Block Pull Deadlift: Benefits, Muscles Used, and More

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
July 19, 2022

Among the many variations of the deadlift, few are meant to be used in as specific a range of motion as the block pull deadlift - of which is an intermediate version of the conventional deadlift that shares many characteristics, though with a somewhat shorter time under tension.

Also referred to as a raised deadlift, half-rep deadlift or simply the block pull, the block deadlift holds a unique place in many sports-specific workouts or in the cycles of advanced athletic training due to its capacity to induce supramaximal levels of resistance in the correct circumstances

The block pull deadlift is - much like the conventional deadlift - a free weight resistance movement of rather high intensity and a myriad of moderately complex mechanics that result in a nearly body-wide skeletal muscle group activation pattern.

What is the Block Pull Deadlift?

In more specific terms, the block pull deadlift is a compound exercise of the closed kinetic chain variety, usually making use of a barbell loaded with weight plates as well as a pair of elevated objects such as lifting blocks or similar items in order to raise the barbell to approximately knee-height.

block pull deadlift

Unlike other variations of the deadlift, the block pull deadlift is considered a secondary compound exercise of somewhat lower complexity and mobility requirements due to the reduced time under tension and range of motion involved in the movement - thereby also reducing the involvement and role of certain muscle groups that would otherwise be normally trained.

Apart from these two distinctions in comparison to the conventional deadlift, the block pull deadlift is otherwise mechanically and functionally similar to said conventional deadlift - inducing a similar level of activation in the majority of the primary mover muscle groups and presenting a similar distribution of resistance loading.

How Does the Block Pull Deadlift Differ From the Conventional Deadlift?

Though the block pull deadlift presents quite a few similar mechanics and form cues to the conventional deadlift, certain aspects of the two exercises can differ quite widely; thereby altering the training stimulus and function of the block pull deadlift, especially in regards to its difficulty and how it is programmed in a training routine.

Range of Motion and Time Under Tension

The most direct effect of the block pull’s elevation of the barbell is in its reduction of the total range of motion in comparison to other deadlift variations, wherein the exerciser will only raise the barbell from knee height instead of from the ground.

This will not only reduce the time under tension of the exercise and therefore reduce total muscular exertion and fatigue, but also result in a somewhat altered training stimulus as more fast-twitch muscle fibers are recruited instead.

A reduced range of motion can also alter the particular function of the exercise, with the conventional deadlift acting as a general full-body muscle training exercise while the block pull deadlift may induce more specific muscular hypertrophy or certain sports-specific benefits that are not as applicable with other deadlift variations.

Reduced Stability Requirements

Alongside the reduced stabilizer muscle group fatigue from a decrease in time under tension, the block pull deadlift is also capable of reducing the total stability requirement needed throughout the movement as the exerciser is not bending as low as they would during a conventional deadlift.

This will result in reduced activation intensity in such muscle groups like the calves, forearms, deltoids and core musculature - expending less energy per repetition but also resulting in less isometric contraction development capacity in said stabilizer muscle groups.

Lower Intensity and Joint Stress

As the block pull deadlift recruits certain muscle groups to a lesser capacity and induces a shorter time under tension with each repetition, exercisers will find that performing the exercise with the same amount of weight and repetitions as other deadlift variations will require less exertion - thereby showing the block pull deadlift is of lower intensity.

In addition to a lower level of intensity, the total amount of stress and pressure placed on connective tissues involved during the performance of the block pull deadlift is also of a lesser capacity, with less risk of lower spinal column injury as the exerciser does not need to bend as low, as well as less knee and hip joint stress due to a reduced range of motion.

Are the Rack Pull and Block Pull Deadlift the Same?

Though the rack pull and the block pull deadlift share the same function, mechanics and general form - they are not in fact the same, as the primary distinction between the two is spelled out by their names; the rack pull utilizes a squat rack, power cage or similar barbell rack in order to position the barbell at the appropriate elevation.

This improves the safety of the movement but also restricts the movement of the barbell and its elevation to a certain height.

Whereas in the block pull deadlift, the exerciser simply utilizes a pair of lifting blocks or similar elevated object while in a free area so as to raise the barbell to the correct height, thereby providing greater freedom of movement and a more modular set-up at the cost of certain benefits related to the rack pull instead.

What Muscles are Worked by the Block Pull Deadlift?

For the most part, the muscle groups worked by the block pull deadlift are much the same as what is seen in other deadlift variations - with the sole caveat that certain stabilizer muscle groups are activated to a lesser capacity due to not being recruited from the exercises reduced range of motion.

block pull deadlift muscles

The muscle groups found to receive the greatest level of activation by multiple EMG based studies are that of the gluteus muscles as well as the quadriceps femoris, with both primary mover muscle groups being contracted to the highest level at opposing ends of the repetition.

Other muscle groups contracted to a certain degree by the exercise are that of the trapezius, the erector spinae, and the majority of the muscle groups located throughout the lower and middle back - with most of these muscles being contracted primarily in a synergistic capacity.

Why is the Block Pull Deadlift Performed?

The block pull deadlift is usually performed as a specificity exercise meant to either produce greater training emphasis in a certain muscle group or to remedy a sticking point or weakness in the range of motion of the deadlift and similar exercises.

Depending on the particular weakness or neglected muscle group of the exerciser, this may involve raising or lowering the elevation of the block in the block pull deadlift, utilizing certain repetition schemes or combining the block pull deadlift with other compound exercises that prematurely fatigue certain muscle groups prior to the block pull deadlift’s performance.

What are the Benefits of the Block Pull Deadlift?

As the block pull deadlift is a rather unique exercise, so too are the benefits it provides; with a unique training stimulus, capacity of maximal resistance and specificity of training application all being unique to the block pull deadlift and exercises of a similar nature.

As such, exercisers seeking to add these particular effects to their workout routine may find that the block pull deadlift - when programmed according to their needs - can act as the perfect solution.

Supramaximal Loading Potential

A direct consequence of the reduced range of motion, lower intensity and shorter time under tension of the block pull deadlift is that the exerciser will find themselves capable of performing more repetitions and moving more total weight than in the conventional deadlift or other types of the deadlift.

This has a variety of further benefits that may greatly aid in the physical capacity and general health of the exerciser, such as in the case of greater fast-twitch muscle fiber group activation, greater connective tissue and osseous tissue reinforcement, and the exerciser growing psychologically conditioned to moving greater amounts of weight in such a movement pattern.

High Specificity of Training Stimulus

As the block pull deadlift combines many of the benefits of the deadlift with a shorter range of motion, it is capable of providing a highly specific form of training stimulus when programmed in the appropriate manner.

Such specificity allows for the exercise to aid a powerlifter in their total maximal weight lifted during the conventional deadlift exercise, a basketball player in their posterior chain driven jump height or any ordinary exerciser with a weakness during a certain portion of their pulling range of motion.

Pull Exercise Mechanics Reinforcement and Correction

The block pull deadlift is also capable of remedying or reinforcing certain mechanics involved in floor pull exercises, such as the lockout portion of a barbell hack squat, the static core contraction involved throughout a barbell row, or even the majority of the conventional deadlift’s form cues.

This will result in not only the exerciser reducing their risk of injury in practically all pull exercises, but also strengthening and improving their athletic capacity in general as they learn how to move their body in accordance with correct biomechanics.

Who Should Perform the Block Pull Deadlift?

The block pull deadlift is usually performed by intermediate to advanced level exercisers seeking the specificity and benefits of the exercise, be it due to a muscular weakness, form sticking point or need for a secondary compound exercise with a similar muscle group activation set to the conventional deadlift.

Apart from these specific-application cases, other individuals who may see great use form the block pull deadlift are novice exercisers wishing to improve their floor pull mechanics or individuals with a reduced physiological range of motion due to injury, age, or muscular weakness.

How to Program the Block Pull Deadlift

In order to program the block pull deadlift appropriately, the exerciser must first assess what particular aspect of the exercise they wish to exemplify the most.

For powerlifters and advanced exercisers seeking the supramaximal loading and mechanics reinforcement of the exercise, low repetitions per set at a high level of resistance such as a 3x5 or 5x4 repetition scheme should fulfill their goals quite well.

However, in the case of novice exercisers, individuals substituting the conventional deadlift with the block pull deadlift due to injury or exercisers utilizing the block pull deadlift as a secondary compound movement; a repetition scheme of 3x8 at moderate levels of resistance is sufficient in terms of volume and training stimulus.

Common Mistakes of the Block Pull Deadlift

Just as any other compound exercise has several caveats to its performance, so too does the block pull deadlift - wherein the amount of weight used or the set-up prior to the lift itself is done incorrectly, resulting in a greater risk of injury or affecting the training stimulus and effectiveness of said stimulus therein.

Incorrect Set-Up

One of the most important aspects of the block pull deadlift is in the manner that it is set up prior to beginning a set, wherein the appropriate elevation, weight and stance are utilized in accordance to the exerciser’s own biomechanics and training goals.

One major mistake in regards to the set-up of the block pull deadlift is utilizing the incorrect elevation of the barbell, either by placing it too low and extending the range of motion beyond what is necessary, or by placing it too high and missing the weak spot or sticking point of the exerciser, therefore defeating the purpose of the block pull deadlift.

Unnecessary Supramaximal Loading

Though the block pull deadlift is uniquely effective at inducing supramaximal resistance in an exerciser, doing so in situations wherein it is unnecessary or unsafe is another common mistake when performing this particular deadlift variation.

As was previously covered, the block pull deadlift allows exercisers to lift more weight than they would be capable of in other forms of the deadlift - however, this does not necessarily mean that one should always do so. 

When performing this exercise, the exerciser should lift only a certain percentage of their one repetition maximum load in accordance with the needs and guidance of their training program.

References

1. McGuigan, Michael R.M.2; Wilson, Barry D.1 Biomechanical Analysis of the Deadlift, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: November 1996 - Volume 10 - Issue 4 - p 250-255

2. Burd NA, Andrews RJ, West DW, Little JP, Cochran AJ, Hector AJ, Cashaback JG, Gibala MJ, Potvin JR, Baker SK, Phillips SM. Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men. J Physiol. 2012 Jan 15;590(2):351-62. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.221200. Epub 2011 Nov 21. PMID: 22106173; PMCID: PMC3285070.

3. Piper, Timothy J. MS, CSCS,D*; Waller, Michael A. CSCS, D; NSCA-CPT* Variations of the Deadlift, Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2001 - Volume 23 - Issue 3 - p 66

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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