up. Back in 1968 weighing about 235 I did 1065# for 10 reps in the 1/4 squat. I have long limbs and could only parallel squat 500 for a single. Now at 180# and age 71 I’m starting over.
    Thanks again.

  5. Sam Says:

    Ted, I used to only go from an elevated position to lockout. Like the top half of the lift, but I am now realizing the goodness of training the bottom half of the lift. I set the bar about 6 inches off the ground, it will work those erectors in a whole different way.

  6. Frank Says:

    Excellent article!
    Definitely should include partials in training!

  7. Goody Says:

    Great article! Once upon a time in my training (2005); I regularly implemented partial lifts in the bench, squat, and deadlift. I initially started doing partial lifts to elliminate sticking points; however, it became a great method to get my body used to pushing/pulling bigger and bigger weight.

  8. ted Says:


    thanks a lot. Cant wait to go to the gym and try it out.

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