By:  Doug Daniels  

     Partial lifts like half and quarter squats, deadlift lockouts, and mid-range bench presses have always been exercises powerlifters and other strength athletes  have used in hopes of developing increased size and strength.  My problem with partial lifts is that sometimes lifters fail to extract desired results from this practice and haven't a clue why.  How many times have you heard of a lifter who can half squat 700 pounds and have great difficulty doing a competitive full squat with 450 pounds?   Or a lifter who could lockout 800 pounds in the deadlift in the rack, but fail to lockout 500 from the floor in competition?  It would seem something is wrong.   

     Let's start by examining perhaps the most popular partial move, deadlift lockouts in the rack.  A lifter I used to train with had exceptional power and speed off the floor in his deadlift.  However, he had difficulty locking out his deadlifts at the top.  In essence, he was limited to how much he could lockout, which was very frustrating to him.  His method of choice to solve this problem was heavy lockouts in the power rack.  As his strength in this exercise improved, the weight he locked out reached bar-bending poundage.  But alas, come contest time, he still could not lockout what he could pull from the floor.  Observing him performing these lockouts, the answer was clear to me.  When he would set-up to lockout the weight, he would position himself so that when he started the lockout, he straightened his legs out until he reached the final position.  He was really quarter squatting the weight, not deadlifting it.  His torso was already erect at the start of the pull so no real upper back work was done.  I bet the top of his squat was easy! A more effective method was for him to position himself so that his position during the lockout resembled his position during a regulation from-the-floor deadlift.  This may not be possible.  If not, the transfer of power developed in this position would not be as great as desired.   

     Partial squats can be approached similarly.  The squat is a very complex movement and the partial lift may not resemble the flow and execution of the full squat.  Again, the transfer of power developed through partial movements may not be a great as desired.  The answer, in this case, would be similar also.  Make your partial lift resemble that portion of the complete lift as much as possible.   

     As you might expect, the bench press is similar.  When benching, the bar follows a certain path up to completion.  Ideally, the bar does not go straight up, but it goes up at a slight arc to over the head at lockout.  Pushing the bar from a position that is not along that arc, power transfer, again can be less than desired.   

     Another problem with partial lifts is that they can give a lifter a false sense of strength due to the amount of weight lifted.  For lifters who have depth problems in the squat, this can accentuate the problems.  You may become less accustomed to proper depth and have difficulty pleasing the judges at the contest.  This false sense of strength may also tend to make a lifter take too heavy of an attempt at a meet, resulting in a bomb-out or an injury.  Confidence is important in powerlifting but it must be tempered with a realistic outlook.  Base your confidence on success with competitive style attempts.   

     The injury factor is a real concern.  Using heavy weights, even if for partial lifts, can expose a lifter to a higher chance of injury.  The body may have not built up enough to support and handle a too heavy weight, especially if the difference in weight used is much greater than the weight used for a full lift.  Heavy weights in partials should be worked-up-to gradually over time and not shot-gunned in an attempt to strengthen a weak point.   

     Partial lifts also may detract from technique development.  As I mentioned earlier, a partial lift may vary greatly from the actual segment of the full lift you are trying to work.  I find that many lifters need technique work more than they need strength work.  That weakness may be a result of poor or inefficient style and not actual strength deficiency.  Think about that for a while.   

     I guess you came to the conclusion I'm not a big fan of partial lifts.  I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but if you've been partial to partials and not getting bigger lifts on the platform, examine my theories and see if they fit what you're doing! Partial lifts can be more than partially beneficial if done correctly.   

Want to discuss this with other lifters?
Reproduction of this article, in whole or part, for any purposed other than personal use is prohibited without written consent. Copyright 1998 Doug Daniels.