How to Use Block Pulls to Improve Your Deadlift

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Today's guest post comes from CP coach, Greg Robins.

In the past 2.5 years, I have made some pretty solid strides with my deadlift. I’m still no world record holder, but I’m continuing to make progress. Most of this can be credited to a much more focused effort on raising the max number I can lift. Another large amount is likely the result of gaining about 30lbs.

That aside, anyone can eat a lot and want to lift more. Below is something I find has been key in my ability to pull 3x my body weight (595lbs at 197lbs), and over 600lbs since then.

If you want to lift more weight you need to learn to
intelligently overload from time to time.

I like to read the training logs and watch interviews with lifters who are stronger than me. One commonality I find with a lot of them is the waved use of overload techniques. Once someone has garnered a decent amount of strength, I have my reservations on “speed” training – namely, its use for the acquisition of more maximal strength. [Note from EC: I disagree completely, but this blog is all about being open-minded to new thoughts and techniques!].

Instead, I have seen more carryover from using block pulls. A block pull is simply an elevated deadlift, with heights from 1-6 inches in height.

I prefer the blocks to rack pulls because the technique is more true to a conventional pull. Most notably, the slack remains in the bar, and must be pulled out by the lifter. This is really crucial, because you want to attack these heavier weights and learn what it’s like to initiate a lot of force into a heavier bar.

In a 12-week block of training, I might use block pulls for 3-4 weeks. My training partner and I generally hit these the month before a meet, or the month before hitting weights off the floor upwards towards 90-100%. Thinking back, every weight that I have ever pulled from the floor in the past two years has come off the blocks first. 

Over the rest of the article, I want to give you some guidelines on how to fit these in, as well as how to perform them correctly.

Let’s start with the technique. Below is a video detailing the proper technique, as well as some common flaws in the block pull.

Now that you know how to do them, the obvious next question is, “where do they fit in?”

As I alluded to before, I usually place these in after eight weeks of focused training. In those previous eight weeks I would recommend you work from a high volume-low intensity phase to a mid volume-mid intensity phase, and then insert the block pull after your regular deadlifts during a high intensity-low volume phase.

The first way to overload with block pulls is by adding weight to the bar. For example, let’s say you pull a single from the floor at 90% of your 1RM. Then you could finish the session with pulling a single or two from blocks at over 90%. With this approach, the blocks should be used to eventually pull a weight over 100% of your predicted max from the ground. I have been successful hitting 110% of a 1RM from 4.5in blocks. It’s important to note, though, that on a day where you will be over-reaching on the block pull, you’d want to make that your lightest day from the ground.

The next is to overload your training through the addition of volume. This can be done via adding reps to a set, or by adding sets. In either case, we are going to use the blocks to increase the volume, as opposed to doing more volume from the floor. In this approach, let’s say you hit the same 90% of your 1RM from the floor. From there, you could go in either of two directions:

1. You could hit and additional 2–3 singles from blocks at that 90%.

2. You could take that 90% for a set (or sets) of 2 to 3 reps from the blocks.

In both scenarios, we are overloading. Personally, I tend to go more in the direction of adding reps to a single set, because that is overloading in the sense that you might not be able to do that from the ground.

There you have it: a single lift that has had tremendous carry-over into my maximal strength on the deadlift. And, it’s helped out a lot of lifters even better than me! Be careful not to abuse the block pull or make into a “ego-booster” rather than an intelligent tool to add overload in both intensity and volume to your strategy for improving the deadlift.

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